History magazine is a great magazine, and the recent issue, has the most amazing article on how and why people are disengaging from the past and unwilling to contend with the future. It shed light for me on my previous post on Theocapitalism, and why we are in the 'now' generation, who just want 'to be happy'.
The article has a simple idea, that people know and care about briefer time spans, becoming immediacy junkies, with no care for the past, and no thought for the future. I'll try to summarize the article here.
Lengthening of the Past The suggestion is that up until the 18th century the past for most people was similar to the present, and the imagine future mirrored the past, with the return of Jesus no further than the creation in the past.
But as we discovered more about the past, it lengthened as a period of time, beyond the history of the west, to the history of all cultures, beyond human history, into terrestrial, solar and galactic time, until we estimate a world that is 14 billion years old. Their is the shear immensity of history and the past. Within this time elongates, and deforms, and the very first things of time have primacy, but the most recent things take precedent. As the author puts it, 'ancient and recent become sexy'.
There is no cannon of names and dates to locate ourselves in the present anymore, and we become disconnected from the past. It is to big, too long ago, and the only we are aware of is the now. Then we have google, which allows us to stop having any records stored in our heads and consciousness, as we can just look them up when we need to.
The more we know about the past the more alien it becomes, and something that we can't relate to. The people within it, their issues, and context, are something we move away from. The past isn't just a 'foreign country', it is a domesticated and sanitized version of the present.
Collapse of the Future Then there has been a collapse of future hope. Until the Second World War, people looked ahead to an expected amazing future. But after Hiroshima and the Holocaust, and Disney's 'Tomorrow Land' never came. The future is a place of continuing terrorism, aging, and erosion of the world's resources. The future is a place of uncertainty, of insecurity, with no hope.
The result, of the past being forgotten and the future unattended, is the life, conceived of and lived in the now.
In survey of young people, the future is tomorrow, next weekend, or maybe next year at a push. We are reluctant to plan for our own lives, let along imagine kids and grandchildren. The destination of life has become the bourgeois ideal of jobs that pay me more and more, and the accumulation of experiences in the now, with the goal of 'nothing'
Some of us are old enough to remember measuring the future by what would happen by the year 2000. When it came the future vanished.
Future altruism has succumbed to 'voracious immediate demands'. We splurge on ourselves instead of investing for our children, and increasingly cease having them spare us the burden, and the spare them the future we fear.
What does it mean for us doing church, sharing and being the Gospel?
1. Retrieve the past: There is already a great move by Christians to retrieve the past, and bring our communities into context with it. And the challenge will be not to succumb to take the more ancient because it is sexy, but to value and understand it all. We cannot step over the 5th century until the present as if it was a mistake.
2. Offer Hope for the Future:We need to offer hope for the future, inspire people to see that there is more to life than the now. To invite people into the mission of God, something that will take us into eternity.