A few nights ago, I watched a videotape of Tarzan, the 1932 film with Johnny Weismuller. The book, Tarzan of the Apes, was written in 1914 by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950). It is hard now to realize how successful the Tarzan stories were then. In the mid-1920's, in my school all the boys were reading them; I read one and was not much interested. Until watching this film, I had seen only a few minutes of a later one, on television.
The Tarzan stories were later versions of Rousseau's "noble savage" myth. Tarzan was the natural man, reared by the apes apart from civilization and possessing a natural goodness and nobility. As against civilized men, he is the good, because the natural, man. Meeting Jane, he is the perfect gentleman to the manner born. The story of Tarzan was the myth of the noble savage for the masses. In various ways, the myth was continued: the criminal, as the outsider, became in the films of the 1930's the new victim of civilization and often the truly noble hero. Then, in the 1960's blacks were given that role by the media, not, of course, educated and successful blacks, but ghetto figures. The hero had to be outside civilization!
But, some years ago, Mario Praz, in The Romantic Agony, demonstrated how this romantic notion had taken a downward trail from natural nobility to natural depravity. One novelist of 1974 has his character admit, "Conquest is all that concerns me. Hate is my aphrodisiac." The natural man was beginning to show his fallen stripes! Before long, the new cultural heroes in the tradition of Rousseau were homosexuals, one in Britain declaring that theirs was the truly free culture because it was totally artificial, ostensibly free of both God and nature.
"But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death" (Prov. 8:35). We live in a death-loving culture which will in time destroy itself. The more it separates itself from God, the more it separates itself from life. In my student days, solipsism was a concern to many, i.e., the conclusion that one cannot know anything except one's self, and that knowledge beyond the self is not possible. Before too many years, existentialism embraced this conclusion triumphantly. As a result, the solipsist individual, as the only reality, was Rousseau's natural man, not only rejecting civilization but also proclaiming his barbarity as the new gospel in the 1960's. Rousseau's noble savage and Burrough's noble ape man were becoming destroyers. Forbidden knowledge and forbidden experiences ceased to exist. The culture of death began to prevail.
At the same time, however, amidst the shambles of pietism and its evasions of reality, a Christian culture began to develop. Christian schools and home schools began to grow and spread rapidly. Surrounded by the evidences of a dying world, a new world is in the making. The old order is nearing death. Therefore rejoice! We are moving from Rousseau's ape man to the new man in Christ.