Thomas F. O'Neill
A few days ago, I was browsing Facebook, and I came across a video of a Christian fundamentalist ‘yelling’ about how we the people are living in the end times as foretold in the Bible. He shouted about the biblical signs, such as the depravity of today’s world.
While holding Bible in hand, he explained, quite loudly, I might add, about how people are turning their attention away from God. “There is no doubt that the world is quite different than the world our grandparents and great grandparents grew up in” he shouted. He then went on to say, “there is a much higher crime rate today due to drug issues and materialism, and drugs are being abused to escape from modern-day issues.” He then admonished science, secularism, and of course, social media.
Science and secularism are not the root causes of our society's problems. Social media is not entirely the problem either because it provides instant global communication. This is something that would have been considered science fiction a half-century ago. However, it would seem that before the world of Facebook, there was more psychological stability, especially in the world our ancestors grew up in. One reason for their stability is that our ancestors lived in the same neighborhoods their entire lives. They were raised predominantly ‘Christian,’ they most likely went to the same churches their parents and grandparents went to. Their house of worship was a significant part of their life for their entire lifetime.
The average person a hundred years ago rarely traveled beyond a twenty-mile radius. Their world perceptions remained the same due to their religion, neighborhood, town, or village.
Today most people will change jobs five times before they reach retirement age, and they will most likely move to different towns, cities, or states, on average - five times before retiring.
Many people today are not consciously aware that their perceptions of the world are constantly changing due to technological advancements. There have been more technological achievements in the last fifty years than in any other time in human history. How we see ourselves concerning others is also being influenced by science. We are also becoming less personable through our digital technology due to this fast passed computer age.
Babies born today will see science and technology double every two years. When today’s newborns become senior citizens, they may have a life expectancy of over 100 years. Some of us are asking, though, what the quality of life will be like in the next century?
Our language is also evolving due to the rate of science and technology. Future generations will not just have a greater vocabulary, but they will have a much greater understanding of the world around them, more so than we ever will in my baby-boom generation.
The super information highway called the internet is also having a profound impact on the younger generation’s relationship with the world in which they live. Their perceptions of themselves concerning others will continuously change as they mature and grow at the rapid rate of technological advancements. This is something our grandparents and great-grandparents have not experienced in their lifetime.
I do not necessarily see this as something negative. To be honest, I cannot imagine what the world will be like 50 years from now, and I suppose that is where the gift of the imagination comes into play. The accelerated changes are not just taking place in the United States; they occur globally, especially in Asian countries.
I disagree with the televangelist who believes we live in the end times, and I do not place that much literal emphasis on the Bible. I agree that today’s world is quite different from yesteryear’s world. Most people today are searching for ways to deal with their day-to-day stressors, and the majority are also placing less significance on religious institutions.
I was raised Roman Catholic by two devoutly Roman Catholic parents, but I’m no longer a practicing Catholic like millions of others. It is worse in Europe –the churches there are empty. In Rome, Italy, the American University has one seminarian in their undergraduate seminary. In the 1930s, there were four or five priests assigned to each church; now, churches are being consolidated due to a lack of priestly vocations. I do not, however, view this as a negative social crisis either.
The dynamic social shift away from institutional authority is also reflected in the number of self-help books published each year. People are still searching for spirituality to cope with the fast-moving world. They are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives. In the past, most people accepted religion as holding all the answers needed for this world and the afterlife. But in today’s world, most people feel the religious institutions have lost most of their credibility.
In the not-so-distant past, those who went against the status quo were either burned at the stake or excommunicated for being heretics. For many, there was that great fear of being free thinkers; this was a great inhibiting factor when it came to scientific advancements. It was not until the secularization of the free world that science and technology took great leaps for the betterment of humankind both in knowledge and achievements. But there must be a balance between knowledge and its proper application; that is where human wisdom comes into play. As our society continues to grow in knowledge – our understanding must be balanced wisely and properly applied. Not just for the individual’s benefit but for the betterment of society. Science and Spirituality are now beginning to complement one another. These two separate disciplines are both searching for the essence of things. Spirituality is accomplishing this by drawing us inward for greater self-knowledge. It helps us understand the essence of who we are in relation to the world around us.
