The World to Come: From Christian Past to Global Future by Lloyd Geering
Lloyd Geering is a Presbyterian minister and former Professor of Old Testament Studies at theological colleges in Brisbane and Dunedia, and Professor of Religious Studies at Victorian University in Wellington, New Zealand. He is author of Tomorrow's God (1994), The World to Come (1999) and Christianity Without God (2002). Published by Polebridge Press, 1999, Santa Rosa, California and by Bridget Williams Books Ltd, Wellington, New Zealand, 1999. This material was edited for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 11: Scenarios of the Future
It is rather ironic that we can forecast the far distant future of this planet more clearly than we can foresee the immediate human future on its surface. As a result of twentieth-century science, we can say with some confidence that the earth will eventually become uninhabitable; the sun will finally exhaust its nuclear fuel and swell out to be a giant red ball that will swallow up the earth. This devastating scenario, however, is likely to occur some four billion years away. It may raise theoretical questions as to whether the universe as a whole, along with the phenomenon of life on this planet, has any ultimate significance, but otherwise this macro-future of the planet does not have any direct impact upon us.
What matters is our imminent future, particularly in the light of the ‘endtimes’ outlined in Chapters 2-6, and the rise of the global problems discussed in Chapters 8-10. Predicting the human future is, however, more problematic than foretelling the future of the solar system. The story of the physical universe is wholly determined by its own inherent structures, which we commonly refer to as the laws of physics. Human history, by contrast, is not a mechanical process. More rigid forms of monotheism, it is true, have tended to regard our history as predetermined, as part of a divine plan.1 Where God was conceived as creating the universe for a purpose, then, since he is also Almighty, his plan could not possibly fail. In the biblical tradition, God was thought to possess full knowledge of human history, past and present; and from time to time he chose to reveal the future to certain select people, such as Joseph, Daniel and John of Patmos. The belief that human history was the working out of the will of an all-powerful, all-knowing God led to a somewhat fatalistic attitude in popular Islam and to the doctrine of predestination in Christianity.
The difficulty with such rigid forms of monotheism, as with philosophical determinism, is that they deny the reality of human freedom and choice. In the end they make a mockery of all morality, for if one has no real power to choose one cannot be held responsible for one’s actions. However, acknowledging the reality of human choice also suggests that the human future is open-ended and indeterminable. And the reason that we cannot predict the forthcoming events of human history is that the human future is quite unknowable (even by any presumed God!): it is yet to be shaped by an almost infinite number of human choices, most of them relatively unimportant.
Moving from the purely physical universe to the biosphere, we must allow for chance and choice as well as cause and effect. All living creatures have some power of choice. Even the sparrow, with its little bird brain, has to make tiny choices about the sticks to pick up to construct its nest. It is in the human species, however, that the capacity to choose becomes greatly magnified, so that considered decisions begin to replace instinct. The existence of human choice will always prevent the human sciences from predicting the future with the accuracy available to the physical sciences. The study of humans and their future is more appropriately called an art, for it can never really be a science.
In our attempt to look into the twenty-first century we can, however, sketch possibilities and probabilities, based on past events and present trends. We get some idea of the scale of potential change if we glance back at what the future looked like to westerners at the beginning of the twentieth century. The European empires had spread right around the globe. Every area of the so-called dark continent of Africa had at last been penetrated by Europeans. Many countries of the Islamic world had become subject to European imperialism. The British people proudly claimed that the sun never set on their empire. The United States had emerged from the civil war and was welcoming a bright and expanding future. Only the countries of what westerners called the Far East -- such as China, Tibet, Japan and Korea -- were still bound by tradition and hardly touched by the waves of cultural change from the west. Christian missionaries, moving out on those waves, fully expected to evangelize the whole world in their generation. Science and technology were growing so fast that there seemed to be no limit to what humans would eventually achieve.
