Doom and Glare

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Have you heard of the “Doomsday Clock”? It isn’t a particular cheery timepiece but it’s ticking. At least that’s what the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board proclaimed last month. They pushed the metaphoric Doomsday Clock forward to 3 minutes to midnight. That can’t be good.

In good, bad, dangerous or peaceful times, the human soul needs more than this world can provide.

To the surprise of many, Russia and the US are once again fighting proxy wars in Europe and the Middle East. At the same time China and Japan are uneasily eyeing each other. And Israel and Iran are staring each other down. Is history stuck in a terrifying loop?

Today the US, Russia, China, France and the UK all have nuclear weapons. So do Pakistan, India, North Korea and Israel. And Israel claims Iran is on the path to acquiring them.

There are currently in the range of 45 million displaced people, experts predict faster moving outbreaks of disease as population density increases along with the rapidity and frequency of global movements, and threats from sophisticated and well-resourced terrorism are increasing.

According to Oxfam, the richest 85 people on earth control as much wealth as the poorest half of the world. That is, 85 rich people have as much wealth as 3,500,000,000 poor people. Further, Oxfam reports that if the world’s billionaires were taxed at just 1.5 per cent on their wealth exceeding their first billion, the tax would raise enough money to send every child to school and provide comprehensive healthcare to the world’s poorest. It is staggering.

Then there’s the weather. According to the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, last year was the warmest on record; a number of experts predict more frequent and more intense weather fluctuations in the future.

And what of human rights? The Pew Research Centre reports three out of every four humans alive today live with serious restrictions on their religious freedom. As for slavery, the BBC reports that various sources estimate there are between 20 and 30 million in forced labour today.

But there is an alternative way of viewing the present. Bloomberg reports the global average life expectancy for a child born in 2014 exceeds 70 years—it was just above 30 at the beginning of the 20th century! And that’s just the beginning of the good news.

According to The Economist, from 1990 to 2010 one billion people escaped extreme poverty. The World Health Organisation reports global infant mortality rates almost halved between 1990 and 2013, and maternal mortality rates during the same period declined 45 per cent. If all that wasn’t good enough, the percentage of people who are malnourished in developing nations has more than halved since 1969. In the past 50 years we’ve seen enormous progress in the respect for rights of women and minorities in many nations around the world, we’ve seen leisure time increase and an immense world of information opened up to anyone with a mobile phone—the ownership of which is rapidly expanding even in the poorest nations.

Are we living in a golden age of enlightenment and progress or a selfish age of chaos and conflict? Or both?

There’s increasing evidence that as we make astonishing progress, that progress itself creates new challenges. There is even a term for the idea that as things get better, we get worse: affluenza. And there’s evidence to back it up.

In the US1 and Australia2, for example, youth suicide rates almost tripled from the 1950s to the late ‘90s/early ‘00s. Gender selection abortions have exploded in Asia as growing wealth has increased access to sonograms. And the rate of depression? Speaking in the late ‘90s, the then president of the American Psychological Association stated: “the rate of depression . . . is now between 10 and 20 per cent [higher than it] was 50 years ago.”3 Last year, a major report found anxiety and depression increasing at a worrying rate among Australian and NZ teens—particularly girls.4 And health experts are warning wealthy societies that, due to obesity, this generation may be the first in memory to live shorter lives than their parents.

What are we, as Christians, to make of all of this? While we want a just, healthy, well-educated world, that isn’t enough. In good, bad, dangerous or peaceful times, the human soul needs more than this world can provide. And we are privileged to know, experience and share what that is.

1. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus13.pdf; http://www.economist.com/node/898176

2. http://abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Previousproducts/D2C9296F8D9C01B1CA2570EC000E2F5F?opendocument

3. http://www.salon.com/2013/08/26/how_our_society_breeds_anxiety_depression_and_dysfunction_partner/

4. http://anp.sagepub.com/content/48/7/606
 


James Standish is editor of Adventist Record.