We like nostalgia because it takes us back to the “good old days.”
Nostalgia: a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.
We all have some sort of memory about when times were pure and innocent… when things were seemingly the best they have ever been or will ever be.
Such feelings are not only individualistic, of great periods of time we remember in our own lives, but it is something we experience collectively in a variety of ways.
Nostalgia In Film
That’s why a lot of movies appeal to us and pull on our heart strings so powerfully. I think of movies like Field of Dreams, The Sandlot, or It’s A Wonderful Live.
And I think this is why a lot of us become addicted to the prequels and sequels that often follow great movies. They take us back to the first high we had with a movie we really liked, even if there isn’t really another story to tell in that cinematic universe. Movies like Speed 2 demonstrate this beautifully. Did the world really need a follow up movie to an action flick about a bomb on a bus?
The recent Disney’s remakes do this quite well. Even if some of the remakes like Aladdin or The Lion King have been of questionable quality and fail to some degree, they succeed in taking us back to the Disney movies that we fell in love with once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far, away.
And best of all, they help us forget about all the flops that Disney has made over the years. They reinforce the idea that Disney has been in the business of selling magic, and we remember them for doing nothing but making great animated movies, even if in truth they have produced a lot of highly forgettable movies that nobody liked to begin with.
Nostalgia In Politics
Politicians sometimes try to capitalize off this feeling of nostalgia too. We see this with Donald Trump and his “Make America Great Again.” We also see it with Bernie Sanders and his remembering of a time in which America gushed with milk and honey.
Bernie Sanders and Trump capitalize off this story as much as Disney. Trump promises to take us back to Ronald Reagan. Sanders promises to take us back to the days of Jimmy Hoffa.
Yet, Ronald Reagan for all his greatness and serving as an icon of conservatism was not always as conservative as we remember him. And contrary to the rhetoric of Bernie Sanders, as great as Americas economy was when union leaders were strong, there were still a lot of great problems with our economy and the lifestyles people could afford. We were not as well off as imagined.
Nostalgia In the Church
I think the church has been guilty of this phenomenon as well.
We talk about the times of the apostles as if the first century church were free from problems. The same goes with the ante-Nicene church fathers, the Protestant Reformation, the Great Awakening, the Pentecostal renewal movement, etc.
Yet, the apostles combated money problems, racism, adultery, division, and heresy. By today’s standards and theological creeds, many of the early church fathers are heretics. Martin Luther for all that he did to reform the faith had some serious behavior and attitude problems that would probably prohibit him from ministering in many churches that have his name on the door today. The Great Awakening, spearheaded by the likes of Jonathan Edwards, owned slaves and strongly defended slavery. And many of the great early Pentecostal leaders said and did things that we would find pretty embarrassing today if we looked at in any detail. Read the Azusa Street newsletters that William Seymour used to publish, which contain some pretty bizarre “prophecies” in them.
The Truth About Nostalgia
But the truth about nostalgia is most of it is a lie. Such is not only the case for our collective histories, but such is true of us as individuals.
If we were to examine even the best of periods in our lives, periods that we may even idolize as being a golden period in our lives, when life was good, we would find that our best days were days fraught with problems too.
The problem is, we love myths and legends. We love to ignore the disappointing details of things that we wax over with sentimental affections.
The truth of the matter is: The good ol’ days never existed.
Pregnant With Hope
That is not to say everything about our past, both individually or collectively, is terrible and without a lot of good.
The problem, however, is that our nostalgia for the good old days often becomes an anchor that holds us in place, and keeps us from moving forward.
And, as much as we need to cherish from our individual and collective histories, we need to become a people who live in hope and anticipation for a better future. We need to be a people who are pregnant with hope, and who can use that hope as fuel for the world we are yet to create.