In 1900, therefore, westerners looked into the future with extreme optimism. They welcomed the twentieth century with great expectations. They may have been surprised, but excitedly so, if they had been told of the full extent of the technological advance that was to take place, such as television, the computer revolution and space travel. But how shocked they would have been by the world wars, the ‘great depression’, the spread of communism, the rise of fascist totalitarian states, the construction of nuclear weapons, and genocide, to say nothing of the dramatic changes in social customs. Brzezinski has called the twentieth century the ‘Century of Megadeath’. It has been reckoned that, in addition to the 87 million lives taken in the wars of this century, an additional 80 million were deliberately killed or starved to death in Hitler’s death camps, Stalin’s labor camps, Mao’s cultural revolution and the ‘killing-fields’ of Cambodia.2 So much for the advanced civilization of the twentieth century.
All of these things, good and bad, have occurred in only 100 years. With this experience of what we humans are capable of doing to one another, and with the decline of belief in a providential God, there is far less confidence about the human future among informed people today than there was at the beginning of the twentieth century.
What will occur in the next 100 years? Social change is still accelerating and on a global scale; the population is expanding exponentially; technology is ever more powerful; the environment is under acute pressure. So we need to prepare ourselves for more drastic events and changes than we have known before. However, some things we expect to change or even to disappear may surprisingly survive as they are. The future is truly unknowable.
An important difference between the twenty-first century and those that preceded it is that the western world as a whole can no longer seek comfort and security in the certainties of a century ago. As late as the 1940s King George VI could still seek divine help against the enemy in World War II by calling for a national ‘Day of Prayer’ (though the enemy was making similar appeals to the same God). With the end of Christian orthodoxy, we have to come to terms with the fact that we humans are on our own in the world. Humanity has ‘come of age’, as theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed from his prison cell.3
Thus we have to take more responsibility for the future of our species than we have in the past. We do not live, as our forebears thought, in a permanent, earthly home where our security is assured by the watchful eye and guiding hand of a parental God. Rather, we are on a spaceship hurtling into the unknown, just like the solitary passenger in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey after he had tried to regain control by dismantling his spaceship’s computer.
Our planet home is a giant spaceship, and it is vulnerable to all the objects wandering aimlessly about in space. Small ones are hitting us daily but do no harm; they are usually burnt up in the atmosphere. Large ones hit us occasionally, like the one thought to have brought an end to the dinosaurs some 60 million years ago. That a similar one will hit the earth in the future is probable rather than possible; the chance that it will occur in the next century may be slight but it cannot be ruled out.
For these and other reasons, humanity in the twentieth century has been forced to contemplate an end to human existence on the planet. In 1954 Harrison Brown said in The Challenge of Man’s Future: ‘Just as we know rationally that the time will come when each of us as individuals will perish, so we know that our country, our culture and our species cannot exist for ever. Sometime there must be an end.’4
The chief reasons for looking into the twenty-first century with grave concern are to be found not in outer space but on the surface of the planet and within humankind itself. As we have seen in the last two chapters, we are now receiving alarming signals about what we are doing both to ourselves and to all life on the planet. Some prophetic voices tell us that we have only a few years to make vital and far-reaching decisions -- or else human existence on this planet will come to a tragic end long before the earth is swallowed by a dying sun. Even within the coming century, they say, we could be facing the end of human existence as we know it. Such an end would cause to pale into insignificance the end-times we considered in the earlier chapters.
Let us now survey some scenarios of the global human future. None of these is certain but all are possible; some are probable. None are alternatives; they nearly all impinge on one another. Each can exacerbate the others, so that the cumulative effect could be worse than we can contemplate. We start with the most catastrophic scenarios. The cautionary voices warning us of these are the modern equivalent of the ancient prophets.
SCENARIO I A Thermonuclear Holocaust
During the twentieth century this scenario became uncomfortably close as a result of the cold war between the capitalist west and the socialist east. When the danger of an all-out nuclear war seemed imminent, fictional documentaries appeared on our television screens, showing the results. All sane and responsible people are agreed that no one could really win a nuclear war and that such an event would be a disaster of the first magnitude. But this threat has not been eliminated with the end of the cold war. Now that we possess the knowledge of how to construct nuclear warheads there can be no return to the relative safety of the pre-nuclear age.
Nuclear weapons have already been used once. About eight or nine nations now possess nuclear warheads, many of them a great deal more destructive than the atomic bombs used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The number of nuclear-capable nations is likely to increase. Further, we have to reckon with the sheer stupidity of which humans are capable, especially in a position of authority. People like Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Saddam Hussein do not hesitate to bring the whole world down with them if their own power is threatened.
