I want to start this post with a case study. Let’s imagine a Japanese boy living in America in World War II. After the attack on Pearl Harbour he is placed in an internment camp overnight, and confronts first-hand the fragility of freedom and the politics of fear. As he grows into adulthood, he realizes he is homosexual in an era where homosexuality is even more hated than race. Having faced such discrimination, what do you think his conclusion would be?
Well, it probably won’t surprise you to know that there is a man who went through that experience, and his name is George Takei. What may surprise you however, is an interview he gave on Big Think in which he said quite firmly that he does believe the world is getting better. He maintains hope as he sees how far things have come across the civil rights spectrum in the past 50 years.
Watching that interview was transformational for me. I knew the stats outlined in Better Angels of Our Nature by Stephen Pinker that painted a pretty encouraging picture, at least for the Western world. Yet I still remained somewhat skeptical. Watching that Big Think video with George Takei though really brought home that it’s important to take a step back and see how far we’ve come in such a short time even as we keep pushing forward and recognize how far we still have to go.
Here’s what concerns me: Christianity is uniquely intolerant to the idea that the world is getting better. All most Christians see is a world of degenerating morals and brokenness. There’s a growing number of Christians who are beginning to question the Doctrine of Original Sin thankfully, and there’s even some who will say the world is as bad as it’s always been (rather than getting worse)—but there’s almost none who will say the world is getting BETTER.
Why is that concerning? Well this quote from a Star Wars EU book says it best:
–Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The New Jedi Order: Destiny’s Way by Walter Jon Williams
Despair is an especially powerful avenue for evil to work in the world–the forces of evil love it when people believe that nothing they do can change the world for the better. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And one I do not believe is biblically based. For while as Christians we must believe the final reconciliation will not happen until Christ comes again, we are not called to sit idle. Indeed, we are commanded over and over again to trust in strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit and use our Spirit given gifts to change the world here and now. It would seem rather curious to believe that God would ask us to do that if there was no changing of the world for the better as a result.
Let us consider this passage from the Gospel of John. It is not as well known as it should be, probably because of its challenge, but it bears rediscovery and special attention, especially in the face of the election of a man like Donald Trump.
“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14;12
Here, Jesus says we will have the power to do all that he does–indeed, we will even do greater things than him! This is not the language of powerlessness, or something one would say to do people who are doomed to fight a losing battle. Indeed, it is full of hope, of breathtaking, jaw-dropping promise.
So yes, the world has its challenges still. There is definitely still a long way to go. But if I look at the moral arc of the universe over the past 2000 years, I see a definite curve towards justice. So I say firmly: The world is getting better, slowly but surely. We have the God-given power, and indeed the God-demanded responsibility, to contribute to making the world even better. So let’s not give into despair, but rather hold onto hope, and keep pushing forward one right step at a time.