Christian Biopolitics: A Credo & Strategy for the Future by Kenneth Cauthen
Dr. Cauthen is the John Price Grazer Griffith professor of theology at Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Bexley Hall/Grazer Theological Seminary. Published by Abingdon Press, Nashville; New York, 1971. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 3: Dreaming: Visions and Values
OUR BEST HOPE IN THIS CRISIS OF WORLD TRANSITION LIES IN THE EMERGENCE OF A CREATIVE MINORITY OF DREAMERS AND DOERS WHO CAN PROVIDE A VISION AND A SET OF VALUES SUFFICIENTLY POWERFUL IN MEANING AND MOTIVATION TO CONVERT MEN FROM THEIR IDOLATROUS IDEOLOGIES AND LOYALTIES AND REORIENT THEM TOWARD ONE OVERRIDING GOAL -- THE SURVIVAL AND FULFILLMENT OF THE WHOLE HUMAN RACE IN THE DAWNING PLANETARY SOCIETY.
Do ideas and ideals have the power to alter the course of history? Crane Brinton reminds us that among the stock of ideas developed in the modern world is "the idea that ideas are powerless to influence human actions." (The Shaping of the Modern Mind [Mentor Books; New York: New American Library, 1953] p.7.) Historians of the French Revolution have debated the point as to whether or not it was the ideas of the philosophers concerning human rights, equality, justice, democracy, freedom or the interests of the ordinary people pinched in belly and pocketbook that led to the uprising of 1789. Felix Rocquain argued in an 1878 book, The Revolutionary Spirit Before the Revolution, 1715-1789, that one should not turn to the writings of Montesquieu, Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire, etc., and to the ideals of "liberty, equality, fraternity" for an explanation of what drove Frenchmen to revolution. Rather one should look to the concrete grievances -- high taxes, poor roads, periodic famines, governmental restrictions on free enterprise, and outmoded feudal dues, etc. In 1906 Marius Roustan published another view in a book under the title The Philosophers and French Society in the Eighteenth Century. His argument was that it was the ideas of the philosophers at work in a society which had genuine practical grievances that produced revolt. It was the presence of certain ideals coming from the intellectuals that made the difference between the abortive unrest in the earlier part of the century and the successful uprising of 1789. Frenchmen hungered for bread in the 1750s, but it was when they had learned from their philosophers to seek for more than bread, i.e., for their "natural rights," that they began to take effective action. Brinton takes the position that Roustan is closer to the truth than Rocquain.
Indeed my basic position is that for the understanding of human behavior in society the whole controversy as to whether material conditions (appetites, interests, "drives," or in Marxist terms, the ‘means of production" and the consequent "class struggle") cause men to act is at bottom pointless and unprofitable. No automotive engineer would dream of debating whether the gasoline or the spark made the internal-combustion engine run, let alone which came first, the gasoline or the spark. . . . Without both gasoline and spark, no working motor; without both ideas and interests (or appetites or drives, or material factors) no live, working human society, and no human history.(Ibid., p.9.)
I agree with Brinton that ideals operating in the presence of interests can be powerful instruments of social transformation. There is a kind of thinking in which ideas are impotent, a mere intellectual exercise. There is another kind of thinking in which ideas, ideals, goals, are existential, efficacious, operationally powerful in leading to decisive change in behavior. Imagine a man high on a cliff overlooking a river. Far below he sees another man in a boat. Suddenly the boat overturns, and the occupant is thrown into the water. Too far away to be of any assistance, the man on the cliff speculates about the options available to the threatened man in the water. Should he try to make it to shore? Would it be better to swim for an island in the middle of the stream? Does his life depend on hanging onto the boat, even though there are dangerous rocks and rapids not far downstream? To the man perched safely above it all, these ideas are inert, a matter of debate and idle speculation. He is not threatened; he is not involved. But suppose we switch now to the man thrashing about in the water down below. He too reviews the options, taking into account the relative dangers and prospects each choice offers. But there is a difference in the ideas he runs through his mind. His thinking is existential. He longs for a vision of a real possibility which acted upon effectively will save him. His life is at stake. In his case, insight will lead to action. He can be motivated by a goal that offers him safety from the raging torrent into which he has been so suddenly thrown.