As terrorist activities spread, it would be possible for nuclear war to be triggered by the irresponsible behavior of a relatively small group or nation, and for it quickly to escalate as the more responsible nations resorted to their nuclear arsenals to end the conflict. But a nuclear war would do such irreparable damage to both humanity and the ecology of the planet that it could bring an end not to specific acts of aggression but to all the higher forms of life on the planet.
SCENARIO 2 World War III
Even if the use of nuclear warheads were avoided, the outbreak of an international conflict using more conventional but highly sophisticated weapons remains possible. This could arise from the ‘clash of civilizations’ (as contemplated by Huntington) or from the attempt of nations to extend their possession of land, both for living space and to gain control over resources.
The very finiteness of the earth and its resources means that there is increasing competition among nations and international corporates for possession. During the twentieth century it was the oil crisis that shook the world economy. Control of the oil deposits rather than the sovereignty of Kuwait was the key to the Gulf War. Not only oil, but also many other minerals and even pure water are going to be in short supply in the twenty-first century. The natural resources of the earth are also unequally shared. It has been estimated that, if the whole world enjoyed a standard of living and energy consumption equal to the US average, the world’s fossil fuel reserves would last only 20 years. Brzezinski has said: ‘The world can be seen as divided into two mankinds, living in two distinct cultures: the rich minority and poor majority. By the end of the century, the first might number somewhere round 1 billion and the second account for the remaining 5 billion.’5
The gap between the rich and the poor nations is growing, and this inequality is already building up explosive tensions. Thus the factors leading to past international hostilities have been intensified through globalization; the risk of armed conflict grows greater. There are smoldering hot-spots all around the world and any one of them could escalate with little warning. World War III could leave the earth much more impoverished than World War II, even if the finality of a thermonuclear catastrophe was avoided.
SCENARIO 3 The Rise of Authoritarian Dictatorships
Wherever there are signs of widespread social discontent and/or the fear of war, we have the conditions in which people are ready to give their blind allegiance to a charismatic, authoritarian leader in the belief that he or she will be able to restore a more ordered and secure environment and save them from a much worse fate.
With the decline of hereditary monarchies over the last two centuries, dictatorship and constitutional democracy have become the two principal forms of government around the world. Democracy is not proving to be as steady and permanent as expected: powerful lobby groups and financial interests can too easily destabilize it. When this happens a totalitarian government often takes over. Rule by dictators has taken several different forms. During the twentieth century we have seen dictatorships arise not only in Germany, Italy, Russia and China but also in South American countries and in the new states of Africa and Asia.
There is every sign that this form of twentieth-century government will continue to occur, and possibly on a much larger scale. During times of domestic or foreign crisis, most constitutional governments have conferred emergency powers on the chief executive. These can easily provide the opportunity for democratically elected leaders to overthrow democracy and rule dictatorially thereafter. Because of globalization, the twenty-first century may see dictators ruling over unions of nations and even over the whole world. There has already been a swing to the political right in many democracies, and a call for more rigid social controls. The island state of Singapore is even held up by some as a model of the firm, if somewhat repressive, government. Just as population and other pressures brought stricter social control to Singapore, so the same problems on a global scale are likely to lead us to this dilemma: face social chaos following the breakdown of law and order, or accept more authoritarian government with the subsequent loss of some recently gained personal freedoms.
SCENARIO 4 Mass Starvation
Starvation on a colossal scale is one of the more probable global catastrophes. People are already starving in large numbers; between 500 million and a billion people are currently estimated to be already severely undernourished. The factors causing these famines show every sign of accelerating rather than diminishing. The human population has quadrupled during the twentieth century and is likely to increase by up to 50 per cent by 2025. Of the eight or nine billion people then living, some six and a half billion will be in the poorer states; it is estimated that Bangladesh will have grown from 115 to 235 million, Egypt from 50 to 125 million, India from 855 to 1440 million. Even if the total population does not go beyond eight billion (as some claim), mass starvation cannot be avoided.
