Hell-in-a-Handbasket? Why Things Aren’t Getting Worse

“Don’t you think our culture so depraved and rushing toward total moral decay?  Wasn’t it better off when we were growing up in a God-fearing society?”

My answer, whenever I’m asked this by a student or church member is always “No, things are not getting worse. This world is no more Fallen now than it’s ever been in the past.”

Usually the “our-culture-is-heading-headlong-into-hell-in-a-handbasket” (alliteration is fun!) line of argument is made by those who long for “the good ol’ days”…you know, usually sometime around the 1930s-50s…

Source: JM Smith

…when there was ALSO a Great Depression, World Wars, Nuclear proliferation…and let’s not forget about good ol’ Jim Crowe segregation!

Source: JM Smith

No, today’s culture is not any worse now that it’s ever been. At least, I’m not convinced that it is. When I read the Hebrew Bible, I see cultures who have state-run fertility goddess worship orgies (Corinth) and child sacrifice (Canaan). In the New Testament, I see state sponsored-and required-polytheism (Pergamum) and Imperial slavery (Rome).

Christians in the US, particularly where I reside in the Bible belt, who feel that we’re so much worse off now than in the past need to ask ourselves two questions:

1. How many more believers are there in the world today advancing the Kingdom of God?

2. When’s the last time you were required by the local government to take part in a pagan feast and/or ritual sex in honor of the local gods and goddesses?

It seems to me that good and evil, sin and righteousness, justice and oppression have always been part of this Fallen world and have been equally prevalent in every age. It also seems that in every age, there are those who long for “the good ol’ days.” Need proof? Listen to this critique of current youth culture:

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they depend on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wild and impatient of restraint!”

The person being quoted??

Hesiod (Greek poet who lived 800 years before Jesus’ birth!)

I suspect people will always feel this way–that culture is spiraling out of control, things are worse now than ever before, and young people are growing up in a moral abyss–until Jesus returns and “put the world to rights once and for all” (as N.T. Wright puts it) .

In the meantime, I believe we must continue to live somewhere between the Religious Fundamentalists’ gloom-and-doom outlook and the Religious Liberals’ naive optimism regarding the human spirit’s ability.

Lord, help us stay balanced lives; for your truth is almost always in the middle of the extremes.

So, what do you think?  Is our world worse than ever or do we need to see our circumstances in light of the trials of the past?  What other thoughts do you have on this matter?


James-Michael Smith, or JM as his friends call him, received his M.Div from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and served for 5 years as Discipleship Pastor at Good Shepherd UMC in Charlotte, NC. He now teaches Biblical seminars via DVD/CD curricula that he has released through his online teaching ministry The Disciple Dojo and speaks on an itinerant basis. He loves drawing/painting (BFA, Univ. of GA), martial arts, philosophy of religion, Biblical Hebrew, and the intersection between theology and culture…as well as anything pertaining to the Simpsons, MMA, or Ron Burgundy!  Follow on Facebook and Twitter!

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