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.
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.
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.Google+