My great grandfather George Schneider, one of the founders of the Republican Party, marched with like-minded friends on Sundays past Chicago’s churches singing drinking songs accompanied by a brass band. Schneider was an atheist and a freethinker, a true Enlightenment figure who believed in evolution. It is impossible to imagine a mainstream newspaper publisher or politician disrupting church services today! Have we become a nation of more timid, more insecure individuals who strive to conform to get ahead?
My father inherited Schneider’s belief that priests, ministers and rabbis were all running shell-games. He believed religions were responsible for most human misery and bloodshed, right up there with greed. He refused to attend church on Christmas and Easter when mother took us to Episcopalian services. She’d had been raised Episcopalian, but her love of Christmas and Easter was almost pagan, a ancient celebration of the change of seasons.
Father was disgusted when a joint resolution of Congress unanimously added “under God” to our previously secular pledge of allegiance in 1954, at the height of the antiCommunist hysteria.
My father’s atheism did not diminish his belief in principles. Honesty, decency and respect for your elders were among the most important. It didn’t matter how other people behaved. “You are not just anybody, you are a Koch,” my father said when I complained about family rules at odds with those of my friends. At the age of nineteen I described this in a diary as “a feeling of aristocracy, the polished manners of my parents – a concept of a heritage of a life higher than the average.”
We were raised like characters out of an English novel. Father home from work at 5:30, dinner at six, white table cloth, ironed napkins, English china and silver flatware. Sit up straight. Elbows off the table. Speak when spoken to. Be prepared to discuss school work and newspaper reports. Finish every bite. “Join the clean plate club, Christopher. Think of the starving children of Europe,” my mother would say.
“Truck drivers sweat Christopher. Gentlemen perspire,” was another maternal warning. There were a lot of rules. Gentlemen said “please” and “thank you,” held the door open for women, gave up their seats in public for anyone older than themselves, used proper language, never spit, dressed neatly, stood up straight with their shoulders back, shirts tucked in, respected adults.
It was “noblese oblige,” the responsibility of privileged people to act with generosity and nobility toward those less privileged. The only trohble was, we got the obligations without the nobel fortune.
What an incredible contrast to the way our children are being raised today. Many live in single parent homes. Many are being raised by two parents who work from 7:00 am to 7:00 at night. The last things such parents want to do with the precious little time they have with their kids, is to discipline them. And why would a minimum wage Nanny take on that task?
Today’s kids seem pretty much to get their own way. They have few obligations to others and may even at eight years old get to vote on whether or not to celebrate their grandfather’s birthday.
Family is the last bastion against the rulers, whoever they may be. Families stay together to survive. It’s the isolated individual who is most vulnerable, most susceptible, to the Medieval Feudal master or the Corporate master, which is why the hucksters love lonely people so much.