Editor's Note: Twelve years ago, Politics + Religion writer David Scott wrote an essay about the dawn of the new millennium. Though he was concerned with the ballooning populations and political wrangling of the time, he ended the essay hopefully saying: "I am convinced that the majority of the Earth's people are good and want to do what is right. I am just as convinced that these same people will welcome the coming challenges if, by making the necessary sacrifices, they can insure the future of their children. I refuse to think our society can continue to 'thumb its nose' at coming generations by spending our children's inheritance now. I refuse to accept the thought that man, in a fit of greed and recklessness, would sacrifice his very posterity. In order to survive the new millennium, humankind will have to aspire to greater things. I, for one, believe that this century will mark the beginning of a new Golden Age." Here's what he has to say now.
Twelve years have elapsed, and our future is still very much in doubt. Storm signs are on the horizon, and rain has now already begun to fall in certain areas of our society.
One of the most troubling areas is the malignant polarization reaching a fever pitch in our society. As the economy has suffered, many citizens feel threatened and fearful. These emotions manifest themselves frequently as anger and hatred for others and for institutions of power.
The worst example of this animosity is the contempt some feel now toward our government. Instead of pooling our resources to maximize the common good, these individuals have decided government is the enemy, and taxes should be avoided, no matter what the purpose for which they are intended. The two schools of thought, instead of working for a constructive compromise to solve society’s problems, have ground government to paralysis. No longer can we look to our political leadership for guidance. Extremist ideologies have now replaced political cooperation.
Another troubling symptom of a threatening future is the “dumbing down” of our culture. Instead of aspiring to be well-educated and informed, many in society now seem to harbor a disdain for the educated, referring to them as “elites.” Scientific facts are now viewed as arbitrary information to be ignored or manipulated for financial or ideological gain. FOX News has replaced PBS. Talk Radio has replaced NPR.
Religion, too, has become embroiled in the downward spiral of our society. Moderate denominations of Christianity have often been timid to address pressing social problems such as social injustice and environmental degradation. The more extreme sectors of American Christianity have capitalized on this diffidence and “hijacked” the faith. This group, with their distrust of intellectuals, science, and all liberal ideas in general, have embraced the concept of devolution, or the return to a utopian past that never existed.
Even more appalling is the marriage of fundamentalist Christianity to the political right in our country. In exchange for a tenuous flirtation with power, gullible and naïve religious leaders have been led to embrace a political platform true Christians would abhor. It's a platform ignoring the weak, the poor and the meek who have no voice. This intoxication with political power has seen these evangelicals align themselves with unsavory political counterparts resulting in a debasement of the faith.
Unless we can rediscover our way forward into a new period of Enlightenment, our country is headed toward a New Dark Ages. Social myopia, it seems, will devour us.