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Whoever loves money never has enough;
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Friday, September 13, 2013

Between The Rock Of History And The Hard Place Of The Future

Robert Jensen is one of my favorite activists to listen to and read. Though he is a member of a Presbyterian Church (St Andrews Presbyterian Church, which is a church in the PCUSA denomination), we really don't come from the same religious tradition. He does not believe in Jesus as being God's Son (click here) while I do. But Jensen says he believes in the "core principles" that Christ taught. So in a way, Jensen's Christianity resembles that of many people including Thomas Jefferson.

If at this point, my fine fellow flaming fundamentalist friends and family have found reason to ignore what he has said and written, they would be missing out on a buried treasure of convicting messages. For, in his work as an activist, Jensen can challenge us with the best of them to follow a certain set of principles taught by Christ. And so us Christians would do ourselves a favor to learn what we can even it is from confessing nonbelievers.

The article being reviewed here is about the failure of American intellectuals to stand up to wealth and power (click here for the article). The role of the intellectual as people like Chomsky sees it is to act as a rational prophet, a prophet who warns the people about the direction in which society is going but does so using logic and science rather than inspiration and divine revelation. According to Cornel West, our religious institutions from all faiths have already lost prophetic voices. And as a result, we see society racing towards a self-annihilation while the alarm bells are too faint to wake us from our dreamworld.

We could get into the specifics of the article on why intellectuals are content to comfort people in being satisfied with the status quo,  but you can garner that for yourself by reading the article. It is Jensen's train illustration that we are here to first understand and then use to learn how to respond to the many crises that jepardously threatens our collective futures. 

In this illustration, one sees that the train one is riding on is about to derail. So one suggests that rather than continuing the ride, the train should stop and all who are on the train should disembark and continue the trip on foot. The response of all others to this suggestion is to refuse to believe the danger because the people are not only too comfortable, they have grown accustomed to their surroundings. So, to expect all others to follow the suggestion to leave the train is to be unrealistic.

This metaphor applies to how most of us respond to the two main threats that act as the sword of Damocles which hang over the collective heads of all mankind: war and environmental catastrophe. For when leftists, like myself, repeat the warnings of Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King about how war will eventually cause the extinction of mankind, we are told to get real.  We are told that because war is almost as old as sin and thus it is only from an idealistic "pie in the sky" attitude that thinks we could change now. In other words, the reality of history tells us that we will never change and so why waste one's breathe on asking for it. Since people have always relied on wars in the past, they always will do so in the future. That is reality.

This reality of history narrative reduces all reality to the past in order to give us permission to not change course despite the evidence that tells us that we are racing to certain doom. Why? Because to change course, to depart from the train, would result in participating in a disruption of our normal way of living and doing things, a change that would introduce too much immediate discomfort. And so the desire to avoid this discomfort enables us to deny the second reality, that is the reality of our coming destruction, the reality of our future. For how can we ever escape extinction when we inevitably arrive in an age of the proliferation of WMDs while still relying on war and force to resolve our most basic conflicts?

At this point, some will be tempted to ask, what comfort can possibly come from relying on war to solve our problems? To the victors, go the comforts. War brings us the comforts of the acquisition of conquest and control. But here, even History tells us that no one is on top for ever. Every great nation and empire has fallen from its victorious perch.

The same point can be applied to our coming environmental apocalypse. Despite the rising amount of CO2 in the atmostphere and the environmental changes that have already taken place, not only have we refused to change, we are doing worse. So not only are we not cutting down on our use of fossil fuels, we are extracting these fuels in ways that are more and more harmful to the environment. From mountaintop removal to fracking to tarsands extraction to deep sea drilling, we are increasing our econoligcal footprint rather than minimizing it. 

And it isn't just our lifestyles that are attacking the environment, it's China's as well since it has surpassed us in the production greenhouse gases. Our demotion to 2nd place was already predated by the China excuse for not changing our way of life. That excuse asks, why we should change our consumption of fossil fuels to protect the environment if it no longer matters what we do because of what China is doing? In other words, we are too comfortable to get off the train.

Certainly a comfy past presents a hard and fast reality against asking people to change. But there is more than one reality in today's world. Global climate change is accelerating before our own eyes as can be seen in the disappearing of ice in the North Pole and the breaking up of ice in the South Pole along with the dead zones in the ocean. And with this global climate change comes life threatening weather changes to some areas because of the water supply problems, wildfires, the diminishing ability to grow crops, the increase in the number of stronger and stronger storms, and the raising of global sea levels which threatens to evict millions from their homes.

While the reality of History holds us back from making lifesaving changes, the reality of the Future is banging on our door and telling us to take shelter. These two antagonistic realities are battling for both our souls but for our future existence. 

This battle between History's claim on us and the Future's ominous prophecy should be familiar to us Christians because evangelism occurs when we make the Bible's version of this conflict known to people. The reality of the past tells us that we can only expect people to sin and reject God. The reality of the Future warns us of what will happen if we do not repent and believe in Jesus to save us. If such a battle between History and the Future occurs at this level, should we be surprised that a similar kind of battle occurs on earth between the reality of past and current seeds we've sown and the dangerous harvest that will be reaped if we don't change now? Though Jensen does not believe in the Gospel call and thus the dueling realities that comes in evangelism, his illustration of the train that is about to be derailed certainly tells us of the more than one reality we are accountable for on earth. And we need every reminder because those who are addictably comfortable with History's reality want to deny what is coming in the future.

So it is knowledge of these dueling realities in Jensen's illustration which can potentially save us. And whether it actually saves us depends on how we respond and whether we are willing to leave our comfort zone for sake of our future and that of others. 


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