Have you been wondering recently whether western civilisation is on the brink of collapse? If so, you’re in good company.
According to a recent article in New Scientist magazine, ‘scientists, historians and politicians alike are warning that … [current] cycles of inequality and resource use are heading for a tipping point that in many past civilisations precipitated political unrest, war and collapse’.
The article describes the role that extreme inequality played in the decline of previous civilisations, before quoting a recent report (from Credit Suisse, no less) that the world’s richest 1% now owns more than 50% of the world’s wealth. It also describes how a mathematician, Safa Motesharrei, has modelled the ruinous impact on a civilisation when extreme inequality coincides with the rapid depletion of natural resources. If his model proves accurate, it could be time for us all to head for the hills.
Others argue that the death knell has been sounded for western civilisation many times before. Maybe, just maybe, the startling pace of technological innovation will bail us out of our present predicaments, and normal progress can be resumed.
And yet, even if our civilisation manages to muddle through somehow, western Christians must surely ask themselves searching questions in light of the challenges our society faces: Have we become seduced by an over-confidence in the onward march of progress? How would our faith cope with an abrupt shift into reverse gear? How robust is our belief that God, not progress, is the ultimate source of hope (Romans 15:13), and that Christ, not the complex configuration of an advanced society, holds all things together (Colossians 1:17)?
Whether for individuals or an entire civilisation, the threat of losing what is familiar, secure, and seemingly indestructible can unmask Christian faith to be little more than naïve optimism. It also opens up wonderful opportunities for faith to become rooted in something, or someone, far more robust and real.
And even if our civilisation really is under unbearable strain, we take comfort from the fact that Jesus didn’t shy away from tough talk to his disciples about tough times ahead (Matthew 24). He instilled in them, through his life, death, and resurrection, a love and a hope that changed the world even as their own world crumbled around them. Following their example, and trusting the same Lord, we too can stand in the face of an uncertain future… and not flinch.
Nick is an HR consultant