Swords into Plowshares

August 2, 2016

Swords into Plowshares: Yes, the World is Becoming More Peaceful

The Judeo-Christian tradition yearns for the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy that the nations will “beat their swords into plowshares” one day. Between mass shootings in the United States, genocide by ISIS, radical Islamic terrorism, and civil wars in places like Syria and Sudan, there’s plenty of discouraging stories in our news feed that make this seem like a fading vision. But this is not the entire story – if anything, the world is actually becoming more peaceful.

There’s no question that the world remains a fallen place. We haven’t yet arrived in the Paradise foreseen by Isaiah of all peoples beating their swords into plowshares. However, the the impression that violence portrayed by media, a narrative broadcast across the airwaves and promulgated online, fails to square with the overall condition of the world as demonstrated by the data.

Since World War I and World War II, the world has enjoyed a sharp drop off in war-related violence. This decrease has led to a nearly historic low in the rate of deaths from war per 100,000 people. Data calculated by political scientist Dr. Peter Brecke, published in the Conflict Catalogue, showed that war-related deaths (among both military and civilians) had fallen to 2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2000, from a high of nearly 200 deaths per 100,000 during World War II. Violence this low had rarely been seen in the last 600 years.

Data published by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) showed that military fatalities fell from more than 20 deaths per 100,000 soldiers during World War II to 0.5 deaths per 100,000 soldiers in 2013.

Economist Max Roser presented this data in a striking chart for OurWorldInData.org:

Violence has also dropped domestically. Within the U.S., violent crime has been in decline since the 1990s, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting database. The violent crime rate has dipped to less than half of what it was in the early 1990s. It peaked at 757.2 victims per 100,000 people in 1991, compared to 365.5 victims per 100,000 people in 2014.

US Murder Rate

Similarly, the murder rate in the U.S. has fallen to less than half their maximum height, after climbing beginning in the 1960s. It reached a high point in 1980 at 10.2 murders per 100,000 people. After briefly trending lower in the 1980s, homicides surged again in to 9.8 murders per 100,000 people. But after a precipitous fall for more than two decades, the homicide rate sank to 4.5 murders per 100,000 people in 2014.

US Violent Crime Rate

Of course, every violent death is tragic. “To recognize that a problem is declining in scale is quite obviously not to contend that the remaining trouble does not matter,” National Review Online Editor Charles C. W. Cooke noted in November 2015. Yet it is good and right to celebrate that America, and indeed the world, is becoming relatively less violent.

Fallen humanity will never achieve the biblical vision of the nations beating their swords into plowshares. We will have to wait for Heaven to see that prophecy fulfilled. But meanwhile, Christians’ efforts to strive after lasting peace in their communities, countries, and beyond can make a real difference here and now. We should take courage, because the evidence demonstrates that positive change remains within reach.

6 Responses to Swords into Plowshares: Yes, the World is Becoming More Peaceful

  1. Dan says:

    Ah yes, but is it “peace at any price” to achieve our Pax Obama? I present a more dystopian scenario of the political and global elites creating a society not unlike the Soviet Union or National Socialist Germany where the stateless corporations like Facebook, Google, et. al. serve the state and provide the sophisticated technological means to utterly control and coerce the population into a society that serves to allow the bureaucrats and technocrats to amass power and wealth only unto themselves. It is a soulless, Godless society, that places no value on the individual other than to bestow illusory goods like free mobile phones and unlimited social media (think bread and circuses). It is a society that allows for acceptable losses among the populace from manageable human caused disasters (terrorist acts) while ensuring the peasants cannot have the means to rise up and overthrow their tyrants.

    To paraphrase Ecclesiastes and Battlestar Galactica – This has all happened before and it will all happen again.

  2. Neil Bragg says:

    Regarding communism, the liberals used the line “Better red than dead.” Millions of people living under communism discovered you could be both. Margaret Thatcher, pondering the “peace at any price” people said, “What peace? The peace of the grave?”

  3. Joe says:

    So people who were destined to be killed aren’t killed. That means that the people who were never destined to be killed are better off, how? I know, I’m going to get scorn but all of the people who are locked up were REALLY bad people and they probably wouldn’t have survived past 30 IF they WEREN’T locked up. In other words, they were destined but for incarceration. So how are good people better off?

    Your graph about the world is mostly meaningless because the Cold War and all of its proxies are gone, or is it? Are Americans presently being deceived by lies, damned lies, and statistics?

  4. George says:

    Insightful and rational comments here. But all Christian thinking about such things should bear in mind the Biblical view that God has no plan to reform and bring peace to this present world. Rather, He promises to destroy it and replace it altogether. The New Testament gospel and epistle writers consistently embrace this view. Believing scripture would lead to the expectation of worsening conditions as time advances to the end of this age. Periods of respite are most welcome. Christians, for the most part, hope for many and protracted such periods…all the while praying, “Thy Kingdom Come.”

  5. Leilita Foxie Monica says:

    Maybe abortions should be included in the picture of violence especially as the liberals such as the authors of Freakonomics link them to the drop in criminality. I think that it may be even worse that we kill off the poor before they even get to experience any kind of life.

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