There are two chief reasons for the probability of mass starvation in the future: the inability of the poorer nations to grow enough food, owing to loss of arable land, droughts and a rapidly growing population; and the fact that our monetary system militates against the redistribution of food from the richer countries with surpluses to poorer nations with starving populations (see Scenario 7).
SCENARIO 5 Pandemics
Expanding populations used to be held in check by plagues and epidemics. Some see these as nature’s way of restoring ecological balance when the numbers of one species increase beyond the capacity of the environment to support it. Fatal diseases are far from being the ideal way of reducing the human population, yet they are likely to recur in spite of modern medical knowledge.
The Black Death of 1346-1349 killed a third of the inhabitants in many of the areas to which it spread. More died from the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 than were killed in World War I. This was the most severe influenza outbreak of the twentieth century and, in terms of total numbers of deaths, possibly the most devastating epidemic in human history. Populations throughout the world were affected, by three successive waves of the pandemic (as it is more appropriately called). It spread to nearly every inhabited part of the world, causing an estimated 30 million deaths.
New diseases can break out at any time. For example, in the last quarter of the twentieth century there suddenly emerged the frightening new disease of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Caused by a virus called HIV it has the capacity to attack and destroy the human immune system, leaving the individual vulnerable to the infections that eventually cause death. The first cases of AIDS were identified in 1981 in Los Angeles, and HIV was isolated in 1983. By December 1996 more than eight million cases of AIDS were known worldwide and these led to six million deaths. By then about 23 million individuals throughout the world were thought to be infected with HIV, more than 90 per cent of them in developing countries.
In the future, not only will more virulent strains of the older diseases probably evolve, but also entirely new diseases will appear. Medical science, remarkable though its achievements have been, is engaged in a touch-and-go struggle to retain its ascendancy over disease.6 New surgical skills, treatments and medicines are often outstripping our capacity to afford them. In developing countries there has always been a substantial gap (now widening) between what medical science can do and what the vast majority of people can afford to have done for them. This gap is now surfacing in the affluent countries, where public health systems are under severe financial pressure.
In addition to organic disease (bacterial and viral illness), the human organism is being exposed to multiple changes to its environment, mostly through modern technology. Radiation waves, genetic alteration of food and drastic changes in the traditional diet may have a cumulative effect. Cancerous conditions are increasing fairly rapidly, and this may be the result of environmental factors. Widespread fear about the long-term consequences of these environmental changes seems entirely justified.
Thus over-population, starvation and malnutrition in the poorer countries; worsening sanitation in large urban areas; and the unintended effects of advancing technology -- all have the potential to bring new and deadly diseases, and pandemics on a colossal scale.
SCENARIO 6 Destruction of the Ecological Balance
In 1989 a report from the United Nations Environment Program issued this warning:
If the world continues to accept disappearing tree-cover, land degradation, the expansion of deserts, the loss of plant and animal species, air and water pollution, and the changing chemistry of the atmosphere it will also have to accept economic decline and social disintegration . . . such disintegration would bring human suffering on a scale that has no precedent . . .’7
Many governments now have ministries of the environment (or similar agencies), but they often pay only lip-service to the grave issues raised by the endangered eco-system. Governments and their officials usually give low priority to problems in the environment; in any case, they argue, there is no unanimity among the experts about the dangers and/or their causes. And when the changes in the environment are not readily perceived as catastrophic, there is no sense of urgency.
For example, who really notices that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by 25 per cent since the middle of the nineteenth century (as a result of the burning of fossil fuels, along with destruction of rainforests)? And can the ordinary person really be expected to notice that the earth’s average temperature has risen by 04ºC in the last 80 years? It is only when scientists describe the future consequences of these trends that alarm bells begin to ring. There is a direct connection between the current changes in the world’s atmosphere and the rise in average temperature; this is known as global warming or the ‘greenhouse effect’. A growing number of scientists have predicted that, if present trends continue, there will be significant alterations in climate patterns from the beginning of the twenty-first century onward. Global average temperatures could increase by as much as 5ºC by the middle of the century. The rise in global temperature would produce new weather patterns and extremes of drought and rainfall. This would seriously disrupt food production in many regions and reduce even further the amount of food available to deal with growing starvation. Many believe there has been strong evidence of these changes during the 1990s.
