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Give the Prince of Peace a Chance

Woodstock Waged Culture War While Proclaiming Secular Peace

Tom Nash

It was billed as “three days of peace and music,” but when you’re promoting “sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll,” and more than 400,000 young adults show up, you’re bound to foster domestic warfare, even if you are at the same time decrying armed conflict overseas.

This isn’t about opposing protests against the Vietnam War, which was raging in August, 1969, when Woodstock took place on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in rural upstate New York. How the U.S. conducted that lengthy campaign was not fair to the soldiers sent to fight, nor was our pullout in April 1975 fair to the South Vietnamese who had supported us, including Venerable Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who endured the crucible of being named the coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon less than a week before the U.S. exit by airlift. Nor is this about failing to appreciate the talented musicians who performed at the gathering.

Rather, this is about noting the irony of fomenting cultural subversion within one’s own country—in the name of personal and communal liberation—while condemning conventional warfare abroad, and all the while saying you’re committed to promoting peace. Societal subversion is inevitable when you attempt to separate sex from its proper place within marriage and family. That is, when you disregard the plan for personal and social freedom that Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7), provides (John 8:31-32; 14:6), and instead seek a secular counterfeit, you will inexorably undermine the traditional family, the fundamental building block of any civilization.

As historian James Perone writes,

Woodstock was the scene of open nudity. . . . This free approach to nudity and sex of the 1969 festival was seen by those who supported the free hippie lifestyle of the Woodstock generation as beautiful and by those who did not support that particular lifestyle as symbolic of a breakdown of decency and morals in American society.

So which side was right? Woodstock certainly didn’t light the fuse of the sexual revolution and related cultural pathologies, but it was certainly emblematic of their disordered spirit. Man’s endeavors cannot conceive—let alone achieve—the self-denial and self-donation that is integral to the agapic love to which Christ calls his disciples and empowers them to live in advancing a genuine civilization of love (Matt. 16:24-27).

“Make Love, Not War” may sound catchy and true until you’re rudely reminded that sex invariably has consequences, and not good ones apart from matrimony. To the extent that sex is viewed as the consummation and renewal of the lifelong marriage covenant between a man and a woman, data shows that individuals, couples, families, neighborhoods, cities, and societies flourish. In addition, the possibility of procreation is a natural affirmation of the religious conviction that two people who are conjugally intimate should be married (see Gen. 2:23-24).

On the other hand, prospective and existing families as well as neighborhoods, cities and societies are progressively undermined with each and every act of fornication or adultery, given the uncommitted and thus self-centered nature of these encounters. Self-centered here entails deliberately flouting God’s plan or foolishly attempting to remake Christ in our own image (Gen. 1:26-27), instead of conforming ourselves to his plan with childlike trust (Matt. 18:1-4).

An iconic example is John Lennon, who couldn’t make Woodstock but released his antiwar anthem—“Give Peace a Chance”— a month earlier, and performed it a month after Woodstock at a music festival in Toronto. The previous year, however, Lennon had left his wife Cynthia and son Julian, causing havoc for both, as a reviewer of her memoir John reports:

“I’d buried a lot of it, because it was too painful, so to rake over all that was incredibly hard,” she says. She describes returning home from a holiday to find John and Yoko sitting cross-legged, facing each other, Yoko wearing Cynthia’s bathrobe. “The scene is implanted on my mind forever,” she says. “John had such indifference in his eyes. I held no fascination for him any more.”

Cynthia also depicts John as a hypocrite, spreading the message of peace and love while being dismissive and downright cruel to Julian, [and Julian affirms the same]. Once, on one of his son’s infrequent visits to see him in New York, John shouted at a giggling Julian that he never wanted to hear that “horrible laugh” again. It took years before Julian would allow himself to laugh, Cynthia says.

Lennon was raised an Anglican, but like the legions of Woodstock participants, he saw the life of Christ as restrictive, not liberating (John 8:31-32). And so his contempt for anything associated with moral absolutes—“Bishops and Fishops and Rabbis and Popeyes”—came through in “Give Peace a Chance,” and was solidified in his 1971 utopian paean, “Imagine,” which longed for a world without heaven, hell and thus “no religion, too.”

Mere months after Woodstock, emancipation from agapic love gained formal legal support, as no-fault divorce made its national debut in California in January 1970.  A great increase in divorce followed, aided and abetted by other factors, including the concurrent sexual revolution and the rise of radical feminism. As American sociologist Brad Wilcox observes:

While less than 20% of couples who married in 1950 ended up divorced, about 50% of couples who married in 1970 did. And approximately half of the children born to married parents in the 1970s saw their parents part, compared to only about 11% of those born in the 1950s.

Since 1980, Wilcox adds,

The worst consequences of the social revolution of the 1960s and ‘70s are now felt disproportionately by the poor and less educated, while the wealthy elites who set off these transformations in the first place have managed to reclaim somewhat healthier and more stable habits of married life.

Those consequences include cohabitation, which by 1977 had become enough of a social trend to warrant a Newsweek cover story, illustrating the increasing anxiety among the liberated yet commitment-phobic lovebirds. Several decades later, cohabitation has increased 900 percent, and University of North Carolina researchers report that “70 percent of women aged 30 to 34 have cohabited with a male partner, and two-thirds of new marriages take place between couples who have already lived together for an average of 31 months,” even though, “on average, researchers found that couples who cohabited before marriage had a 33 percent higher chance of divorcing than couples who moved in together after the wedding ceremony.”

Contrary to the anthem from the British rock band “The Who,” who did perform at Woodstock, the kids are not all right. Wilcox reports that “children who are exposed to divorce are two to three times more likely than their peers in intact marriages to suffer from serious social or psychological pathologies.” Meanwhile, the unwed birth rate in America has risen from about five percent for the general population in 1963 to more than 40 percent in recent years. And when a society willfully rejects the idea openness to life is intrinsically bound up with the expression of conjugal love, we shouldn’t be surprised when marriage itself eventually gets redefined on purely subjective grounds.

For those with eyes to see, the social chaos of which Woodstock was a harbinger was already evident in the event itself. A month after Woodstock, the clean-up was still going on, and concert organizers had to compensate Yasgur for extensive damage done to his farm. There were also 742 drug overdoses reported. In 1999, a 30th anniversary celebration of Woodstock was fraught with problems, including sexual harassment and a number of sexual assaults, and the 50th was mercifully called off a few weeks before the big event.

Twenty-four years after the original Woodstock, Jesus and Pope St. John Paul II drew 750,000 young adults to Denver’s World Youth Day without incident. In stark contrast with Woodstock, the massive WYD festival even had a leavening effect otherwise on a major city that had been plagued by violence that summer. World Youth Day gatherings continue to be an edifying success across the globe, with the next one scheduled in 2022 in Lisbon, Portugal. By their fruits shall you know them.

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