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Downton Abbey Meets the 1960s

Downton Abbey Meets the 1960s

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After waiting an inordinate amount of time between seasons, excuses expected because it’s the Public Broadcasting Service, my wife and I resumed our Sunday evening together time by watching Downton Abbey. Last night’s broadcast was followed by a special on the manners of the time, an on-set historian sparing no detail so the characters get all the nuances of their spoons right. Downton Abbey producers may be concerned about table manners, but the social mores of the scripts are taken directly from Haight-Ashbury and the 1960’s sexual revolution.

Downton Abbey’s characters are living during a time of tumultuous societal transformation and if you follow the thinking of the right characters you will end up in this good place that we are today, the future. Or at least as far into the future as the 1960s. In shocking fashion (if only), Lady Mary and her suitor have decided to spend a week together trying each other out sexually to see if marriage might be a possibility for them.

Hooray for the progress of the progressives who are the first to understand that before you marry someone it is wise to have sex with them to make sure everything’s going to be fine in that department until death do you part. Aside from the fact that this is centering the marriage in utterly selfish physical gratification, and aside from the other fact that it’s naive and unrealistic to think that whatever one experiences that first week is what one will experience with their spouse five or even ten years later, the problem with romanticizing the sexual revolution as progressive thinking is just that — it’s romanticized rather than realistic. Forget the time machine, can’t H.G. Wells just walk over to Downton and warn Lady Mary that she’s making a horrible mistake?

Look to the future, Lady Mary, and be warned.

American culture moved progressively toward lax views of chastity to lax views of marriage until it became commonplace for couples to live together. Living together had the same reasoning as “test driving the car” as many crassly put it, to make sure they are right for each other before that big commitment is made to eat cake publicly, the farce of the marriage ceremony with all the pomp and none of the substance. What exactly is that white dress for now? Why does the father give the bride away? Well, he doesn’t in most cases now. Do we even understand why this was the father’s role? The meaning of the marriage ceremony was lost decades ago, but we still like parties.

Living together is pretending to be married. It comes in handy when you want to move a couch. What many in the church (not to mention the culture at large) have failed to realize is that when the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 6 that “the wages of sin is death,” he is not just referring to the by-and-by, but also to the here and now. He’s talking about tangible fruit, albeit rotten fruit. “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.” Most baby-boomers (and Gen Xers, for that matter) who are now believers have participated, promoted and found pleasure in many things in which we are now ashamed, such as careless attitudes about sex and marriage. This doesn’t mean we live in that shame, but neither should we forget Paul’s warnings about bad fruit. The fruit of the 1960’s sexual revolution is bad fruit, because we are slowly watching the family structure fade away before our very eyes.

The sexual revolution left our culture with this legacy that our sexuality is about our bedrooms alone, primarily a private concern that is of no consequence to anyone else. The prevailing thinking is that, married or not, it shouldn’t matter to anyone else but those in our little bedroom, whoever and how many that might be, as to what transpires between said parties. In his insightful book, Defending Marriage, Anthony Esolen remarks, “We have come up with the strange notion that sexual activity is strictly a private affair. It cannot be; and children are the walking and talking proof of it.”

He makes a very convincing case that living together is a sin against the family. How so? First, if marriage is sacred (and according to Scripture, it is — “let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous”) then those of us who have engaged in this behavior have done it without regard for how children see marriage. There was a time in our culture when living together was scandalous. It was something parents didn’t have to explain to their children at the time, because it was hush hush. Children were protected from it, even by the couples of that time, who were much less blatant about their sin. It’s not that people were any less sinful then, it’s just culture itself reaped the benefits of the salt and light of what was once called Christian virtue. Today, people are offended by such thinking, seeing it as antiquated and prudish, which seems to be of greater concern than protecting children. Over half of the children today are born out of wedlock, a crisis to which even the church seems oblivious. The lack of family structure these children grow up in will change our culture even more, because it changes children when they are no longer afforded innocence.

Living together before marriage is to tell a lie to children about not only what marriage is but what defines a family. It is to live a lie before the public. And it is to tell a lie to the person you’re living with. The reason that man or that woman is not marrying you is because they do not want to marry you, but they selfishly want all the benefits of marriage.

As marriage is redefined, so is the family. Sadly, many think this redefinition is progressive and good, but the fruit is repressive and damaging to children. Keeping two parents from a child is to repress that child’s desire for what both parents have to offer in the family structure. All the fallout of the sexual revolution from abortion to the redefined roles of men and women to living together before marriage (and the list goes on) have engendered a culture that is less than child-friendly. When you sit in the tearoom of the American Girl Store in Los Angeles and the wall of windows looking out from this toy store stares at a five-story tall woman in sexy underwear from Victoria’s Secret, there is no clearer indictment that our culture is not only clueless about children, but it doesn’t really believe any damage is being done.

Flaunted sexuality, commonplace abortion, cursing in public, no fault divorce, our culture does not protect children in the least. The fallout of the 1960s has landed upon our children.

Bombs away, Lady Mary.

Esolen says it best in his book: “We cannot have a culture of marriage and family and a pseudoculture of divorce and abortion; that is a contradiction. We cannot have a culture of marriage and family and a pseudoculture of indifference with regard to male and female, and children “chosen” (or not) as accessories to their parents’ lives; that is another contradiction. We cannot have a culture in which purity is held up as an ideal and a pseudoculture of pornography, sexual ‘experimentation’ (note the coldly clinical term), and salaciousness celebrated as ‘edgy’ and ‘bold’; that is still another contradiction.”

It can feel hopeless and overwhelming except that “you have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Without knowing it, maybe our culture is producing a generation of children who will be ripe for revival, but only because of the ruins they live in.

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