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The babysitter index

The “muscle memory” of good behavior from a more godly era is gone


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The babysitter is a good index of a nation’s health. Everyone had babysitters when I was a kid. My mother hired Carol next door to stay with me and my siblings. And when we got older, we babysat her kids. If it had not been Carol, it would have been someone else in the neighborhood. Almost anyone. There was an expectation that teenagers were responsible by and large. There was an unspoken sharing of the values of honesty, industry, religion, and family that undergirded life.

Francis Schaeffer says those values were already being practiced merely from muscle memory by the time of my ’50s childhood, rather than from first-order Christian faith—as a chicken will still run around for a while like it’s alive even after its head is chopped off. Schaeffer said that moral momentum will tend to continue for a generation, until one fine day people wake up and say, “Hey, since I don’t believe in God anymore, why am I being so good?” And then they will stop being so good.

That relationship between faith and good civic behavior was remarkably demonstrated during the Welsh Revival of 1904-05. Historian J. Edwin Orr writes in The Re-Study of Revival and Revivalism:

“A hundred thousand outsiders were converted and added to the churches, the vast majority remaining true to the end. Drunkenness was immediately cut in half, and many taverns went bankrupt. Crime was so diminished that judges were presented with white gloves attesting that there were no cases of murder, assault, rape, or robbery. … Local police became unemployed in many districts. Slowdowns occurred in coal mines, not due to unpleasantness between management and workers, but because so many foul-mouthed miners became converted and stopped using foul language that the horses which hauled the coal trucks in the mines could no longer understand what was being said to them.”

If true spirituality were to abound in a society, as in heaven, law would not be needed. Conversely, where a people are not righteous—where they do not possess the virtues of honesty, industry, religion, and Biblical matrimony—they cannot be made righteous by any law; the law serves only as a restraint.

Or as the Apostle Paul put it:

“The law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers …” (1 Timothy 1:9-10).

Alexis de Tocqueville, 19th-century French politician and fascinated student of all things American, found in our young nation such virtues that, if we had them today, would make it easy to find good babysitters:

“While the law permits the Americans to do what they please, religion prevents them from conceiving, and forbids them to commit, what is rash or unjust. Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their ­political institutions; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it.”

My daughter’s children were not born during this time of the founding virtues. She does not have a steady babysitter for her son. When I visit her house in another state, which is rare, I do the job, and she and her husband are glad to get away for the evening. But two hours is a long commute.

Some wag said that if you invite to dinner a person who does not have traditional values, be sure to count the silverware after he leaves. Babies have more value than silver-plated forks and spoons, so who will take the chance? If I were raising my children today, I would forgo the movie and stay home. Either that or I would join a church and find a good old-fashioned teenager who has the values Carol had.

I hope her virtues would proceed from faith and not from muscle memory.


Andrée Seu Peterson

Andrée is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. Her columns have been compiled into three books including Won’t Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Andrée resides near Philadelphia.

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