Monday, April 11, 2011

Getting better

I've got to admit it's getting better
A little better all the time
-- "Getting Better," The Beatles
When I was still a Mormon -- but after I'd realized I was allowed to think for myself and that I didn't have to accept everything I heard at church as, well, "gospel" -- one of the things that used to bug me to no end was the way so many other Mormons talked about "the World."

"The World" is a horrible place and it's getting worse all the time. It's evil and getting eviler. It's dangerous and getting dangerouser. It's terribly frightening, and we're so fortunate to have the church to a) point this out to us and b) protect us from it, to give us a safe refuge. And there's no stopping it. It'll keep on getting worse and worse, more and more horrible, until finally Christ will come again and make everything nice (for the good people; for the bad people, not so much).

There were two things that bothered me about this. First, I've always thought that the world is actually a pretty cool place. Sure, I thought (and I always thought this, even at my most orthodox), there are bad things and bad people out there, but way more people are misguided rather than bad, and the bad things don't affect me much since I choose not to partake in them. (And, living my comfortable middle-class American and sometimes Japanese life, I was insulated from a lot of them.)

But there's so much beauty in the world. There's art, and science, and music, and sports, and nature, but most of all, there's people. People are beautiful. They're ugly too, and they do bad (or misguided) things, but that just makes the good things they do even more beautiful.

The second thing that bothered me is, as I discovered when I began thinking critically about the subject, that it's simply untrue. The world isn't getting worse and worse, it's getting better and better. If humanity were to disappear tomorrow, this -- right now, today -- would have been its Golden Age.

More people today are living decent lives than ever before. Life expectancy is way up. Infant, child, and maternal mortality is way down. Incomes are up; more people are middle-class, and fewer people live in the most abject poverty. More people are literate. More people than ever before have access to adequate food and water. More people have access to sanitation. Fewer people die of epidemic diseases. And on and on.

Yes, there are places where life is still horrible, but on average life is better than it has ever been. And this isn't something that has only happened in America, or only in the "First World." It's happening to some degree almost everywhere.

Watch this and you'll see what I'm talking about:

It is "pretty neat," and I don't just mean the presentation.

So why all this fear, this doom and gloom from Mormons and some other religions? Well, it's in their scriptures. Scriptures predict the "end times" or the "latter days" or whatever, and for almost 200 years for Mormons and about 2000 years for other Christians, the Second Coming of Jesus has been right around the corner.

And, while the world isn't getting worse, it is changing, and change can be scary. When faced with uncertainty, people want reassurance. They want someone to tell them it's going to be OK. Churches do that, in a way. Of course, they also scare people and teach them that the world is a horrible place, but that lets them say, "Things are scary, but don't worry; you're safe with us."

Churches that preach of a deteriorating world thus fulfill a psychological need. Which would be good, I suppose, except that those churches also work to create or at least exacerbate the need in the first place. They scare people by giving them a distorted picture of the world and then "heal" them by telling them that only the church can protect them. Not cool.

So religions, you can keep your pessimism about humanity. I'd rather join the Hans Roslings of the world, the ones who see that the world is "pretty neat" and getting neater.

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  1. Same experience here! Even as a believer, I hated the 'hell in a handbasket' mentality!

    People at church used to tell me, "The world is getting worse and worse!"

    And I'd say, "Well, yeah, with that attitude..."

  2. Yep. I think it's a fundamentally (no pun intended) irresponsible attitude.

  3. Amen. I stumbled across your blog from the Star Wars Brodie award. I've been enjoying it since. Keep it up!


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