Book excerpt

“People who spend time thinking about the future come up with a range of scenarios. At the optimistic end of the spectrum is the belief that things will pretty much continue as they have done in our recent experience, with business as usual and a general trend of continuing economic growth and increasing development. Given the technological advances that have happened over the last couple of decades, it’s a reasonable world view, based on an extrapolation of past experience. Problems may occur, but solutions will be found. The continuing development of technology, combined with human ingenuity, will see us through. Our expectations are coloured by the dazzling success of technology, from the Apollo space rockets through to the latest iPhone. Visions of the future are provided by TV and film, from Tomorrow’s World to Avatar. This is, in our opinion, the dominant worldview in the developed world, espoused by intellectuals, scientists and opinion formers. Many Christians, whatever their spiritual beliefs, would also subscribe to this view of the temporal world. This “business-as-usual” world-view has the disadvantage that it could be characterised as unthinking acceptance of the status quo. It limits political manoeuvre in issues such as climate change.

At the other end of the spectrum is the apocalyptic worldview. In recent years it has been the prospect of cataclysmic climate change that has been the most pressing concern, though Peak oil has also come into the picture. “Doomsters” sometimes fixate on other possible causes of global disaster – such as a large asteroid impact, or the eruption of the Yellowstone super-volcano – even coining their own disaster acronym TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it). Holders of this viewpoint are pessimistic about mankind’s ability to deal with events, and see the comfortable lives we live today as a temporary state which cannot be sustained indefinitely into the future. Many Christians, perhaps particularly in the US, believe in an apocalyptic end-times period based on teaching from parts of the Bible such as the books of Daniel and Revelation. However, the apocalyptic world view is not limited to religious believers – there is a rich seam of it in popular culture. The ‘Hunger Games’ books by Suzanne Collins imagine life in a dystopian future 100 years from now. ‘The Road’ is a recent film version of Cormac McCarthy’s bleak novel published in 2006, depicting a father and son as they journey through a post-apocalyptic landscape – and is only one of a slew of disaster movies in recent years. This theme is not limited to contemporary culture, a recent retrospective at the Tate Britain Gallery showcased the English painter John Martin, whose images of judgement and destruction found a huge audience in the 18th century. The idea of the apocalypse has taken hold in the popular secular imagination. Why this has happened is open to conjecture, possibly it has something to do with the financial crisis, or maybe the sheer number of problems both financial and environmental bearing down on mankind simultaneously.

In some ways these two ends of the spectrum are both myths. Unlimited economic growth is an overly optimistic view of humankind’s progress, and is simply not possible on a planet with finite resources. At the other end, there can be a kind of fatalism which surrounds apocalyptic concerns (‘we’re doomed!’) A more balanced view would be to say that disastrous collapse happens only if we choose not to avoid it. ”

Chapter 8. “No oil in the lamp”.

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