In the 40s my father listed what was not allowed in our house – coffee, soda, alcoholic drinks, smoking, foul language, talking during dinner and arguing with your parents.
These rules lasted until my late teens, when I then began smoking, drinking beer and cursing with friends. That rebellion lasted a couple years, but memory of the lessons of early childhood have stuck with me even until today.
In recent decades many families have grown more cynical, from the oldest to youngest members. TV and schools have promoted a new reverence for promoting childhood freedom of expression and protecting them from ideas that might offend “tender sensibilities.”
Some of that effort existed in the 40s, but crusty fathers insisted on rules, and usually a mother could only temper dad’s regime. Today, society urges a kinder, gentler, but almost negligent relationship that at times elevates tots to grownup status.
Before I was ten, nothing refuted the warning from Santa Claus to behave or you would get coal in your Christmas stocking. Our various religions also reiterated that obedience insured Heaven, rather than Hell.
School books noted hard work led to success. We even prayed before classes began every day, reminding us that a higher power was always carefully watching.
Whether books, tv, movies or public education, today little encourages children to adopt moral ideals. Instead, the young endure graphic books with 15 words per page, cartoon characters of syrupy disposition, and music sodden with curses and often even sexual frenzy.
Reading the Bible was once universal education in church schools and most homes. That’s where we learned about Caucasian Egyptians enslaving Caucasian Jews, and the fate of even a King, like David, when he strayed from God’s will, then murdered a rival.
As children, we also admired the men and women who had just won the war against the Germans and Japanese. Most of us knew one of the half million families who had lost a son, brother or father.
Living by rules made sense. These were universally taught by poor and rich parents – a bond between classes. All religions and sects promoted morality, humility and succession by merit and effort.
Personally, I was most motivated by the Bible, especially the so-called Old Testament, which I read as a preteen and followed up with the New Testament when much older.
Most of our laws and moral lessons can be found in the Hebrew Bible (Christian: Old Testament), which was completed in 587 BCE, some 2,800 years ago. The authors named it the Last Testament as they faced Babylonia’s (Iraq now) enslavement, and wanted to leave a record of the Jews before their anticipated obliteration.
As a child, the sagas of Adam, Noah, Abraham and Solomon offered clear lessons on good versus evil, while the Psalms inspired devotion and optimism even under an authoritarian God.
My later interest in the New Testament revealed that some breaking of rules can be dealt with by mercy and also some punishment – a subtlety best understood by mature minds.
Sadly, lessons of the Bible are less available to children as parents more and more refute religion’s lessons in favor of material success.