The point is that ideas have powerful consequences for action when there is a direct relationship between their content and the crucial interests of those who hold them already or hear them for the first time. Each person or group has a framework of understanding -- a picture of how the world works -- which guides both the actions that they take and the responses they make to incoming information. Such a framework has the function of regulating the interactions between persons and their total environment and its subsystems in accordance with certain norms or goals (values) which are then operative. As long as the system works -- achieves what the individual or group employing it wants or holds essential -- new ideas, values, goals, etc., will have little chance of being existentially or operationally adopted. However, if the system of understanding breaks down -- stops producing what is most important -- then an openness may exist toward an alternative framework of orientation which will be more effective in guaranteeing vital interests.
Kenneth Boulding speaks to this same point in dealing with the growth of knowledge, a process which involves three components: an image, the inferences which are drawn from it, and the incoming messages which either confirm or contradict it.
The image is the actual content of a particular human mind -- that is, the subjective content of knowledge. This is what a man thinks the world is like, the sum total of his beliefs, his image of the world and of himself and space and time, his ideas of causal connections, and so on. From our image of the world we constantly draw inferences about the future -- that is we derive expectations of what is going to happen.(The Meaning of the Twentieth Century, p. 40.)
The environment produces a constant stream of messages which tend either to corroborate or to disappoint our inferences. If the messages appear to contradict our expectations, we can either deny the message, doubt the inference, or change the image. Boulding suggests that an ideology may be regarded as that part of a total image which a person regards as essential to his own identity -- to his self-image. An image takes on ideological features when it creates a role for a person that he regards highly. When we are dealing with complex systems of thought such as democracy, capitalism, socialism, communism, Christianity, and so on, the testing of an image becomes more difficult. But images may change at every level when failures cannot finally be convincingly attributed to faulty messages or faulty inferences.
When ideas are considered to be a part of an existentially functioning framework of orientation for persons and groups -- in Boulding’s terms part of an image -- they indeed can and do have the power attributed to them in a famous passage in J. M. Keynes’s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money.
The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices In the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler a few years back. I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.(London: Macmillan, 1936, p. 383.)
To return to the earlier parable, ideas do not much matter if they are held or being debated by men whose investment in them is as remote as that of the man high on the cliff who idly speculates about the options available to men threatened with drowning. But ideas about swimming and theories about what to do when your boat overturns matter desperately if you are the man thrashing about in the water.
If the thesis pursued so far in this chapter is correct, the position of humanity today is that of the man in the swirling water, not that of the man high above safe on the cliff. Mankind is faced with some crucial choices and the stakes are high -- utopia or oblivion. The perils and the promises are immense; the time of decision is short; and the unit of survival is the whole human race. It is only as theology and as the church can communicate to men a message that is relevant to their felt needs, frustrations, fears, hopes, and dreams that each can play an effective role in the present crisis. Is there a theology of hope and survival that can bring good news to men in these crucial decades of world transition? Can the church be an agent of transformation in this period of crisis, enabling men to avoid the perils and to inherit the promises of the emerging world society? Were the church able to provide a vision of a unified planetary society organized both politically and technologically in such a way as to make available the full resources of the earth for the benefit of all the world’s people, would it be effective in generating social change? Can such a vision, along with its accompanying values, provide meaning and motivation sufficiently powerful to convert men from their idolatrous, self-destructive loyalties and transform them into prospective citizens of a new world society?
