Reflections on the Brink

  The Christmas issue of Newsweek magazine purports to give readers "A Guide to the 21st Century." It is full of predictions about what politics, economics, technology, and even Americans themselves, will look like. But, the folks at Newsweek forgot something: the role that faith and values will play in shaping the twenty-first century. Columnist Anna Quindlen best summarizes the tone of the Newsweek's report when she declares that "the future will be grand." Well, if you look at things from a purely materialistic point of view, Quindlen is right. The next century holds out the promise of significant advances in the fight against diseases such as AIDS, heart disease, cancer, and muscular dystrophy. It will be a century where cars will drive themselves, Newsweek reports; you will be able to watch every movie ever made whenever you want to watch it; even animals on the brink of extinction may be saved through cloning. Newsweek arrived at these predictions by extrapolating from the technological accomplishments of the past century. But this willingness to predict the future by looking at the past didn't extend to cultural trends. If it had, the future might not look so grand. The twentieth century has been about more than technological advances. It was the century that introduced the world to genocide—the systematic attempt to eliminate whole races. And the twentieth century saw the West embrace what Pope John Paul II called the "culture of death." Millions of unborn children were killed simply because their births would have been "inconvenient." Now, at the close of the millennium, the culture of death has extended to the elderly. We are in the midst of a push to legalize physician-assisted suicide and even euthanasia. And the nation remains deeply disturbed by a rash of bloody, senseless, school shootings. Our kids are run amok. In his 1996 essay, "Sorry, But Your Soul Just Died," novelist Tom Wolfe said philosopher Frederic Nietzsche was right in his prediction that humanity would muddle through the 20th century, living off the 'mere pittance' of the morality it had inherited from Christianity. But that inheritance is now overdrawn, spent. So we come to the end of the 20th century with the prospect ahead for unbelievable technological advances, but with the nation exhausted by the moral bankruptcy of modern life. So what does this really mean for the 21st century? The really big news may be not all of the gadgets and scientific accomplishments of which Newsweek writes, but a renewed search for a coherent moral order. I believe people are hungry to rediscover the rich inheritance of Western civilization, the moral consensus provided by the Judeo-Christian tradition. This is why Pope John Paul II predicts that the new millennium will usher in a springtime of evangelization. People hungry, confused, bewildered by the moral nihilism of the 20th century will look for something better, something more meaningful. Newsweek may believe that man lives by bread alone, but human beings, hungry for something more, know better. The key, of course, is for the Church to present the alternative to modern chaos, a biblical worldview, in a winsome and loving way. And if it does, the 21st century will be about more than gadgets and science, it will be a time when true hope and meaning are rediscovered.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary