Getting Better All the Time
For two thousand years, the impending demise of the world has been a regular theme of Christian preaching. Both Jesus and Paul clearly expected the world to end at any time. In Mark 13 for example, Jesus predicts the darkening of the sun and the moon and the falling of stars from the sky. He then says: “Truly, I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.” (Mark 13: 30.) Well, clearly none of this has happened yet, and it’s curious that Christians don’t appear to be more bothered by the apocalyptic miscalculation of their omniscient Messiah.
None of this has kept Christians from continuing to wish for the end of the world or from constantly pointing out that the world is clearly going to hell-in-a-handbasket. A while back I heard Pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio tell his flock that they don’t need to worry about their retirement funds or life insurance because they wont be needing it. Jesus is coming that soon! And the demise of the world is not just a concern among more extremist evangelical types. I’ve heard more than a few mainline liberal preachers say that we are living in a world bent on self-destruction and that the message of Christianity is the only hope for the world’s future. The theme of cultural decline is a staple of Christian preaching across denominations.
Steven Pinker’s latest book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature” tells another story. Pinker makes a pretty convincing argument that life is actually getting dramatically better across the board, especially with regard to human violence. Humans living today are statistically less likely to experience a violent death than at any time in history. Here in my home city of Houston, the number of homicides in 2011 were fewer than any year since 1963. Cities around the nation are reporting similar steep declines in violent crimes.
So if we are in the midst of cultural decline as Christians are always complaining, where is it, exactly? Where’s the evidence?
Of course that’s the problem: Religion’s aversion to a fact-based approach to reality.