Good News is often difficult. Religious conservatives for much of the last 4 decades have bemoaned America’s moral decline, often with good reason. But sometimes they have glorified America’s past and underestimated the potential for renewal, by God’s grace, in the future. The Religious Left LOVES bad news and has been grimly Malthusian for most of the last 50 years. It began with obsessing with fears over global over population, then moved on to fears about ecological collapse. There was briefly the New Ice Age fear. Of course there were deep fears about nuclear destruction, and “Nuclear Winter” was all the rage in the 1980’s, even cited in the United Methodist Bishops’ notorious pastoral letter on nuclear weapons called “In Defense of Creation.”
Over the last 20 years we have endured apocalyptic warnings about what was first called Global Warming, but which then morphed into Climate Change, and which is now evidently Climate Weirding. Essentially every form of climate is now cause for deep alarm. The Religious Left also loves the cliché that the “rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.” In fact, over the last 30 years especially, much of the world has been getting richer. Hundreds of millions of people in China, India, Indonesia, Brazil and elsewhere, whose ancestors had been poor for millennia, are now middle class for the first time. Famine is receding. So too is endemic disease. War is also on the decline. With the large exceptions of the terrible conflicts in Sudan and a few other places, most of the world is at relative peace.
In short, there has never been a time in human history when there has been more peace, more prosperity, more good health, more opportunity. It’s all by God’s blessing, bestowed unmerited on undeserving humanity, which remains by nature as rebellious against God’s justice and love as ever. But the Church of Jesus Christ is larger and more vital than ever. Hundreds of millions in recent decades have come to Christ. Most evangelization is in the Global South, mostly thanks to the charismatic and Pentecostal movements, where are the fastest growing religious forces in the world today. Even in secular Europe, there are signs that secularization has at least bottomed out. Immigrant communities especially have created new evangelical churches there. Recently the Christian Science Monitor reported on evangelical mega churches in France of all places.
Adding to all the largely unexpected good news is the energy revolution. Last year, author Michael Lind, who’s left of center, wrote of this stunning transformation:
. As Lind surmised: “The arguments for converting the economy to wind, solar and biomass energy have collapsed. The date of depletion of fossil fuels has been pushed back into the future by centuries — or millennia. We may be living in the era of Peak Renewables, which will be followed by a very long Age of Fossil Fuels that has only just begun.”
More recently, foreign policy pundit Walter Russell Mead, who’s right of center, has written powerfully on this topic here:
. And here:
. Contrary to all the dire claims that oil would be gone tomorrow, new technologies have unlocked vast new reserves of oil and natural gas, especially in the U.S. and Canada, but also in places like China and Israel. Inevitably the Middle East dictatorships that are rich on oil will become less strategically important. America may return to the not too distant past when it was an energy EXPORTER.
As Mead wrote of the unfolding energy revolution: “The two biggest winners look to be Canada and the United States. Canada, with something like two trillion barrels worth of conventional oil in its tar sands, and the United States with about a trillion barrels of shale oil, are the planet’s new super giant energy powers. Throw in natural gas and coal, and the United States is better supplied with fossil fuels than any other country on earth. Canada and the United States are each richer in oil than Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia combined.”
And Mead also wrote: “Forget peak oil; forget the Middle East. The energy revolution of the 21st century isn’t about solar energy or wind power and the ‘scramble for oil’ isn’t going to drive global politics. The energy abundance that helped propel the United States to global leadership in the 19th and 2oth centuries is back; if the energy revolution now taking shape lives up to its full potential, we are headed into a new century in which the location of the world’s energy resources and the structure of the world’s energy trade support American affluence at home and power abroad.”
Mead noted: “Since the 1970s, pessimism about America’s energy future has been one of the cornerstones on which the decline theorists erected their castles of doom; we are now entering a time when energy abundance will be an argument for continued American dynamism.”
Very troubling news for the chronic doomsayers who have populated Mainline Protestant agencies and seminaries of recent decades, not to mention the Evangelical Left wannabees who oddly want to echo constantly discredited prophecies of collapse.
What the Religious Left, and sometimes the Religious Right, has often forgotten is that Providence has a larger plan for creation that does not necessarily entail imminent collapse. Yes, we know there will be more wars. Hundreds of millions will persist in poverty, too many millions will die prematurely, and fallen humanity will continue to replicate many of the tragic mistakes that have scarred the earth for millennia. Tyrants will persecute. People of faith especially will at times suffer. Even in our own land faith and morals are under new assault. But whenever humanity seems destined for self-destruction, Providence inexplicably intervenes, maximizes human creativity, and opens up new vistas that even hopeless optimists could not have foreseen.
In his fourth inaugural address, delivered in early 1945 as World War II’s carnage was almost closing (though much killing was still ahead), President Franklin Roosevelt quoted his old Episcopal clergy schoolmaster, Endicott Peabody, as saying during an era that “seemed to us then to be secure and untroubled: ‘Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes we will be rising toward the heights—then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward. The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward; that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend.’”
Peabody represented 19th century Victorian confidence that the world wars negated for many if not most. But are confidence and hope in God’s plans misplaced? FDR closed: “The Almighty God has blessed our land in many ways. He has given our people stout hearts and strong arms with which to strike mighty blows for freedom and truth. He has given to our country a faith which has become the hope of all peoples in an anguished world. So we pray to Him now for the vision to see our way clearly—to see the way that leads to a better life for ourselves and for all our fellow men—to the achievement of His will to peace on earth.”
Seventy years later, God possibly is creating a new era of unprecedented peace and plenty. But will many be grateful enough to acknowledge it?