Strong encouragement to believe that positive answers to these latter questions are credible comes from a massive work produced by a Dutch sociologist, Frederick L. Polak, published in two volumes under the title The Image of the Future. After studying a series of Western societies from ancient Greece and Iran through the history of Israel, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and on into the twentieth centuries, Polak concludes that the most important single factor involved in the generation of change is the image of the future held by a given group. He states this thesis in strong, confident, uncompromising terms.
Positive images of the future are regarded as the primary causal factor (although not always the exclusively dominant factor in a changing complex of causes) in cultural change.(Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana Publications), II: 122.
The central thread of this voluminous work is a two-fold thesis: Positive images of the future conceived in each present time are co-determining for the future of that time. Conversely the projected future is already exercising its influence on the present through these images, and by continuous interaction it is also affecting the construction of revised images of the future. (Ibid., II: 114-15.)
Explicitly identifying himself with the position of historical idealism, Polak maintains that it is precisely the spiritual nature of the values widely held in a society that gives them their power. It is not the material factors of economic production, military might, and technological development, but the underlying ideas, ideals, goals, and norms which are strongly held on a mass basis that determine the course of history. Moreover, every spiritual or intellectual movement has just as much historical driving power as is contained in its vision of the future. The future of a culture can be measured by the power of its images about the future. A society flourishes when its positive ideals direct it toward a desirable goal, and a culture declines when its vision for what lies ahead decays or loses its grip on great numbers of people. Only a society which believes strongly in the future has a future.
Polak concludes that for the first time in the three thousand year history of Western civilization the process by which images of the future have been revised, renewed, and constantly created has come to an end. Never before has there been such an obvious, massive loss of the will to generate, substitute, and renovate such visions. Science and technology which were once seen as powers for the good are now seen at best as ambiguous and at worst as the means of our final universal ruin. Liberalism and Marxism, which both saw natural law as carrying history upward to a new, glorious age, have been challenged by the social dynamics of Spengler, Nietzsche, Toynbee, and Sorokin. Despite their differences, these thinkers all agree in rejecting the notion of continuous evolutionary progress. In philosophy the pessimism of Schopenhauer and the nihilism of Nietzsche have triumphed in a dominating existentialism. This philosophy sees life as a meaningless absurdity, a succession of moments of decision into which no hope enters to provide expectations of a better tomorrow. In politics nationalism and ideological conflict reign, so that one who ventures to dream of a universal humanity is regarded as a traitor to his native land. In literature, scenarios of the future are typified by Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World -- both outlining horrifying prospects as the destiny of technological civilization. The eschatological vision, which expected God to bring in that radically other and better world, has been reduced to myth; utopian thinking, which expected the new age as the outcome of human effort, has come to be regarded as illusion. It is not simply that God has died -- although he has for millions of people in the modern world; positive images of the future have also died. Contemporary man lives in a perpetual present that experiences little or no fascination for or energizing pull from great positive expectations for the future -- an unprecedented state of affairs in our history that constitutes a breach from our past. So Polak’s argument runs.
Consistent with his thesis, Polak sees the crisis of our times precisely at the point where its positive images of the future have faded or been replaced with ambiguous or negative ones. Hope for our society lies in the possibility of the rebirth of visionary thought, utopian dreaming, the resurrection of the split between present and future that provides the dynamic of change in the direction of projected ideals.
