We live in a world very different from that of our forebears. We have learned to understand, master and then exploit nature. An exploitation that has led to prosperity for some, while others starve. At times it can seem insane and if we are to begin to understand it we need to know how we got here.
Our story begins with Bacon, Newton and Locke. William Blake’s ‘trinity of evil’. For Blake, they reduced the world to the material and the rational, depriving it of imagination. Yet, they were the inspiration for the men and women that led the Enlightenment. That period in our history when the light of reason was brought into our lives and the darkness of superstition (and religion) cast out. They were forging a Utopian future, although, in the end, it turned out more horrific than they imagined, as the ‘Reign of Terror’ followed the French Revolution and shocked the world. Enthusiasm for the Enlightenment was lost.
But the Victorians did not forget the Enlightenment. Instead, they industrialised it and created one of the greatest periods of change in our history. At the beginning of the Victorian period Britain was a rural economy, but by the end, we were a world power, an industrial powerhouse and probably the richest nation on earth. Yet, there was also an unprecedented level of poverty on our streets that spoke loudly that something was wrong. Men, like Dickens, did much to awaken us to the misery we had created and the dark side of our revolution, the exploited poor. The situation became a public scandal and eventually even the most hardened softened towards helping those in need.
Then came two world wars. Mass destruction, but now on an industrial scale, shattering our prestige and ending our wealth. Yet the war left many widowed and wounded, so we did yet more to help those who could not help themselves. Yet, without our former wealth, we financed it with debt. So, we arrive at today. In nearly all respects better off, but also deeply in debt. We certainly don’t have the same misery of poverty. Yet, we are no more free. Fuelled by the need to compete to earn money and reduce our debt, like the Israelites in Egypt we are in systems that relentlessly ask us to do more with less. Today we call it ‘Lean’, but it goes by other names. Turning us into the cogs of a vast system of our own making, with barely time to stop for breath. Efficient, yes – the cold efficiency of a machine.
Now here is my question. What was I expecting of the Anti-Christ when he, she or it comes? Will it oppose Christianity more than our secular world, a world that treats all religions as irrelevant, even if well meaning and useful as a crutch for the weak? Will it perform greater miracles, with our planes that fly, phones that enable us to see and hear each other anywhere in the world – not to mention our medical ability to heal? Will the ‘light bringer’, Lucifer, bring more light than the Enlightenment? What more am I expecting? I have no answer, but the question troubles me.
These are strange times, where Utopian hopes persist, even if we are now also wary of them. I suspect our times are not as benign as I once believed. For sure, I am not expecting mass persecution when indifference has proved so effective. Yet, just perhaps, our world is not as safe as we think – and probably never was.