Book Review: “Our Dance Has Turned to Death”

Stephen J Drain's picture

“[The main thesis of this book] is that the family, with traditional religious roles for men and women in a life-long monogamous marriage relationship, is the abiding natural foundation for social order, happiness and stability. When that view is abandoned for selfish individualism the society will collapse and die.” – Carl W. Wilson, Our Dance Has Turned to Death.[1]
Carl W. Wilson’s book, Our Dance Has Turned to Death, examines the causes and effects of the disintegration of the American family. Published in 1979 (Yes, 1979!) it stands today as a prophetic voice from the not-too-distant past. This social theory still stands because it is well within a biblical framework. Not all is biblical, much is theoretical.  No matter which side you might prefer, it is still a good read. Drawing on a wide range of sources, from anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, and historians, as well as the Bible, Mr. Wilson’s book touches on a vast array of topics, including slavery, the industrial revolution, woman’s suffrage, feminism, sexuality, homosexuality, politics, economics, the military, etc. But be forewarned—men, women, Christian, secularist, leftwing, and right wing—you will probably be offended in some way; no matter what group you identify with, Carl W. Wilson will confront and challenge your conventional wisdom.
Then the Lord said to me, ‘When you tell them all this, they will not listen to you. When you call out to them, they will not respond to you’” (Jeremiah 7:27).