Western civilization is not lost beyond the possibility of salvation, not yet irrevocably doomed to death, if we can find the right answer to the almost overwhelming challenge which the future offers to our time, in the form of purposeful, vital and inspiring images of the future. These images must have the power to tear our civilization loose from the claws of the present and free it once more to think and act for the future. The seed of these images becomes the life -- blood of culture, and the transformation of our civilization waits upon the sowing of new seed.(Ibid., II: 357)
Polak’s thesis has great merit. I have already indicated my own belief that ideas and ideals which offer hope of rescue or fulfillment to persons or groups where their vital interests are at stake can be powerful sources of constructive, even revolutionary, change. Nevertheless, I believe that the historical idealism of Polak needs to be qualified by the insights springing from thinkers like Freud, Marx, and others who have shown how human actions are conditioned by a variety of very non-ideal factors -- unconscious psychic drives and economic interests. More particularly, Christian realism about man teaches us that men need not only be inspired by high ideals in their time of need but also to be freed from bondage to idols. Human beings are hindered from seeing and doing what is truly good by a host of insecurities, anxieties, vested selfish interests, and by sheer desire for power and glory. Men are not simply rational beings who make ethical decisions and choose their goals by a series of logical calculations. Neither are they simply determined in their behavior by instincts, drives, feelings, or social conditioning. Rather they are complicated bio-socio-spiritual beings whose freedom is qualified but not eliminated by the natural-biological, historical-cultural factors which enter into the formation of human selfhood. Reinhold Niebuhr has, more profoundly than anyone else in recent times, analyzed the dynamic of the self as being both bound and free.(See The Nature and Destiny of Man, one vol. ed. [New York: Scribner’s, 1949])
Images (pictures of how the world works) and ideals (guiding principles of action) are formed in persons in a complex fashion. Beginning with their early experiences with parents, this formation continues throughout the socialization process. The self is shaped not only by the crucial influences that come to bear on it, but also by the emerging freedom which enables the self as subject to tower above itself and its world to survey both. Inevitably, distortions, errors, and prejudices are introduced into the developing images of the self since the experiences on which they are based and the interpretations given to them are extremely unlikely to mirror perfectly the real world (God’s perspective). Also, developing ideals are corrupted by egoism. Hence, images and ideals formed at the center of the self are neither full of truth nor free of sin. To focus it differently, everybody is partly wrong in his view of the world, and everybody is neurotic to one degree or another with regard to the total response he makes to those about him.
Nevertheless, the self as self-transcendent subject can elaborate visions of more desirable futures for itself and the world that constitute a lure calling for the actualization of some selected alternative. These visions arise out of the formed images and ideals of the person in interaction with the creative imagination that is capable of inventing novel possibilities. At its pinnacle the self is radically free to choose which among possible futures it will seek. But the self’s vision of the promise of life is surrounded by an awareness of the many ways in which the future is being shaped by forces and circumstances that can neither be predicted nor controlled. This knowledge produces anxiety. Moreover, the self carries with it into every moment of decision the distorted images and values formed by its past. In short, the self is freer to envision ideals of a radically different future than it is to escape from its present commitments.
Basically desiring to enjoy their being and to fulfill their potentialities, men are made anxious by the perils they face as finite beings. Moreover, they are fascinated with the possibilities of self-aggrandizement. Threatened by loss of life and happiness and tempted by the pleasures that calculated exploitation of selfish interests could bring, men are inevitably seduced into the pursuit of numerous goods and goals which exalt their own interests above those of their neighbors. The evils that men do to one another spring in complex fashion both out of the fear that they have of losing their own being (defensive actions to lower anxiety) and fascination with the power that they might possess for themselves (aggressiveness rooted in sheer perversity). The result is idol worship.
An idol is something with power or value treasured by persons because it offers both to protect their vital interests and to provide what they want most. But idols always are partial, exclusive, relative, and finite in that the goals and values they represent always favor the interests of a particular group within a prescribed circle. Racism and nationalism are examples. Money, position, and prestige become idols when they are inordinately sought for one’s own self or group. Idols are gods who favor particular interests of limited groups, i.e., the worshipers of those idols. They lack universality, whereas God seeks the good of all equally. The great commandments explicitly connect uncompromising worship of God (loving God with all one’s heart) with making the good of others equal to that of the self (loving the neighbor as one loves himself).
