Success

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How do you measure the success of a society? Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita perhaps? But if you aren’t secure, any wealth created can be taken, so maybe the strength of the military is a better measure. Money and military strength, however, seem rather crass measures. Maybe a better one is a nation’s cultural influence? On all three scales, Western society is at the apex.

National greatness is not given; it’s earned—one generation at a time.

Excluding microstates, the top spots in GDP per capita are dominated by Western nations. 

And to say Western nations, led by the US, are the strongest militarily is to substantially understate the situation. The US spends more on its military than the next seven countries . . . combined!

The nexus between the Western entertainment and technology industries has made its cultural exports ubiquitous. Yes, there’s Bollywood and K-pop and a host of other global entertainment offerings. But of the top grossing films worldwide in 2015, 25/25 were Western films originally made in English. And the top 10 digitally downloaded songs in 2015? All sung, more or less, in English. 

So is it time to pat everyone from the Swedes to the Swabians on the back, and declare, “the West is best”? 

No.

GDP per capita, military might and cultural dominance are all impressive measurements. But the way to measure a society isn’t by using any of them. The way to assess a culture is what it offers to its children.

Why? National greatness is not given; it’s earned—one generation at a time. And if you want to know the future of a civilisation, simply look at the inheritance it is passing on. On that count, the picture for Western nations is grim.

Let’s begin with the financial inheritance. The United States, the undisputed leader of Western civilisation, has, according to Forbes magazine, “total long-term unfunded liabilities [of] $126 trillion”. That’s a staggering “$1.1 million liability for each US taxpayer”. Europe and Japan are also awash in debt, and debt is mounting closer to home as well. 

If this debt was being used to invest in productive assets, a case could be made for passing it on to our children. But it isn’t. Rather, Western nations are largely incurring debt in order to avoid paying for all the benefits we’ve voted for ourselves to consume right now. In other words, this generation is living at an artificially high level and passing the bill for it onto our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who will have nothing whatsoever to show for it. 

But the inheritance is even worse in a much more important area: psychological and spiritual health. In the US and Australia, the rate of youth suicide has increased roughly 300 per cent since 1950. Why? Harvard economists examining the rise in youth suicide found “to the extent that we can explain the rise in youth suicide over time, the most important aggregate variable explaining this change seems to be the increased share of youths living in homes with a divorced parent” (see <http://www.nber.org/chapters/c10690.pdf>).

This year, a University of South Australia study made headlines with its startling finding that more than half of Australian infants experience factors that contribute to mental health problems later in life, ranging from parents with substance abuse habits, to domestic violence, from parental separation to neglect and abuse. 

The YOLO culture that embraced debt over saving, promiscuity over true love, short-term pleasure over long-term satisfaction, selfishness over commitment, has left our houses full of stuff, our belts full of notches and our souls empty of substance. 

The Bible provides a prescription for successful lives, families and nations. And it looks nothing like the trajectory Western nations are on. In Proverbs 13:22 we’re told: “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children . . .” Rather than leaving our children an inheritance, we’re saddling them with our debt. Jesus taught to refrain from sex outside of marriage, and to be faithful in marriage (Matthew 15:19). He also put a premium on caring for our children (Matthew 18:1-14). But rather than cherishing children, we’ve aborted them and called it our right, saddled the survivors with debt, and engaged in immorality that has led to pervasive familial instability with its associated misery. 

Western society is on the wrong trajectory. We can continue to squander the future of our kids. Or we can follow scriptural principles and do the right thing by our children.


James Standish is editor of Adventist Record.