My parents are both in their eighties.
My wife’s parents are also in that era, and one has Alzheimer’s disease.
As I reflect on their lives, and situation, it occurs to me that there is enormous energy spent by many Christians on protecting the unborn. But what about protecting the long-born?
Few groups are more in need of compassion and protection than the elderly. In the larger sanctity of life debate, I believe that those of age will be the tipping point toward the devaluation of life far more than those in the womb. In other words, I’m convinced that it may very well be euthanasia, not abortion or infanticide, that will move the moral chains down the field most profoundly.
*They are more costly and burdensome to society.
*They are less physically and emotionally attractive.
*They are less productive, if productive at all.
In a word, there will be a growing sense that the elderly are dispensable, and necessarily so for the welfare and well-being of the majority.
The Nazis called them “useless eaters.”
In an article in The Telegraph, Alasdair Palmer observed that this will come to a head sooner than later largely through the success of medical science prolonging physical age. By 2033, there will be eight times as many centenarians living in Britain than there are today.
And there won’t be enough money to care for them.
But, as he adds, “The economic problem ... is less serious than the cultural and social one, which is that, collectively, we don’t value old people.” He goes further, noting that the very old “are not thought of as attractive. They are not ‘sexy’, literally or metaphorically.”
And here is where Palmer’s analysis may be most telling: “For the most part, the knowledge, experience and reliability that come with age aren’t valued – although the few employers that are willing to hire older workers report that they are very glad they did so, because they are usually less demanding, and work harder, than the young.”
He’s right. We erroneously equate “old” with “useless.” And it’s not just the very old. Good luck finding a job if you are over 50 and unemployed. Then consider our mindset toward physical aging. We value youth and beauty above all things, and turn our eyes away from anything that would remind us of its fleeting nature.
The Christian, of course, goes beyond such utilitarian and aesthetic debates.
It’s not whether there is wisdom to be found in the old (there is), or value in their contributions (there are). It’s not even where true beauty lies (it’s not in anyone’s outward appearance). The Christian goes beyond such things and employs a value that is increasingly rare in our world.
We are called to honor our fathers and mothers; honor our forbears; honor those who have gone before us; honor those bearing the mantle of advanced age.
Ancient cultures did.
The older you were, the more you were honored and elevated to places of leadership and influence. The “elders” were respected above all others, and those younger gave them their due regard.
It is the mark of a decaying culture that we now trend in the opposite direction.
And it is a fast decay, because it is a powerful and swift trend.
James Emery White
“Our fixation on youth culture has left the elderly out in the cold,” Alasdair Palmer, August 6, 2011, The Telegraph. Read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.