Global warming would also cause the polar ice caps and mountain glaciers to melt rapidly. This, coupled with the fact that seawater expands when warmed, could cause sea levels to rise by up to half a meter. Low-lying regions such as Bangladesh, Holland, the Nile Delta and some Polynesian islands would be flooded and whole populations would have to be relocated.
A large number of scientists support some or all of these predictions, although others maintain that they are overstated. The potential problems are of such magnitude, however, that if we wait for irrefutable evidence before taking steps to halt the emission of gases and the destruction of rainforests, it will be too late (quite literally) to ‘stem the tide’.
It is even more difficult to provide convincing evidence of the dangers to life caused by the rapid extinction of species and by other forms of ecological damage. Because our knowledge of the many delicate balances in the ecology of the planet is still in its infancy, and because what is known is not widely understood, the consequences of what the human race is (in its ignorance) doing to the earth may turn out to be even more serious than global warming.
SCENARIO 7 Collapse of the Global Economy
The emerging global economy is fragile and vulnerable, simply because of its size and complexity. The increasing global population will add further pressures. Rapid population growth requires heavier investment in education, health and transport merely to maintain these services at their present levels. The countries of the developed world already find it difficult to provide national services in these areas. There is now increased competition for a fair share of these services, not only within a country but also between countries. Even more serious is the competition for an equal share of such basic natural resources as food and water. In a competitive environment, the powerful will gain and retain control, refusing to share with the weak and the disadvantaged, except in the most miserly fashion.
For these and other reasons, the global economy will be subject to unpredictable fluctuations. Moreover, since the global economy already affects most if not all of the regional economies, it will be difficult for national governments to do any long-term planning. If the global economy collapses, it will lead to widespread economic and social chaos far greater than that caused by the 1929 Wall Street crash -- which led to the great depression in the western world.
Some suggest that the international monetary system of western capitalism may suffer the same sudden collapse as state socialism did in Russia and its satellite countries. In 1998 international financier George Soros startled some people with his book The Crisis of Global Capitalism. He argued that we are already in the early stages of a global bear market which will lead to a global recession, a worldwide depression and the disintegration of the capitalist system. Some economists and commentators are warning that it is no longer a case of if the global economy crashes, but when.
The collapse of the global economy would raise serious questions about the future of capitalism. As William Greider has pointed out: ‘Capitalism, for all its wondrous creativity and wealth, has not yet found a way to clothe the poor and feed the hungry unless they pay for it.’8 It allows unused foodstuffs to pile up in the producing nations while millions go hungry elsewhere, and is powerless to use these surpluses constructively. Neither has capitalism found a way to keep all able-bodied people usefully employed and contributing to the common good. Unemployment has been a continual problem ever since the industrial revolution, and it is getting worse.
The already noticeable gap in per capita income between the rich and the poor (whether nations or individuals) will continue to widen. Even among the affluent nations of the western world, the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting the poorer. The economic gap is now widening, rather than lessening, between the developed nations and the developing nations. So Greider believes that global capitalism, since it not only allows but actually causes the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer, ‘will probably experience a series of terrible events -- wrenching calamities which are economic, or social or environmental in nature -- before common sense can prevail’.9
SCENARIO 8 The Global Spread of Terrorism
Terrorism has been practiced throughout history and throughout the world. In the twentieth century we have witnessed a resurgence of tenorism in spite of the new emphasis on human rights. Some governments have resorted to terrorist tactics -- arbitrary arrest, indefinite imprisonment, torture, and execution -- in order to create a climate of fear and so force submission to their rule. But we more commonly associate the term terrorism with individuals, political organizations, racist and other groups attempting to destabilize or overthrow existing situations. The issue may be a dispute over land possession (Palestinians and Israelis), conflicts over religion (Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland), or the failure of protesters to achieve any success (assassination of doctors who perform clinical abortions). The victims of modern terrorism (unlike those of the past) are often innocent civilians who are picked at random or who merely happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whenever people become frustrated and desperate, either because the future is frightening or because they have failed to achieve their ends by other means, they are tempted to resort to unpredictable violence in order to publicize their cause or provoke a response. Since any act of violence is certain to attract television coverage and give exposure to the terrorists’ goals, the electronic media have (unintentionally) greatly magnified the effectiveness of terrorist acts.
