Friday, July 24, 2009

Beware optimism, pessimism, cynicism... and complacency!

According to the Canadian National news, the recession is over. Really? Well - the jobs that were lost may not come back for years, but Canadians seem to be spending which the optimists among us interpret as evidence of renewed confidence in the economy. And since that seems to be all that keeps the economy going - confidence, that is - that's a good thing. Right?

And, the H1N1 pandemic seems to be more or less under control, though there are warnings that a second wave may be much worse. But the optimist rests easy knowing that some of the best medical minds on the planet are working on a vaccine and there are some pretty intelligent people even now figuring out how many doses of the vaccine are needed to protect us from this nasty bug - so that's all good. Right?

The environment continues to be a cause for concern, but the sun keeps coming up in the morning and going down at night - of course if you live in Atlantic Canada where we haven't actually SEEN much of the sun this summer, we're still pretty sure it's still up there somewhere. The climate change forecasters of doom and gloom are still issuing pretty dramatic warnings, but at least they seem to have captured the attention of the G8, so they'll figure something out to get us out of this fix, right?

The food crisis that was so much in the news last spring seems to have receded somewhat. The poor are still poor, of course, and the hungry are still hungry, but we haven't seen any food riots lately, so that's good, I guess.

There are still lots of problems but, hey, no one ever promised us a rose garden after all. Struggle is what makes us strong. No pain, no gain. Even the bible says that we shouldn't worry about tomorrow so, let's carry on. Nothing like a trip to the mall or a few bids on ebay to help us forget our troubles or the troubles of people we don't even know but who are rumoured to be suffering hunger, ill health, exploitation, persecution and all kinds of other unpleasantness. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot that we can do about all the problems, so maybe the best thing is to find some way to enjoy life as best we can.

So - I think I've covered it all - optimism, pessimism, cynicism AND complacency. And here's the warning - each of these basic attitudes is a trap. So what's the alternative? Well - here goes. It may sound incredibly simplistic, but I think that we need to open our eyes and see things as they are - the good, the bad, the ugly. As humanity presses on - whether by our own design or by the momentum from the past - we will need all of the resources of science and of faith and of good will if we are to have anything of value to pass on to the next generation. Or even if there is to BE a next generation!

I can't help thinking about Solomon - the author of Ecclesiastes - who asked that God would give him wisdom. God apparently granted his request and he wrote the book of Ecclesiastes as a sort of journal of his discoveries. He sought to understand the meaning of life and, as you probably know, everything he tried - wisdom, pleasures, work, advancement - it is all, in the end, he says, meaningless. Pretty depressing, eh? But this is how Solomon concludes his writing:

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Eccl. 12:13)

This is where I'm at. There are times when I'm drawn to optimism, pessimism, cynicism and complacency - but I know that they are all dead ends, if I stay on any of these paths too long. Sometimes I find God's commandments pretty obscure and when I'm really honest, they are often counter intuitive and definitely counter cultural. But I'm thinking that counter cultural is probably not a bad thing and maybe it's just what we need. Even from a purely human point of view, it's pretty evident that our materialistic, narcissistic, consumer-driven culture and our confidence in humanity's ability to solve our own problems hasn't actually worked out all that well. Which isn't to say that we should stop trying - just that we should try something else. As for me, I think that trying to do things according to God's commands is certainly worth our best effort. And if we're going to try to live by them, it's going to take some effort to figure out just what they are and to separate them out from our cultural biases.

Hans Rookmaaker, a Dutch Christian scholar once said that "Jesus didn't come to make us Christian; he came to make us fully human." Interesting. More thoughts on that for another day!

Oh - one more thing - and I think I've likely said this before but I'll say it again - the biggest challenge for us in seeking to obey God OR in applying ourselves to science, is to acknowledge our limitations and to tackle the challenges with humility...


Unknown said...

Derrick Jensen's articles in Orion were provocative. Take up the fight against the current economic system! I feel that it's all too similar to "The Matrix". The extreme majority of people see nothing wrong with the system - and that the system will not look kindly on people trying to change the system. Jensen says he loves fighting the system and he loves life. (He also has a very low regard for Christianity). Jesus says that he who loves his life will lose it, but he who loses his life fighting for Him will save it.

cbmlois said...

I find that Derrick Jensen is much more radical than I am and I also am aware that both the aim and the method of his activism make me very uncomfortable. The "system", for all it's flaws, will not be changed without a real fight - a fight which would be incredibly bloody and for which the global poor, despite their numbers, are at an incredible disadvantage. The blood that is shed is likely to be theirs. It's for that reason that I cannot support efforts, no matter how well intentioned, to bring the "system" down. The alternative, I think - though I acknowledge that this attitude must be VERY frustrating to activists like Jensen - is to live out our faith, with fear and trembling (i.e. humility) in the midst of the political and economic realities that ARE. Perhaps God will use our obedience and faithfulness to bring about transformation of the oppressive structures and systems. But whether he does or doesn't, our responsibility remains the same.

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