I first read Carl W. Wilson’s Our Dance Has Turned to Death in the late 1990s. It greatly impressed me at the time. It still does. It was one of several books, including Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, in which an author not only observed what I was seeing in society, what I was seeing in modern-American-me, but also provided theories as to the causes of our self-centered, fragmented and fragmenting self-destruction. Why is our society polarizing? Why are individuals throwing off traditional norms, roles, and morality? Why is everyone becoming so malignantly narcissistic? Christians know the reasons because Scripture gives them to us: Turning from God results in disorder, decay, and death.
No one offended yet? Okay, so far so good I guess… but it’s coming.
The following quote is the crux of Wilson’s 1979 book:
I hope to show the main cause of the nation’s troubles is that many men in America have turned from the worship of God and have selfishly distorted their role in pursuit of wealth and status, giving them an overexaggerated prominence compared to the role of women. In doing so they have neglected their wives and their children. Some women, following the values of materialism and status set by the men, have revolted against the role of wife and mother for their selfish individual rights, producing dislike, abuse, neglect and rejection of children, who become a hindering responsibility. This over-emphasis on the rights of the individual by men and women has spread the disintegration of society even further. Men have been the chief causal agents in role distortion, but some radical feminists, homosexuals, and proponents of children’s rights are now actually attempting to strike a fatal blow to the family by other selfish role distortions.”[2]
The author opens with a cursory look at the three foundational pillars of the west—Greece, Rome, and Christianity—followed by a quick look at America’s religious beginnings (a subject to be broached another time). He (later) examines reasons for the decline of both Greece and Rome, (materialism, sensuality and immorality, individualism) underscoring his thesis that America may very well be following the same trajectory. However, he believes that the erosion of America corresponds directly to it’s turning from its religious heritage; its turning from God and the perversion of the Christian religion within our nation. In a society turned away from a foundational Christian worldview, a nation turned to secular humanism and materialism (both the philosophy and the lifestyle), our sin manifests its cancerous-self on all fronts. Abandoning God results in abandoning our God given roles, which results in familial breakdown, then societal breakdown. Thus the businessman exploits, the politician lies, and each person, out for his or herself, runs roughshod over everyone else. Since everything moves towards disorder, the demand (or opportunity) for the government to control grows stronger.
Masculine and feminine
So it’s back to the basics for the author. What roles has God established and created for men and women? Look at these roles in context as we are living in a world that is in rebellion towards God. The author believes that all the character traits, ones generally divided into masculine and feminine traits, were originally intended to be human traits. He points out that Jesus, God incarnate, had traits considered both masculine and feminine. It’s an excellent point. Think about it: Toughness and authority combined with compassion and tenderness, a carpenter, judge, and king, who loved children, cared for the sick, and wept with the mourners. Jesus ruled and He served. Jesus threatened and He loved. The author believes that as a result of the Fall, God divided the traits and roles in order for man and woman to be dependent upon one another, in order to help them “overcome their selfish individualism.”[3]
Because of sin God temporarily redefined the sex roles for mankind’s benefit and for His own glory. The offense today is not because God is identified with maleness but because maleness is identified with God’s authority. Sinful men and women do not wish to be submissive to the control of another, God or human (cf. Romans 8:7-8). This is the crux of the whole matter! Sin expressed as selfish individualism is the great human problem. The essence of sin is the desire to exalt self—to ‘be like God.’[4]
Everyone’s toes are about to be stepped on, but remember that rejection of God given roles, the roles found in Scripture, is still rebellion towards God.[5] And so, the following is Wilson’s general argument, embellished a bit by me:
This is what the Lord says: ‘What fault did your fathers find in me, that they strayed so far from me? They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves” (Jeremiah 2:5, NIV).
It begins with men. Men’s responsibility, first and foremost, is service and submission to God (Genesis 2:15-17, Hebrews 12:9). If a man is in the right relationship with God (through Christ alone might I add—John 14:6, 1 John 2:23) then he will, by the grace of God, work toward understanding and fulfilling his role as a man, as a husband and father. He is to lead, work, provide, and protect. He is to be a loving, selfless, and humble servant. But if he abandons God; he loses his moral compass and his self worth (for it is God who gives direction and God who gives us value and worth). A man who abandons God will end up bowing to another god. More often than not he will turn to worship the person in the mirror, himself. He will come to see himself as the center of the universe, the one to whom all must acquiesce, bow down to and serve. He may also worship and serve money, possessions, status, power, and sexuality.[6] This man needs a new sports car, a younger wife, a gym membership, and the V.P.’s corner office. A man who refuses to serve God and submit to his God given role is the problem. A man who thinks he is God, a man who worships money, possessions, status, power, or sexuality will certainly not be a good, loving, humble husband, father, or member of society for that matter.
They have turned their backs to me and not their faces; yet when they are in trouble, they say, ‘Come and save us!’” (Jeremiah 2:27, NIV).
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has an evil, unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God” (Hebrews 3:12).
Woman’s responsibility, first and foremost, is also to God. But within the roles set by God they are to be submissive to their husbands as head of the family (Colossians 3:18, 1 Peter 3:1). Woman was created to share in the management of the world and the family (Genesis 1:27-28, Genesis 2:20-24). Her authority and responsibility are predominantly over the home and the children (Proverbs 31:10-31, 1 Timothy 2:15). She is to be respectful, nurturing, encouraging. She is to be a loving, servant. A woman best fulfills her role as wife and mother when in relationship with a man who is properly fulfilling his role. But since men have abandoned God and abandoned their proper role, women cannot fulfill the role for which they were intended. How can a woman submit to the leadership of a wicked husband? She is, after all, first and foremost to be submissive to God. And if she cannot rest in the safety and provision and love that her husband provides, her hand, then, is almost forced to fend for herself, to seize the reigns, so to speak. She then assumes the role of leader, worker, provider, protector, etc. She loses her moral compass. She abandons her primary role of home and children. And thus she also, just like the fallen man, begins worshipping and serving the same things he does. This woman chooses career over family, becomes as promiscuous as men have “traditionally” been, aborts her offspring because she does not want to be “inconvenienced” and believes she owns her body.[7] She believes she does not need a man; she can do anything a man can do; she can go to a sperm bank if she wants to become pregnant; she does not need to be married to have children, etc. A woman who refuses to serve God and submit to her God given role is a problem. And a woman who thinks she is god is certainly not a good, loving, humble wife or mother or member of society.
Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones” (Romans 1:26, NIV).
There is a generation who curse their fathers and do not bless their mothers” (Proverbs 30:11).
What is the role of children? It’s pretty straightforward: to be obedient to their parents (Ephesians 6:1-3). Fathers are not to exasperate or embitter their children (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21). Mothers are called to love their children and be busy at home (Titus 2:4-5). And parents are called to discipline and, yes, spank their children (Proverbs 13:24, Proverbs 19:18, etc.). What happens when men and women violate these commands, or when they show more interest in the procreating part than they do in the parenting part? When father and mother have abandoned God and turn to worship idols, when they have abandoned their proper roles, the children are left to others or themselves. When children spend more time away from home than at home, when they are raised by family members who are not their parents, or raised by nannies, daycare, pre-school, television, etc., it means that fathers and mothers have somehow forgotten their roles.
How do children react to this rejection? When a parent’s job takes up their life and takes them away from their children, when a single parent’s dating life is more important than the child (of course no parent would ever admit to this; though it is often obvious to outside observers), when a parent’s schooling, hobbies, etc. become the driving force of their lives, the child is taught that that they are of secondary importance, they are part of a “to do” checklist; they no longer receive the best of their parent’s time, but receive the leftover time or they receive the television, dvd player, video game, computer, or toy. They no longer receive the wide awake important hours of the day, but the tired, grumpy, cranky hours. The result: rebellion. (See Romans 1:30b, 2 Timothy 3:2b, Titus 1:6.) If Dad and Mom are not fulfilling their God-given roles, the child will find it’s own role models (rockers, rappers, pop stars, movie stars, sport stars, the Kardashians, peers, gangs, etc.) or they will find their own sources of pleasure and escape (drugs, alcohol, pornography, etc.). If Dad and Mom have modeled that Self is the most important thing, that work and money, relationships and sex, hobbies and television are what one gives his or her life to, then children will follow suit. Self-first. My wants and needs first. If you do not make me a priority, I will make me a priority.
When a mother’s loving care and a father’s loving discipline are lacking, the children are left insecure, unresponsive to authority, and undisciplined. Without controlling oversight and adult example, young people develop selfish individualistic, independent, antisocial attitudes and actions. These are reinforced by their peers.[8]
The author actually says at one point that some parents, in rejecting their God-given roles, are modeling rebellion to their children.[9] Tough words, but probably true for a great many of us, if not the majority of us. “We thereby are mass-producing unstable people for the next generation—a bleak future indeed.”[10]
So will we listen and return to what God has told us and called us? Or do we want to continue in rebellion?
He said, “Go and tell these people: ‘Listen continually, but don’t understand! Look continually, but don’t perceive!’ Make the hearts of these people calloused; make their ears deaf and their eyes blind! Otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, their hearts might understand and they might repent and be healed” (Isaiah 6:9-10).
Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16, NIV).
To be continued…
Feel free to read my other columns at

