Best of Times or Worst of Times

By Jeff Mallinson

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We all have that buddy who can take any normal situation and see the catastrophe in it. Fortunate are those of us who have a friend who can identify the good in our turbulent lives. But ultimately, who’s got the truth on their side? The glass really is, after all, half empty if a dozen sun-baked cowboys just walked into the bar. So, when it comes to the state of things today, are we to believe those, like evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker, who believe we are experiencing a shift toward a more peaceful and pleasant lives, or those who, like Micah Bournes in “Thank God For Evolution,” fear we haven’t come as far as we’d have hoped?

Is crime as bad as it’s ever been, or is it a remarkably safe era? On this week’s Virtue in the Wasteland podcast, we posed this question to sociologist, Dr. Kristen Koenig, a Faithful Masks Fellow, and Concordia University faculty member. Ultimately, it turns out, it depends on what we’re measuring. If we were to take Sabbath breaking to be a crime, we’d have a criminal epidemic. If we decriminalized drugs, we’d have a decreased prison population.

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None of this is my primary academic field, so what do I know? But it seems that those in the social sciences argue that life in hunter-gatherer groups of around 150 individuals tended to be happier, healthier, and more peaceful than some accounts suggest. This would mean that, while Pinker is right that things are better for the average person today than, say the eleventh century in France, we are, as a race, still struggling to cope with the stresses and strains of life since the agricultural revolution. Add to that the industrial revolution and the crime known as putting employees in cubicles, and one can see how complicated this whole question is. Things may have become better east of Eden, but we are still far from Eden. Our connection to the soil and to each other remains out of order.

Whether you are a progressive who believes that with a little prayer and elbow grease we can turn this world around, or whether you are a dispensationalist conservative who thinks that Jesus might come whisk you away at any minute before the world descends into madness, perhaps the most important question isn’t how exactly the last cosmic chapter plays out. Perhaps the better question is what your part will be in the whole cosmic story.  Do you have eyes to see those who are crushed by unjust systems? Do you recognize your Lord in with and under the least of these fellow humans? Depending on what we’re measuring, the opening line from A Tale of Two Cities, remains true today. Since good and evil remain caught up in the dance of this age, let’s not let the worst realities out of our sight, but let us fix our eyes on all that is best (Philippians 4:8).

—The Wayfaring Stranger

Sipping a power drink, between chapters of Ryan and Jethá, Sex at Dawn.

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