There have been plenty of movies out of Hollywood with the Civil War as the dominant theme, and I’ve enjoyed many of them. One that I’ve always had a fondness for is Shenandoah, starring Jimmy Stewart who plays Charlie Anderson. It’s the story of a man, Charlie, who in the midst of the Civil War chooses to ignore the battle waging around him. He convinces himself that the war doesn’t involve him or his family, that it’s none of his business. He selfishly tries to go on with his own life, of raising crops and livestock, and of leading and enjoying his six sons, daughter and daughter-in-law. A stubborn man to be sure. Like many throughout the ages, he tries to sit this conflict out. He portrays himself as one above the fray. He will learn that when a fire is raging all around you, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to remain unscathed.
America, one hundred and fifty years later, is in the depths of another war. I’m not speaking of the war in Afghanistan or Iraq, or about an enemy as fierce as the serious Muslim. This war is like the civil war, in that it pits American against American, but it isn’t fought on a field of battle, and is instead a war of ideas. We are in fact in a culture war. Those in my camp are passionate about where we see the country “progressing”. We believe in old-fashioned things like morality, virtue, decency, hard work, personal responsibility, family, faith; that society needs boundaries in order to keep the culture intact. We hold to the traditions of the founding fathers. A society founded on small, limited government; one that stays out of the affairs of the citizenry.
Those on the other side are just as passionate and if they win will have pulled us into a culture more reminiscent of the ancient Greeks, where pederasty was commonplace and acceptable (the reality is that we progressed from that long ago culture and now are in a period of digression). They would pull us into modern Europe, where religion and morality are passé. Where government is omniscient and omnipresent. They would have no restraints on human impulses and desires; legalized drugs, prostitution, abortion on demand, and a complete surrender to all sexual fantasies and cravings, “like unreasoning animals”. With this group I have a modicum of respect; at least they take a stand, even though I’m diametrically opposed to their positions. The third group however, is a group for which I only have disdain. The squishy middle.
This group doesn’t take sides. They pretend to be above the fray. If they sense in themselves too much passion oozing out, they quickly take a timeout or a cold shower. Passion is only for the extremists. The wacko fringe. They say things like, “everyone has a right to their opinion”, but seldom express theirs and when they hear someone else do the same they call them bigoted, narrow-minded, opinionated. At the core of their being is a selfishness that leads to apathy. They simply don’t care. As long as they can live their lives untouched by the rest of the world, enjoying life’s comforts, they don’t bother to spend the mental energy it takes to research an issue, take a stand, or look at the potential risks and consequences of what goes on around them. They’ve convinced themselves that it doesn’t matter what other people do. They sat out the recent election and are a big factor in the outcome. They are like the ostrich with its head in the sand.
He who refuses to see is blind indeed. What should the man born blind say to such a fool? “I was born blind and thus I cannot see. You however, because of your stubbornness, will not see.” He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Back to Shenandoah and the Anderson family. When Charlie’s only daughter falls in love with and marries a soldier boy, the family is reluctantly drawn into the conflict. Shortly thereafter, his youngest son is kidnapped by one of the opposing armies and Charlie’s apathy is turned into deep interest, concern, and anger. He can no longer “sit this one out”. The bulk of the movie sees Charlie searching for his youngest boy, while his other five sons are all killed in the war. Charlie found out that the war that was raging around him could not be ignored. It was just a matter of time. At the end of the movie, what’s left of the family is seen in the local church, and as they stand to sing a hymn, the back door of the church opens and in walks the youngest son, limping on crutches. It was a bittersweet ending, for sure. War it seems has casualties. Even culture wars.