Having been an ardent fan of PBS's original Upstairs Downstairs series, I thought I would give the new series a try. Always late to television's offerings—in this case a full three years—I found the episodes online in recent weeks, and settled in to enjoy them. I think many of you can already sense where this is going.
The original series, concerned an English family living at 165 Eaton Place, London, spanned the earliest years of the 20th century, the horrors of the First World War, and ended amidst the subsequent disorientation due to the great loss of life and crumbling class system. There were also myriad revolutions—political and personal—impacting the family (upstairs) and their servants (downstairs).
The new series picked up some years after the original left off, but with a new family living at the same address. Sabers are rattling once again—this time most fiercely by the National Socialists in Germany. While the prescience of the new owners proved a little tedious (they just knew that Chamberlain was wrong, appeasement was a dangerous path, and that all Jews were in grave danger) it was the personal drama that prevented me from enjoying the program.
Let's see, what changed in the forty years between the production of the two series? That would be our contemporary support for abortion and the sanction offered to homosexual behaviour—both of which took center-stage in the 1930's-era drama. Not only was there a passionate same-sex kiss on camera, but both family members and staff offered a fascinated indulgence of the whole sordid affair.
This is where we must take stock of our current challenge, which is to defend chastity while living in a culture that has abandoned all pretence of the conventional pieties. It is true that in many quarters, Christianity has long been an empty construct and Biblical precepts have lost their meaning behind closed doors, but that makes our faith no less true. While the slippery slope has indeed been precariously steep, that can never justify lying about our past.
A pollyanna view of history serves no one—and to that end we must have a clear understanding how the standard vices have challenged all generations and twisted humanity away from living according to God's will. But rewriting history also pernicious, not only because of the inherent lies, but because of the havoc those lies play on the faithful who are trying to stand fast now.
Two other period series have recently dealt with same-sex attraction, and yet more honestly: Downton Abbey (1920's) and Mad Men (1960's), and while both recognised the reprehensible prejudice and injustice shown towards those who suffered, they also showed honestly the way in which people recognised same-sex behaviour as unnatural and incompatible with healthy family life. For the sake of accuracy, then, we can recognise that homosexuality has always been manifest at the fringes of society, and yet agree that previous generations lacked the ability to separate the sin from the sinner.
There is a scene in the Chronicles of Narnia in which a witch holds Prince Caspian and the other children captive below ground, and is trying to eradicate their memories of the real world. She was beguiling them with sweet incense and subtle music, purring,
"Narnia? I have often heard your lordship utter that name in your ravings. Dear prince, you are very sick. There is no land called Narnia... There is no Narnia, no overworld, no sun, no sky, no Aslan. And now, to bed, all. And let us begin a wiser life tomorrow. But first, to bed, to sleep: deep sleep, soft pillows, sleep without foolish dreams..."
They nearly succumb, and yet a “marshwiggle,” also captive, put his reptilian foot in the fire to squelch the incense, burning himself in the process. It was enough.
For though the whole fire had not been put out, a good part of it had, and what remained smelled very largely of burned marshwiggle, which is not at all an enchanting smell. This instantly made everyone’s brain far clearer. The prince and the children held up their heads again and opened their eyes.
In our own generation, keeping our heads about virtue and vice, truth and lies, authentic love and its imposters may require serious suffering—but Christ promised us a cross. To that end, we must understand what makes a culture healthy, what previous generations did right (and wrong!) and why Christian principles must prevail if society is to prosper. Lying about the past does everyone a disservice, for it muddles the facts that we need to discern our way forward.
At present, the truth about authentic human love is being marginalised as hateful, and the incantations concerning love are actually predicated on self-indulgence and lust. Those who wish to evangelise must face the realities of this age that prefers to call black white, and white black. No matter: do not fear the pain attached to the Christian life, for it may save us from unquenchable fires later.