There is a strange tension in the air. It’s hard to describe but people are talking about it, even though they aren’t really sure what they are feeling or expecting. They just know that we are on the brink of something life-altering. Christians see it from the spiritual side as the fulfillment of Biblical prophesy of the end of days. Folks who closely monitor earth changes see an alarming rise in numbers of catastrophic events like meteors, volcanoes, earthquakes and mega storms portending major global upheaval. Political watchers see rapidly advancing power grabbing, society watchers note negative cultural change that has slowly eroded the standards of core family which threatens to destroy humanity on the cellular level.
In an effort to reduce the confusion to a manageable concept, bloggers keep asking the question, “Are you better off today than four years ago?” which is a quote attributed to Ronald Reagan during a presidential campaign. Clearly the question is specific to a political timeframe but I decided to examine this in broader terms, i.e., is the world better or worse today than in any other era?
First of all, it needs to be noted that this is a loaded question and therefore must be broken down to specifics if we hope to come to a meaningful answer. The question must be posed, better or worse than what? Some conditions are historic, perpetual and endemic and must be temporarily set aside for the sake of the ideological side of this discussion.
For example, what era would you, if you could, choose to live in? How about the Middle Ages? Life expectancy was about 42, religion and politics were largely oppressive to the masses who were mostly enslaved to the ruling elite. How about the revolutionary periods like, the French Revolution or the Bolsheviks’ overthrow of Russia? The American Revolutionary War? The Civil War? World Wars I &II? Any war? What about during the Industrial Revolution when children were strapped to machines in factories for ten hours a day? This still happens in many third world countries you know. Slavery did not begin in America. Human trafficking and the sex slave trade flourishes right under our noses in the most charming of towns across the US.
Okay, let’s admit that there haven’t been any eras where humans haven’t treated other humans in inhumane ways as long as they can get away with it. It’s part of the human archetype–the fallen state. Therefore, universally similar deplorable human circumstances exist, regardless of the era. What is the litmus test, then, for determining better or worse? Is it material things? Is it fame, fortune, comfort, security, happiness?
No doubt the answer will be as individual as there are individuals. For me it lies not in what I think we have gained but rather in what I see we have lost. Those who tout modern convenience, commonly perceived elevated life-style, sexual liberty and extended life as the argument for this being the best era ever, do not see what I see.
What I see is mounting fear–fear of nearly everything. Fear of rising violent crime, ever overreaching intrusion of government into the minutia of our daily lives. I see fear of speaking even the most mundane opinions or words lest one might offend another, fear of allowing children to play outside in their own neighborhoods or walk or ride their bikes to school. Fear of doing anything without mandated protective gear. Fear of being molested and humiliated for simply trying to board an airplane. Fear of our every move being watched and videoed, recorded and monitored. Fear of breaking rules or laws that we don’t even know exist. Fear of trusting anyone, especially our neighbors. Fear of being “de-friended”.
I’ve lived long enough to remember that, while life ten, twenty, thirty years ago was not in any way perfect, and provided many things for the average human to worry about, there was once less general fear. Hope and dreams and the freedom to pursue personal interests took precedence. Being “safe” was less important than being free to take risks because risk was something entirely different from simply walking to your car in the dark.
For all the ongoing problems of living day to day, there was a better, healthier balance between things to worry about and things to be optimistic over. There was an unspoken baseline of acceptable social behavior that allowed for a common trust between humans in all manner of interactions. When the state of being fearful and worried becomes the normal condition of the general population to the point of living in constant angst, second guessing every move or hindering the spirit of standing on a principal, something is very wrong and leads one to conclude that, indeed, something wicked does this way come–and maybe is already here.
And then there is the decline of intelligence. For all our high tech innovations, speed of communication and instant access to information, humankind seems to be losing ground in terms of general knowledge, common sense, logic, problem-solving, self-sufficiency and overall ability to think critically. The advantage of modern living is modern convenience, but it is a very bad trade-off for the downside which is capitulation of real intelligence to artificial intelligence, all the while believing that this is smart.
My conclusion: I can say that, if only attributing it strictly to the creature comforts of this modern age, I am better off materially speaking, at least for the moment, until someone decides that what I have ought to be given to someone else. Where I am not better off is in my spirit as I grieve for the substantive things lost and/or replaced with the hollow, intelligence-reversing, soul-killing, shallow substitutions that hold hostage the focus of this contemporary world and that have contributed to giving us longer, comfortable lives even as they simultaneously have generated a new fear-based culture striped of its ability to reason outside of the boundaries of Group Feel.
The upside is knowing that when you belong to Christ, you are in this world but not of this world. It’s in this place where there is no fear and I can live here confident that no matter how bad it might get, better is coming.
(Romans 12:2) And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.