Mailvox: on optimism

SN wonders why I am such a cheerful prophet of doom:

As Christendom falls in England and the march of the Sodomites continues unabated, it is easy to feel glum. In spite of Christianity maintaining some sort of respectability within philosophical circles, its status as a position of social and moral respectability is experiencing a precipitous decline. Hollywood, the media and the elite universities of western civilization are anti-Christian. Not to rely solely on personal anecdote, but I just had the unpleasant experience of applying to do a research PhD in Theology at [top university], only to discover while researching potential supervisors that more than half of the Theology faculty are atheists. Given Lewis’ social ostracism among the dons of his day, I suppose I should not have been surprised.

More to the point, does the decline of Christianity in the west ever get you down? We talk of Christianity’s growth among Africans and Chinese and cyclical periods of persecution that inspire a resurgence of the Church, but all evidence appears to indicate that things are going to get pretty rough. We’re heading into a Depression, the secular state is on the rise and totalitarianism lies on the horizon, if it is not here already.

How do you rise above it all, is what I am asking? What practical advice could you share with the average Christian who is trying to educate him/herself as much as possible about their Christian heritage, and as a result, is more aware of how bad the situation actually is?

You always seem clear eyed about the situation, yet optimistic. I look around, expecting to see jack boots come marching round the corner any second. Is that madness or informed paranoia?

First, it is informed paranoia. The jackboots are coming, just as they have done since they were hobnailed sandals. As to why that doesn’t get me down, well, the truth is that from time to time it does. But that probably does not show much because the emotion that the ongoing collapse of civilization primarily inspires in me is one of irritation that humanity can’t seem to learn the most elementary lessons from its own history. It’s hard to feel too sorry for an individual, a society, or a species that repeatedly insists on smashing its face into a brick wall with so little regard for what happened the last time it did that.

In other words, I see it more as comedic farce than tragedy because I don’t expect anything better from the mass of humanity or its arrogant, short-sighted, self-styled ruling elite. It is impossible to read history and reach any other conclusion. When I was a child, I read the Bible and marveled at the way the Israelites would willfully put themselves into danger by ignoring God’s commands, end up suffering through tremendous hardship, cry out to God and get rescued, then go on to repeat the process within a generation or three. I thought the Israelites were a remarkably stupid people and assumed that God made them His chosen people in much the same way we regard a child as being “special” today.

But the more history I read, the more I saw that the Israelites’ behavior is the normal pattern of human behavior. Man stands on the shoulders of giants and thinks himself tall, only to learn otherwise when he strides boldly forward. Perhaps that makes you cry, but it tends to make me laugh, even if it does sound a little hollow and sardonic even to me. But how can you not laugh, as atheists and pagans blithely assemble the infrastructure of the old slaughterhouse and call it progress, never imagining for a second that they will not only be its victims again, but will find themselves crying out to God for rescue from the destiny they so ardently desired.

As for the root of my optimism, it is three-fold. First is that in the grand historical scheme, I see the some of the darker elements prophesied in the Bible unfolding. This reinforces my confidence, (not that it was necessary) that this is only the first level of the game of life. The second is that I tend to live day-to-day. We can plan for tomorrow, but we can’t actually know what it will bring. And the third is that I do my best to find joy where it can be found, even if it is the bitter joy of seeing that one’s cynical take on events has once more been proven correct.

There is nothing new under the sun. We, and the generation before us, have enjoyed the lazy days of economic summer. And while it is a little hard to see the leaves turning brown and dying as winter approaches, we can steel ourselves by knowing that it is not the first one and that what our ancestors survived, we, too, can hope to survive. The prince of this world may be preparing his horsemen for another terrible ride, but God is still God and God is still good.

The shadows grow ever longer, but never forget that somewhere beyond the shadows there is light.