This description should not conjure up pictures of sinners wrathfully shaking their fists at God, flagrantly seeking to do their neighbors in, and offering their passionate devotion to conspicuous gods. Sin is not usually so dramatic. It is necessary also to speak of inertia, passivity, lethargy, and apathy as modes of religious and ethical response. Most persons live in quiet conformity, carried along with the stream of events which catch them up, adapting to what comes, appropriating conventional ideas and ideals, variously loving, hating, living and letting live, doing the best they ordinarily can, hoping for the best. By and large, then, people are neither angels nor devils but are doers of good and evil at moderate levels, average sinners whose virtues and vices are hardly spectacular. Nevertheless, all have their idols, treasure them, and serve them. Moreover, the dynamics I have described are, I believe, at work in all, so that in varying degrees we are all sinners whose worship is nearly always partly, and sometimes mostly, idolatrous.
The point of this theological excursus is to say that the persons to whom utopian ideals of the future are addressed are in varying degrees idol worshipers who do not find it easy to free themselves from them to seek more inclusive values. Men are not simply ignorant of the true, universal good which lures them from the future; they are presently in bondage to particular, limited values coming out of their past.
Having said this, however, the positive contribution of Polak needs to be stressed. To speak theologically again, the Christian message speaks not only of men existing in bondage to idols but also holds out the possibility of redemption. Men can be liberated at least partially from their enslavement to false gods. Inadequate images and ideals can be replaced by more inclusive ones. Such liberation follows from an encounter with a prior grace which promises salvation at the same time that it delivers judgment. Applied to the transition through which the human race is now moving, this means that we need a vision of a world future that is, in principle, irresistible. By an irresistible vision I mean an ideal goal for mankind that is (1) intrinsically desirable, (2) possible of actual achievement, and (3) set forth in a situation where to reject it (or some qualitatively equivalent alternative) would be to court misery and/or destruction. Not all will act on the good news. They never have. There is a mystery of election in that while many are called, only a few respond. But a creative minority of dreamers who do respond may indeed change the world.
However, the realism indicated above means that, along with dreamers, we need doers who seek power in the real world of the present to free the oppressed from the tyranny of the dominating idols of our society. Moreover, power is required to reorganize society in ways that begin to create the possibility of a new future. A strategy of transformation in terms of gaining and using political power is as necessary as the emergence of a creative minority of utopian dreamers. Such political action may require in some times and places as a last resort the legitimation of violence.
Nevertheless, given this context, to dream new dreams, to create new utopias of the mind, and to project new images of the future appropriate to the emerging conditions of the year 2000 may indeed be -- as Polak claims -- our one best hope. Indeed, Elise Boulding argues that the recent past provides some confirmation of this thesis, insofar as the modern West is concerned. "Utopia-writing," she argues, interacted with social experimentation and the more popular imagination to create social innovations in every sphere from the economic (the trade union movement, profit-sharing, social security, scientific management) through political (parliamentary democracy, universal suffrage) to the social (universal education, child welfare practices, women s "emancipation," New Towns, social planning. As Polak says, most features of social design in contemporary society were first figments of a utopia-writer’s imagination.("Futurology and the Imaging Capacity of the Future." Paper prepared for delivery at the Symposium on Cultural Futurology, American Anthropological Association [November, 1970], p. 6.)
Surprisingly enough, in his own paradoxical way Reinhold Niebuhr provides support for the idea that utopian ideals have a transforming power. He speaks of them as illusions but recognizes them as essential to social salvation even though they need to be subjected to realistic criticism. In the concluding paragraph of his famous early work, Niebuhr writes as follows:
In the task of that redemption [of the total human enterprise] the most effective agents will be men who have substituted some new illusions for the abandoned ones. The most important of these illusions is that the collective life of mankind can achieve perfect justice. It is a very valuable illusion for the moment; for justice cannot be approximated if the hope of its perfect realization does not generate a sublime madness in the soul. Nothing but such madness will do battle with malignant power and "spiritual wickedness in high places." The illusion is dangerous because it encourages terrible fanaticisms. It must therefore be brought under the control of reason. One can only hope that reason will not destroy it before its work is done.(Moral Man and Immoral Society [New York: Scribner’s, 1932], p.277.)
