Up or Down on Chuck Colson's perspective. Is the way we dress a contributor to the downfall of the west or a result?
Grooming Counts—Charles Colson (1931 – )
Charles Colson is the author of many books (including Born Again, Loving God,and How Now Shall We Live?) and founder of the international ministry Prison Fellowship. In 1993, he was awarded the famed Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. In the following piece, Colson points out how seemingly small matters of dress and conduct can fuel a more general, and serious, demoralization of culture.
The coarsening of our culture is evident in our discourse. For example, news journals defer to our sensitivities, not by omitting vulgarities, as they once did, but by using three dashes after the first letter of offensive words. Really clever. Over the water cooler at work or in school corridors, no one seems embarrassed anymore by conversations sprinkled with four-letter words.
Nowhere is this coarsening more evident than in our dress. I'm used to being an anachronism—the only person on an airplane wearing a coat and tie. Yes, I know business is going casual. But T-shirts stretched over protruding bellies, shorts exposing hairy legs, and toes sprouting out of sandals are not casual—they're slovenly. And you see it more and more on airplanes, in restaurants, and even in church.
How we present ourselves to others says something about how we view ourselves. When I was a Marine, we checked our spit-shined shoes and starched khakis in a full-length mirror before leaving the barracks; it was drilled into us that if we were to be sharp we had to look sharp. That's the right kind of pride, the antidote to sloth.
How have we arrived at this state? In his A Study of History, the great historian Arnold Toynbee contends that one clear sign of a civilization's decline is when élites—people Toynbee labels the “dominant minority”—begin mimicking the vulgarity and promiscuity exhibited by society's bottom-dwellers. This is precisely what some political leaders and most media moguls have done. The result: The entire culture is vulgarized.
Christians need to be conscious of the subtle ways in which our culture is sinking into sloth. We must resist the slide by creating strong countercultural influences. We can start by elevating our own standards in speech and dress. One good place to start is in our worship services. I realize that casual is “in” for contemporary services—but “casual” should be decorous.1
Charles Colson, “Slouching into Sloth,” Christianity Today, April 23, 2001, 120.