The growing tensions and frustrations that will probably arise in the twenty-first century are likely to increase terrorism, both on the part of governments and on the part of sectional groups. The preservation of law and order and the guarantee of personal security will become increasingly difficult.
SCENARIO 9 Sliding into Social Chaos
Less dramatic than the scenarios outlined above would be the gradual decline of social order. Ultimately this is as alarming as any sudden catastrophe. Every new generation has of course been inclined to look back through rose-colored spectacles and lament the fact that society is experiencing a moral decline. However, there are good reasons for believing that anti-social behavior is on the increase, not only because we have statistics to show it, but also because we can see the reasons for it. Human society almost everywhere is undergoing the transition from being a predominantly closed society to a more open society (as discussed in Chapter 8). In an open society there is much less pressure, either from one’s peers or from the governing authority, to conform to mutually accepted standards of behavior; it is even less clear what those common standards are.
If any one of the above scenarios comes to pass, even partially, the delicate and complex set of human relationships that constitute a healthy human society will be disturbed. Social order can descend into social chaos very quickly, with its own disastrous consequences for the future of humanity. In this age of individualism there is all too little appreciation of how much our humanity depends on being nurtured within a stable, cohesive society. Only because our species evolved within such societies do we now have, each of us, the capacity to experience reflective self-consciousness and develop an individual identity. This process took place over millions of years, as language and culture evolved. When the fabric of a society begins to decay, the resulting problems tend to multiply at an alarming rate.
In the transition from traditional tribalism to globalism, there will be a delicate period of social instability. Freed from the restraints of tribalism and religious orthodoxies, and not yet aware of the imperatives of globalism and the eco-system, modern individualism can manifest itself in massively self-centered behavior. Until we achieve a more stable form of global society, there is real danger of descent into social chaos. Even if we muddle our way through by crises, as we have done before, it will not be without widespread pain and anguish.
SCENARIO 10 Saving Ourselves and the Planet
Of one thing we can be sure: future catastrophes will not occur because they have been sent as a divine punishment. Now we do not have to ‘contend with spiritual hosts of wickedness in heavenly places’,10 but with the dark side of the human condition. If there are alarming problems ahead, we will have brought them upon ourselves, either through ignorance or willfulness. Carl Jung once said in a television interview: ‘Man himself is the origin of all coming evil.’ It is because humanity is at war both with itself and with the planet that we now face an uncertain future.
We humans have created these global problems; it is only we who can solve them. The final scenario, therefore, is the one in which we manage to avert the worst of the catastrophic scenarios and save both ourselves and the planet. Is this possible? Can we do it in time? Do we have the wisdom, ingenuity and skill? The optimists are sure that we have; the pessimists doubt it.
The optimists acknowledge that we face global problems but believe that talk of a coming nemesis has been grossly overstated. Such could even be dangerous, they claim, since it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. They see many encouraging signs -- for example, in the way we are already coping with some of the problems. They believe we are sufficiently intelligent and knowledgeable to overcome all coming crises. John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene in their book Megatrends 2000 spoke derogatorily of the prophets of doom. When they surveyed current cultural trends in 1990, they came to a very positive view of globalization. They predicted for the 1990s a booming global economy, a renaissance in the arts, the privatization of the welfare state, the triumph of the individual, the emergence of global lifestyles, and the rise of women to positions of leadership. Some of these predictions have been at least partially fulfilled, though some have not.
The pessimists however point out that the problems of the new era are often far advanced before we become aware of them, and that they frequently turn out to be worse than at first thought. Moreover, individuals and governments are equally reluctant to take the stern measures required, when these interfere with our personal interests. Take, for example, the question of world peace, for which the United Nations was originally established. Brzezinski rightly says: ‘The UN’s time has finally come. It is only within the framework of that global organization that the common problems of mankind can be collectively addressed.’11 But here we face an obstacle. The five permanent members of the Security Council hold the power of veto over UN decisions because they are unwilling to let power slip out of their hands. This has hampered the power of the UN from the beginning, and reflects our reluctance to surrender personal interests in favor of the common good. This reluctance could be the undoing of the human race.
