“The Spectator” of Great Britain argued so a couple weeks ago.
“It may not feel like it, but 2012 has been the greatest year in the history of the world,” an editorial insisted. “Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. The West remains in the economic doldrums, but most developing countries are charging ahead, and people are being lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. The death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also mercifully low. We are living in a golden age.”
Politicians argue otherwise, the editorial noted. But most advances for mankind come from “ordinary people,” not politicians. Outside of government, global progress has been “spectacular.” The UN’s Millennium Development Goals for poverty reduction targeting 2015 were met already in 2008. Global inequality is also down, lower than ever in modern times. “Globalisation means the world’s not just getting richer, but fairer too,” said “The Spectator.”
Rich nations are using less fossil fuel thanks to increased efficiency. And new gas and oil discoveries, accompanied by new technologies for retrieval, are unlocking vast new storehouses of energy. People are living longer and healthier globally. In Africa, life expectancy increased 5 years, or 10 percent, over the last 10 years. AIDS and malaria deaths are down dramatically. Deaths from natural disasters are declining as nations grow wealthier and better able to adapt. There have also been fewer war deaths in the last decade than any time in the last century. “The Spectator” noted that in Britain, life expectancy is now hitting 81, up 3 years from a decade ago.
And “The Spectator” concluded: “As we celebrate the arrival of Light into the world, it’s worth remembering that, in spite of all our problems, the forces of peace, progress and prosperity are prevailing.” What a wonderfully counterintuitive and counter cultural assertion! Conservatives and liberals, with many in between, love to complain otherwise. And even Christians, although supposedly hopeful about God’s plans, like to grouse as though they live in the worst times ever.
Of course it is true that our world remains dreadfully fallen and opposed to God’s purposes in horribly countless ways. Much evil stalks the earth, amid disease, conflict, famine, persecution, injustice and countless individual tragedies, all fueled by the accumulated transgressions of over 7 billion of us sinners. Yet God’s grace also abounds, and He has given us an era and a time of impressive temporal improvements surpassing any previous generation ever to have walked the earth. There is also the astonishing growth of the global church. Shouldn’t we give thanks as we bring in this New Year?
Seventy one years ago, the world was wracked by war that would kill ultimately over 50 million, accompanied by an unparalleled genocide against the Jews and others. Much of the world was captive under the police state apparatus of Nazism, Fascism, Japanese militarism, Communism, or affiliated depotisms. There was no guarantee that the Anglo democracies could prevail, and their survival, much less victory, depended on alliance with Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, which had practiced its own genocidal mass murders. Lives, even in the free, wealthy countries, were shorter, sicker, and far less comfortable than today. America, the world’s greatest democracy, still practiced racial segregation. Most of the great Protestant denominations in America and the West had already succumbed to theological heterodoxy. More egregiously, many churches in occupied Europe openly defended Nazism and Fascism. More courageous Christians were martyred by the many thousands in Europe and in Asia.
On New Year’s Day 1942 President Franklin Roosevelt and visiting British Prime Minister Winston Churchill attended a special service at historic Christ Church of Alexandria, Virginia, sitting in the pew where George and Martha Washington had often worshipped. The Episcopal priest preached: “The spirit of Christ alone stands in the way of successful Nazi world domination, for it alone can inspire a successful will to resist and provide sufficient power to achieve victory.” And he lamented of America’s late entry into the war: “We have wanted other nations to pay the supreme price for liberty while we gave them dollar credits!” He insisted Americans must become Christ-like and “accept our cross, too.” In atonement for its fear of conflict, America must be “purged and cleansed” of its “evil.” The congregation sang: “God of Our Fathers,” written for America’s centennial in 1876, “Once To Every Man and Nation” by New England abolitionist James Russell Lowell, and Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Churchill wept upon hearing the latter, which became a favorite, and which he instructed be played at his funeral 23 years later, which it was. In his sermon, the priest quoted Howe’s hymn, insisting that America would not withhold “its terrible swift sword” from its enemies.
Stirring, terrifying times. And thank God they are behind us, in a world that is today, with several major, terrible exceptions, largely at peace and increasingly prosperous. Great, renewed horrors may face our world again in the future. And each of us individually has crosses to bear even in good times. But let’s give thanks for where God has placed us now as we enter 2013. Happy New Year!