Our Dance Has Turned to Death, copyright 1979 Carl W. Wilson, Tyndale House Publishers Living Books (paperback) edition copyright 1981, page xv.

[2] Ibid, pages 10-11.

[3] Ibid page 141. Consider also 1 Corinthians 11:11-12.

[4] Ibid, page 139.

[5]Again, do not misunderstand, before God, men and women are equal in value with equal moral standing before God (see Genesis 1:27and Galatians 3:28), but they are different, different physically, and given different roles, etc. This is biblical from cover to cover. And when men and women forsake and abandon their assigned roles, they jeopardize, in fact they destroy the created order. (Where was Adam when Eve was being deceived?) I think of Genesis 3:16, where God, in pronouncing the curse, tells the woman, “Your desire will be for your husband” or as some other versions have worded it “You will want to control your husband” (NET), “you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you” (NLT).[5] Husbands and men, however, are warned sternly, to treat women with special care and love (Malachi 2:13-15, Ephesians 6:25, Colossians 3:19, 1 Timothy 5:2, 1 Peter 3:7).

[6] All of the above essentially paints a picture of the materialistic worldview; God is out of the picture. When God is gone, mankind becomes god. This means man and woman both will see themselves as the center. Everyone becomes individualistic, self-centered, and narcissistic. When that happens (and it happened at the Fall) there is conflict on all fronts because everyone is jockeying to be the most important, first, the center of the universe. Every person approaches every situation thinking, How does this effect me? How can I most benefit here?” But if everyone asked, “What is the will of God in this circumstance or situation?” there would be more humility, more consideration of others, etc.

[7] See my two columns subtitled “Critical Thinking and the Abortion Debate” here: and here:

[8] Our Dance Has Turned to Death, copyright 1979 Carl W. Wilson, Tyndale House Publishers Living Books (paperback) edition copyright 1981, page 48.

[9] See page 47.

[10] Ibid, page 120.

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