The Grail Code 
PLS

It’s a different world now from the one we grew up in. With crime spiraling out of control, we don’t dare give our children the kind of liberty we had when we were their age. Back in those days, parents could let their children walk half a mile to the store by themselves, or wander alone in the woods in the county park, or sit alone in the parking lot while the parents did their shopping, or even go downtown to see a free concert without a chaperone. If we let our children do those things now, they’d be mugged, or run over by a drunk driver, or abducted, or worse.

And if you believe all that, you’re a victim of what I call PLS, or Paradise Lost Syndrome. The crime rate has actually plummeted since the 1970s. Traffic fatalities are way down, too. For most Americans, the world is actually a much safer place than it was when I was growing up.

But the belief that the world is far more dangerous now is almost universal. News reporters regularly talk about “spiraling crime” as a known fact of life, and nobody questions what they’re saying. What’s going on here?

The same attitude is prevalent in Britain, and this BBC story is remarkable not just because it recognizes the difference between the perception and the reality, but also because it quantifies with statistics just how drastically our skewed perceptions have affected our behavior. Though the world is safer for our children than it was for us, we’re raising them as if they were under siege.

But I’m not here to talk about how we should raise our children. I’m more interested in something more abstract and more universal: Where does our PLS come from? Why, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, do we persist in believing that the world is much worse now than it was when we were young?

This kind of thinking isn’t new. Most of us probably remember our parents or grandparents telling us how the world had really gone to pot since they were young. And their parents told them the same thing: the world is really going downhill, what with this filthy jazz music, these lascivious waltzes, these unbridled minuets, this newfangled polyphony stuff. (Young people and their music are always an important ingredient in the continuing downfall of everything good in the world. Personally, I don’t like much music after 1935, so I think you young whippersnappers with your Glenn Miller records have a lot to answer for.)

Certainly the romances of the Holy Grail depended on this universal logic-defying nostalgia. Do you think any of the people who fell in love with the magical lost paradise of Camelot would really have liked to be plunked back in Arthur’s world, exchanging their high-medieval prosperity and stability for the bare subsistence and frequent pagan massacres of the real Arthur’s time? But this idea that there was once a golden age, and that our own age is much worse, is always unquestioned. Everyone believes it. And that may be because it’s true.

We live in a world of sin and death, but the Bible tells us we were created for something better. Being tossed out of paradise and longing to go back is the primeval human experience: it’s coded into our souls like a spiritual DNA, as someone once said in a very good book.

Perhaps what’s missing in our generation is the Christian context. We all have that longing for paradise lost; the Christian religion explains it and tells us to expect paradise regained in our own future. Without that context, we have that memory of paradise lost and the inbuilt longing to regain it, but we don’t know where it all comes from. It must have been something in our immediate past. The world must have been paradise then, and we must have lost it somehow.

That sense of paradise lost is implanted in us for a reason. God put the longing in our souls to lead us back to him. As Christians, we have the real answer to the question literally everyone in the world is asking: why is the world so much worse than it ought to be? The Christian answer is that it’s because of our sin; but the good news is that God’s mercy can overcome our sin and bring us back to paradise.

Meanwhile, take heart. It’s not true that the world is much worse now than it was when we were young. Actually, the world was just as horrible then. Maybe even worse. Isn’t that a comforting thought?

3 Responses to “PLS”

  1. The Grail Code» Blog Archive » PLS in action Says:

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  2. Mavrick Says:

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(C) 2006 Mike Aquilina and Christopher Bailey