Race Wars Everywhere? I’m Witnessing Something Very Different, and Hopeful
Recently while social media, hours after the horrible Dallas police murders, asserted that America was on the verge of a race war, I met a colleague at an urban courtyard. On a balmy evening children of all races laughingly played together around a fountain. Adults of all races sat on benches or sipped their drinks at outdoor cafes. My colleague, looking on, with understatement observed that the hyperbolic headlines did not match the reality before us.
Indeed. What if our smart phones instantly alerted each of us to every murder in America in real time? What if we all got similar alerts for every rape and robbery? What if we knew instantly of every parent who abused a child and of every spouse who routinely abused his or her consort? What if we knew immediately of every teacher, cleric or neighbor who sexually exploited a young charge? Imagine our phones ringing with every suicide, every child succumbing to cancer, every family killed or devastated by an auto accident. This overload of horrific data would overwhelm us, drive us all to despair if not suicide.
And imagine if the alerts were expanded beyond coverage of our own country of 320 million but were global, with the major tragedies and atrocities among 7 billion people instantly transmitted to us. Life would be unbearable. Who among us could endure such unending burdens?
Fortunately only God in heaven with His complete knowledge is receiving all this simultaneous information and so much more. He can process this unending grief and shame, amid His own sadness and anger, even if we decidedly cannot. People of faith, especially Christians, are for this reason, among others, asked to place their burdens before God and trust in His ultimate disposition of human affairs. We are warned that sufficient unto the day are the problems thereof, so therefore we live by faith, not with complaint, contending with challenges and evils over which we have some influence, leaving the rest to Him.
We are also called by faith to appreciate that even amid great evils God’s works of mercy and redemption are proceeding on a schedule known fully only by Him. In all times, but especially our own times, we have a responsibility, to step back from the micro and appreciate the macro. We remain in America among the wealthiest, healthiest, longest lived, freest and most advantaged people who’ve ever lived.
This recognition can no longer be confined just to America. The world in recent decades has enjoyed the greatest increase in human history of human wealth, of human health, of human longevity, of human comfort, of human safety, and by some measures of human freedom. Poverty, disease, malnutrition, illiteracy, childhood mortality are of course too common but are in dramatic retreat. By most measures war is less common. By some measures, the rule of law has advanced.
As an American there’s no other time I would prefer to live than now. But I would say the same for virtually any other country, perhaps excluding North Korea, which has been dreadful for 70 years, and was no bed of roses beforehand under Japanese occupation. Human rights in Iran are worse under the mullahs than under the Shah 40 years ago, but still there are better living and health standards. Saudi Arabia remains a dark place, but when was it not? Arguably there are some baby steps toward incremental freedoms. Certainly materially they are better than ever.
For all of Putin’s autarky and corruption, Russians live better now than under communism or the czars. China’s rulers are repressive, just as they have been for thousands of years. The Chinese of today have more today in human advantages than in any previous era. It used to be said that much of Africa was materially and governmentally better under colonialism. Excepting chaotic Somalia and a few other war-torn places, Africa, in relative terms, has never had more prosperity, freedom or domestic peace. The same is more true for Latin America, despite Venezuela’s self-immolation. Most of Asia is booming, becoming richer and freer.
In America there is reputedly, we are constantly told, widespread anger, socially and politically, although not generally about personal lives. To what extent this national unease is justified is uncertain. Americans have never lived better or had more. Anemic economic growth estimates don’t fully capture technological advances and accompanying conveniences.
The other night I lost my smart phone, a terrific disaster for millions of Americans, though we lived happily without such devices until recent years. Not knowing if my phone had been left in a restaurant, or a parking lot, on the crevices of my car, I searched late at night with increasing panic. Then I thought to consult my phone company’s website using my iPad, which quickly presented a map showing within eight meters my phone’s locale, which was a trash can in my backyard. Miraculous!
More importantly and miraculously I have friends with serious cancer who, not many years ago, would not have survived, yet today, thanks to new drugs, live on, enjoying family and friends, justifiably grateful. How to measure such advances?
Supposedly America is in moral decay, for which there’s much evidence. But then there always has been. A quote has long been attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville saying 180 years ago that America is great because America is good. He never said it, but pretend he did. In the 1830s millions of Americans were slaves, with masters who could beat them, sexually molest them, impregnate them, abort the child or sell it, or kill the slave, with little to no legal or social consequence. Was America more Christian and moral then?
Amid our terrible contemporary pathologies and social disjunctions, it’s important to remember that rates of booze, drugs and sex among minors is reportedly down. Divorce rates are down. Abortions rates are down. Cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births seem to have leveled off. Societal toleration of spousal and child abuse, once often minimized as private, is probably lower now than ever before. Public toleration of intoxication and especially drunk driving, once seen as almost harmless and even amusing, is likely at a historic low. Public toleration and rejection of various vices ebbs and flows.
There is in America justified angst over our current political class, especially the presidential nominees. But there needs to be perspective. Hillary’s email imbroglio likely wouldn’t equal any typical week’s worth of misdeeds in the thirty year political career of LBJ. Trump’s veiled remarks about minority groups are almost inconsequential compared to more brazenly offensively statements politically common a few decades ago.
The growing assaults on religious freedom and conscience rights in America, abetted by much of the political and cultural elite, are alarming. Christians and other traditionalists who uphold traditional sexual standards are the current target. In previous times, the targets were Christians who resisted the culture’s norms about race or other aspects of social justice. Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison was marched by a mob through Boston in broad daylight with a noose around his neck. These social battles in defense of Christian anthropology are not new. And they never completely go away. Vigilance and resistance, often at a great price, are required in every generation.
We shouldn’t ignore the sins and calamities of today’s world. The Scriptures point out that Satan roams about like a roaring lion, until the end of time and the Final Judgment. Meanwhile there will always be murder, rape, robbery, injustice, hatred, betrayal, and tragedy on vast scales that boggle the mind. We are called to perseverance and faithfulness in adversity, and also to gratitude for blessings. St Paul admonishes us to rejoice even in sufferings. Ingratitude ranks among the chief sins.
Although not extensively appreciated even among the contemporary devout, there is a watchful Providence that presides, guards and judges. A New England hymn writer and abolitionist said it well:
Though the cause of evil prosper,
Yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above His own.