Science is now beginning to recognize the subtle, intelligent designs of life without quite defining what life is. I suppose that is where spirituality comes into play. For some - life is the eternal presence of God - Life, love, and God are all synonymously leading us to the essence of things. Spirituality brings us ever so closer to who we truly are in relation to the natural world.
It is easy for the majority of people to get caught up in social media’s fleeting images and feel as if they are being lost in the process. On the other hand, Spirituality can help us focus on the essential matters of life. Our society may seem less religiously motivated, but there is still a deep hunger for spirituality in our fast-moving world.
However, some would like to see society go back to simpler times when the church and Bible were the vessels of divine truth. Our world then was the center of the Universe. For the Churchgoers, it was a religious fact that we were at the center of God’s creation. That was only common sense among the religious, but modern-day reality does not conform to those beliefs.
It was not that long ago in human history that Scientists discovered that the planets in our solar system revolve around the Sun. The religious establishment quickly declared them heretics because their scientific findings contradicted the Bible. The Church at that time refused to acknowledge the world was round because such a notion contradicted the scriptures. The Bible states the world has four corners. A round world also defies common sense because we will fall off if the world is round. Most people at that time also believed if you sail too far out to sea, you will eventually reach one of the world’s four corners. What would happen then was up to speculation; some believed the ship would fall off the edge of the earth.
When it was becoming common knowledge that the world was round, the church continued to declare it as heretical, and if you were Catholic teaching the round earth theory, you would have been excommunicated.
In the 1600s, the Catholic hierarchy declared Newtonian Physics as being heretical because of Newton’s views on gravity. The Pope at the time declared that any Catholic teaching - Newton’s laws - would be excommunicated. The Pope made it clear, “God holds men in existence, not gravity.”
In the late 1700s, during the forming of the new American government, the Catholic Church declared, “democracy is an immoral form of government.” The Pope at that time viewed Democracy and the separation of Church and State as being morally evil.
Later in history, the Church declared evolution to be heretical, and they still hold the view that man was created ‘fully man,’ and the belief in human evolution is a fallacy.
The former Pope declared Embryonic Stem Cell research as being morally reprehensible. This seems to reflect the same historical pattern within the Church. Their views on embryonic stem cell research are just another example of their irrational stance against advancements in science. This level of technology can be used for the betterment of humankind. Throughout history, the church's presumptions regarding science have been proven to be erroneous because they seem to stand in the way of progress.
As for those who believe in the infallibility of the Bible - the scriptures must not be viewed as a science book, historical documentation, or a literal, moral guide; the scriptures are simply theological literature that I happen to enjoy reading. We must also consider the cultural and historical influences surrounding the scriptures, such as when the scriptures were written. The scriptures, for me, are masterpieces of great literature and they had a profound influence throughout history. This is mostly due to the religious significance humanity has placed on scriptures and their religious institutions.
It is only now that we are gaining a much more holistic understanding of the biblical text, and that is mostly due to a deeper understanding of the power mythologies have had on human cultures and the human psyche in general. Modern Theologians are taking a much more anthropological approach to the scriptures, and they are studying them in relation to the historical and the mythological influences on the scripture writers. The Bible was not written in a vacuum; there were many cultural factors on the scripture’s development. Our growing understanding of the ancient writings has given us a much greater appreciation of the power we as human beings have given the scriptures throughout history.
Our understanding of the significant impact the Bible has had on world history, both positively and negatively, continues to evolve and mature with each passing day. I have also come to understand intuitively that we can not limit our understanding of God to a single book. We are spiritually maturing and evolving revelations of God’s love. We are not just human beings on a spiritual journey; we are also spiritual beings on a human journey.
I like to remind people that when the mind draws a blank to the world’s riddles, it turns to the soul for answers, for the soul knows what the mind seeks. When we reveal the love that is within us, we become the living and breathing presence of God’s love for others to emulate and embrace.
There are indeed many great problems in the world, but the solutions lie in the people who inhabit the world. What we give to humanity we give to ourselves and what we change in ourselves we change in humanity. If we want to witness more loving people in the world. We must change for the better by loving others more fully--this is truly the essence of God’s revelation.
Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
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