I am among a growing number of people who believe that there is an urgent need for a rebirth of utopian thinking within the church and in society at large. This may be the dawning of "the Age of Aquarius" as the song from Hair says. But can we dare to believe that it may also become the age of the Spirit spoken of by the prophet Joel? "Then shall it be that I pour out my spirit on all; your sons and daughters shall be inspired, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions." (2:28) Utopian visions need to be rooted in the earth of present actualities, but must extend to the heaven of future possibilities. In this way the ultimate horizon of projected ideals becomes a powerful lure generating hopeful action which begins to make dreams come true. Put theologically, the concept of the Kingdom of God needs to be translated into contemporary terms which preserve the tension between immanent historical potentiality (Thy Kingdom come on earth) and transcendent ultimate perfection (as it is in heaven). Without the former, a vision cannot be recognized as concretely relevant for its own time. Without the latter, ideals do not stand out sufficiently beyond the ambiguities of the present, either to serve as a judgment on historical actuality or as a lure for future realization.
Clearly enough, what is called for at the moment is a vision of a good future for the whole human race framed in ideas and ideals commensurate with the highest possibilities of the dawning planetary society now forming as the culmination of historical processes thousands of years in the making. This image must include the notion of humanity living in symbiotic harmony with the natural environment, and organized technologically and politically in such a way as to provide equal access to the means of human fulfillment to all of the earth’s people. While goals need to have the dimension of utopian perfection, specifics need to be worked out by many from alternative perspectives in terms of all necessary details ranging from estimates of the optimum world population to life-styles and fashions of dress. The human imagination needs to be set free among all ages, all races, all classes, all nations to dream dreams of things that never have been but which could be -- dreams so real that they stir up passionate commitment that strives for their embodiment sometime, somewhere, somehow. For example, Martin Luther King in the last decade had a dream that one day white children and black children would walk and work together in a land where character counts rather than color. That vision needs to be nurtured still, while in the next decade other dreamers have visions of universal brotherhood in a time when the technologies of the world are geared to promote the enjoyment of life and not to perfect the arts of death.
Much remains to be said in detailing and defending the value of utopian dreaming, but this chapter must come to a close on a note of realism. I have argued that the only theology worth doing and the only church worth belonging to will work at the creation of a vision of a good future that is powerful enough to generate value commitments that will lead to world survival and fulfillment. Now I must say at once that I have mountainous doubts in my own mind as to whether or not the Christian enterprise has the imaginative potency and creative vitality to contribute effectively to the transformation of values that is required in the next few years. Many theological authors seem more concerned to impress peers than to instruct pastors. By and large theological schools are still bogged down in traditional academic concerns designed more to produce scholars than strategists. The graduates who go forth each year are more skilled in consoling the dying than in converting the living. Far too many Christians are more likely to elect politicians who confirm them in their complacencies than to follow prophets who urge them to create a new civilization. The churches are themselves so caught up in the nationalistic, ideological, racial, and materialistic idolatries of contemporary culture that they are unlikely centers of revolutionary ferment. Most congregations can be counted on to exercise themselves more heartily in conserving the values of the past than in creating visions of the future. On the whole it is not an encouraging picture.
But enough of this! It is easy enough to disparage and condemn. It is more important to recognize that there are latent powers as well as living commitments in the Christian community that can be set into motion given proper leadership. I am a theologian and churchman who still believes in the truth of the Christian message and in the relevance of the Christian ministry, whose primary constituency is the Christian community. I have written this book in the conviction that neither seminaries nor churches, neither theologians nor believers generally, can go on with business as usual -- that I cannot go on with business as usual. The stakes are too high. The time is too short.
