As the year 2011 dawns, there is a sense of foreboding among many. I don't remember a time in my life when more people were convinced that America and the world were at a truly perilous juncture. Frequent analogies are made to the moral decline of ancient Rome, the "gathering storm" era of the 1930s, and the portents of the biblical Apocalypse.
Debt-ridden and overcommitted, the advanced world's societies seem to be verging on collapse, while other nations are sinking back into centuries-old patterns of ethnic, tribal, and religious violence. Christians and Jews are justly concerned about increasing persecution, in Europe as well as in Asia and the Middle East. In much of the Eastern hemisphere, however, Muslims themselves are the chief victims of Islamist extremism. China and Russia, meanwhile, arm themselves and alarm their neighbors with shows of force. Rogue states acquire nuclear weapons. The end of the "Pax Americana" is taken as a given.
As our post-Cold War "holiday from history" comes to an end, however, there are positive conditions and developments. Here are five that occur to me:
1) The United States is still observing key provisions of its Constitution. The people's effective power over the direction and character of government is respected in principle. One election has changed the party leadership of the House of Representatives, and produced a decisive shift in the control of the state legislatures. The voters spoke—and their voice mattered.
2) Americans have not succumbed to panic or unrest. Our middle class retains its characteristic stake in public order. Most people are still employed; they are at work, honoring their obligations, and not demonstrating in the streets. Most Americans, moreover, regardless of race, ethnicity, income level, or political affiliation, tacitly agree that course changes for the ship of state must be undertaken in an orderly and constitutional manner. We are still committed to the rules of our political process, and still in charity with our neighbors. These things should not be taken for granted, as history shows they are both significant and rare. The American people themselves are the biggest reason why constitutional government continues to function in the United States.
3) Alternative media enable us to exchange ideas and information in a skeptical and empirical manner as well as in the modes of propaganda, rumor, gossip, and alarmism. This thought occurs to me because of the series of reports in the past week about fish and birds dying in unusual geographic concentrations all over the world. There is an eye-opening number of websites advancing theories about secret government tests killing the animals, along with speculation about global warming and signs of the Apocalypse. But for the native empiricist, there is also plenty of information from science, history, and the authorities to shed light on the wildlife deaths.
We rarely stop to appreciate how remarkable this is. Our human ability to exchange ideas and information has never been as robust and meaningful as it is today.
4) There is positive energy bursting forth in other parts of the world. I have in mind two instances in particular, though I am aware of many more. One situation involves a Guamanian in his early thirties whom I met by chance a few months ago in the customer lounge of an auto repair shop. He had been brought to California by his parents as a boy, and he appreciated the education and the opportunities that move had made possible. But he and his wife and children were leaving for Guam within days because the culture and the economic climate of southern California were becoming discouraging. The parents wanted their children to grow up in a safe, positive, family-friendly environment; they also wanted to start a small business. For both objectives, Guam seemed to offer better opportunities than California.
But this man did not convey any sense of resignation, resentment, or pessimism. He was, instead, quite touchingly in love with America. He felt that America was in danger of losing its way, and the path he saw for himself and his wife—both of them evangelical Christians—was to thrive in Guam and have a base from which to reach out one day, perhaps with the profits from a business, and be a blessing to the America that had welcomed and nurtured them.
We in America are not used to being the country that aspiring business owners and philanthropists have to leave. But there is a marvelous sense of God’s provision in the Guamanian family’s plans. For all the dangerous and evil trends emerging in the world, there is also a flowering of hope and a rising up of people of goodwill – and both America and the wider world will reap benefits from that.