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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Thinking the Unthinkable

If you knew the world would end in six months, how would you spend your time? (Serendipity Bible 10th Anniversary Edition, page 659).

I would first like to expand this question so that it's not only me who knows the world will end in six months, but that everyone on earth knows it. And they know it with complete certainty. This necessitates some huge impending catastrophic event – say, a fast approaching cloud of space debris. The key element here is total and complete credibility – there is absolutely no question raised by anyone that any other possibility exists.

With this in mind the impact upon the congregate human psyche is awesome to contemplate. Much in our economy, for example, presumes continuance. I guard my credit score because I assume that sometime in the future I might need it. An institution is willing to extend me credit because it presumes continuance. All of our schools and educational facilities presume long-term continuance. Our system of justice and criminal law assumes long-term continuance – without it a minor infraction will have the same practical result in terms of jail time as a capital offense. No sentence will be longer than six months. In the story of the grasshopper and ants, the ants work to store up food for the winter. If there is no winter to store up for, will we all become pleasure-seeking grasshoppers? And what would become of ancient rivalries such as the Arab-Israeli conflict?

Clearly, the basic question is - will such an inevitable catastrophe function to ennoble humanity or debase it? Will the disciplines of love and light (patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, carefulness, generosity, lawfulness, virtue, focus on the eternal) predominate or with the disciplines of hate and darkness (impatience, meanness, carelessness, selfishness, lawlessness, reductionism, shortsightedness)? When the unthinkable becomes thinkable and perception thereby profoundly changed, will the better angels of our nature outnumber the demons? Will we live up or live down to the inexorable approach of the last moment? I suppose the best place to start in answering such questions is to look to our own homes and our own hearts. But in the end I greatly fear some likely consequences – rioting, looting, violence. Doomsday could well tear us apart and not bring us together. There will be great temptation to focus on the moment and not the eternal – which, unlike the approaching catastrophe, is not guaranteed except by faith.

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