I have concluded for myself that the more speculative parts of my own most recent book represent a concern with epistemological and metaphysical issues that are not sufficiently and immediately enough in touch with the crisis of civilization to justify further indulgence in their pursuit. For the present I regard such inquiries as an intellectual luxury, despite my own first love for them and my conviction that somehow theories of knowledge and abstract models of God are relevant to life. No disparagement of critical thought or of high level theological theory is intended. It is simply that I have decided that the only theological work worth doing at the moment is that which contributes toward the creation of a vision and a set of values relevant to the transformation required for civilization to survive and move into the promise of the planetary society. Can the theological enterprise make such a contribution that is effective within the wider society? Can the seminaries find their way through the current turmoil of mergers, financial crises, and confusion of aim to become adept at producing knowledgeable Kingdom agents skilled in the arts of transforming the churches into culture-transforming communities of faith and action? Can Christian believers be grasped by the promise of the new age and the perils of the transition in such a way that leads them into a fresh experience of the gospel of Christ and the power of the Spirit? I do not know. I hope so.
If the needed revolution is to come, first of all within the Christian community, it may best be brought about by a thorough immersion into the matrix of historical experience to which the Bible gives witness. Biblical scholars and theologians of hope have reminded us frequently as well as eloquently in recent days that, from Abraham to the Apostles, the central motifs of the Old and the New Testaments are set within a futuristic framework.
Israel was a pilgrim people liberated from Egyptian bond-age in quest of a promised land that was to be theirs by a Providential Will that directed them toward a glorious future. The prophets looked back to the Exodus as the initiating event of a history of expectation. This history was to find its fulfillment in an even greater victory at the end-time when all nations would be blessed through Israel in a Kingdom in which righteousness, peace, and prosperity reigned supreme. The New Testament introduces a fresh cluster of images around the appearance of Jesus as the Messiah, who both announced and inaugurated the beginning of the end. The church lives between the times, rejoicing in the coming of Christ as the culminating event in the history of salvation. He is also the forerunner of the final consummation in which God will put all enemies under his feet. At every point the community of faith faces the future in hopeful expectation of a glorious destiny. But the church is confronted also with the reality of the judgment of God upon unrepentant idolaters who subvert the will of God and oppress the neighbor.
Martin Dibelius maintains that the message of Jesus about the Kingdom of God sounds the notes of threat, promise, and demand. The culminating point of historical consummation is a threat to the indifferent, the ambitious, the selfish, the prejudiced. But the coming future is announced as a promise of deliverance to the poor, the outcast, the miserable. Those who desired to avoid the threat of judgment and inherit the promise of salvation were urged to prepare for the coming reign of God by repenting, believing, and obeying. Translated into our contemporary terms the same notes can be sounded in a situation in which "the unit of survival is the human race." (Hoagland) Today mankind faces a future filled with threats of massive misery and destruction from atomic holocaust, ecological disaster, hunger and crowding from overpopulation, conflict growing out of the exploding anger of peoples long oppressed, and so on. But there is also the promise of a unified planetary society living in harmony with nature, using the natural resources of the earth for the benefit of all the earth’s living creatures, and opening up prospects of human adventures never before possible. If we are to avoid the threat and attain the promises inherent in the culminating phase of this epoch in world history, our requirement is a massive transformation of ideas, attitudes, commitments, and goals on the part of human beings around the globe.
The world needs a vision and a set of values commensurate with the perils and promises of the planetary society. Can we produce enough dreamers and doers in time? utopia or oblivion? -- that is the question. The human race will be deciding the answer in the next few decades under circumstances of a major transition in the history of mankind. In our time it is becoming increasingly plain that, as John Platt says, "The world has now become too dangerous for anything less than Utopia." (The Step to Man, p. 200.)
The first part of this little "tract for the times" has attempted to get at the "big picture." The second part will assume this analysis of the transition toward a planetary society under conditions which approach the biological limits of the earth during a period of rapidly accelerating scientific knowledge and technological prowess. The attempt in the last three chapters, however, will be to present a framework within which theology and the church may operate to develop a responsible strategy during these crucial decades ahead.