So who are we to believe -- the prophets of doom or the optimists? As the future is unknowable, we cannot be sure who is right. Perhaps that in itself is important. As Moltmann wisely points out:
We cannot know [whether modern society has any future] and we must not know. If we knew that humanity is not going to survive we should not do anything more for our children but would say ‘after us, the deluge’. If we knew that humanity is going to survive, we should not do anything either . . . Because we cannot know whether humanity is going to survive or not, we have to act today as if the future of the whole of humanity were dependent on us.12
It is interesting to observe that even the more optimistic voices refer to the need for some radical change of a vaguely spiritual kind. The authors of Megatrends 2000 wrote:
The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will occur not because of technology, but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human . . . . Humanity will probably not be rescued by a deus ex machina either in the form of a literal Second Coming (the fundamentalist expectation) or by friendly spaceships (the New Age version). Though we will be guided by a revived spirituality, the answers will have to come from us Apocalypse or Golden Age. The choice is ours’ 13
Some even predicted a religious revival in the new millennium. Alvin and Heidi Toffler, in their book War and Anti-war, Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century said:
We are witnessing the sudden eruption of a new civilization on the planet, carrying with it a knowledge-intensive way of creating wealth that is trisecting and transforming the entire global system today. Everything in that system is now mutating, from its basic components . . . to the way they interrelate . . . to the speed of their interaction . . . to the interests over which countries contend . . . to the kinds of wars that may result and which need to be prevented.14
William Greider, strongly critical of global capitalism in his book One World Ready or Not, still believed there were remedies available if we were prepared to face up to them boldly. He sensed ‘a new ideology struggling to be born -- a new global consciousness’.15 It would share some of the ideals that led to the socialist experiments of the twentieth century but it would also embrace the ecological imperatives.
What sort of ‘revived spirituality’, ‘new global consciousness’, ‘new civilization’ could possibly occur? There are Muslims, Buddhists and Christians (to name but a few) who, while fully acknowledging the reality of the threats discussed in the above scenarios, still believe their own tradition contains the answers. Howard Snyder, for example, in his book Earth Currents, offers a clear and balanced cultural analysis of the chief global trends he sees operating in the period 1900-2030. He agrees that ‘Earth is experiencing an unprecedented global struggle. Powerful trends point to a possible global crisis around the year 2020.’16 He acknowledges that for any world view to be adequate it must be ecological. He then concludes by commending, as the solution, a return to a fairly traditional form of the Christian story, even suggesting that ‘Jesus embodies and transcends the post-modern sensibility’.17
The reasons conventional Christianity cannot possibly supply the answers to our global problems have been fully discussed in Part i. We have come to the end of the Christian era and have entered the post-Christian world. Moreover, this global, post-Christian world is, for better or for worse, largely the product of the Christian west. The problems that have resulted can be solved only within the context of an embryonic global society. If the global society emerges, it will require humanity to develop a new consciousness and a new form of spirituality.
1. See Chapter 1.
2. For fuller details, see Zbigniew Brzezinski, Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the 21st Century, pp. 8-18.
3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, pp.325-29.
4. Harrison Brown, The Challenge of Man’s Future, p. x.
5. Brzezinski, op. cit., p. 227.
6. See Michio Kaku, Visions, pp. 183-92, for a sketch of this struggle.
7. United Nations, The State of the World Environment, p. 16.
8. William Greider, One World Ready or Not, p. 468.
9. Ibid., p. 473.
10. Ephesians 6:12.
11. Brzezinski, op. cit., p. 225.
12. Johann-Baptist Metz and Jürgen Moltmann, Faith and the Future, p. 176.
13. John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene, Megatrends 2000, pp. 161-67.
14. Alvin and Heidi Toffler, War and Anti-war; Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century, p. 242.
15. Greider, op. cit., p. 468.
16. Howard Snyder, Earth Currents. The Struggle for the World’s Soul, p. 291.
17. Ibid., p.297.