This week a student texted a question to me, "Dr. Self, is the world going to end in 2012?" The inquirer was a sincere, thoughtful Christian and concerned about the dire predictions of friends, media moguls and spin doctors on the left and right.
I answered that all Christians believe in the hope of Christ's Return; however, we are to fulfill our callings well until that Day. As we live in hope we can plant trees, invest for our posterity, establish new products, develop new forms of compassion and give more than we take from the world.
The question reflects more than pop-cult interest in the Mayan calendar or the latest televangelist interpretations of the Book of Revelation. There is an unsteadiness in the USA that reflects the erosion of public cohesion that has been accelerating since the late 1960s and is taking nasty turns in this election year.
There are no "good old days" in US history - just better or worse actions of a few or many persons that create conditions for progress or regress. The 1950s were an amazing moment of economic and social growth; however, millions of African-Americans could not vote and had no access to many fields of work. The 1960s brought Civil Rights - and Vietnam. Technology has expanded exponentially since the 1950s, but social mores have fragmented and public virtue is scoffed at by the chattering elites.
The dis-integration of our land is evident when we exonerate a standing President for lying about his moral life in the 1990s, give any consideration to a current candidate that is a two-time adulterer and outright lie to ourselves about current economic conditions.
We have a regime in power with deep distrust of the Founders' vision and the U.S. Constitution. Obama's declaration that his administration is the "fourth most influential" after Johnson, FDR and Lincoln unveils the hubris, narcissism and self-deception that are foundational to his leadership. His declaration that Israel has no greater friend that his administration and "don't let anyone tell you otherwise" reveals a totalitarian streak that is dangerous for the future of the USA and democracy around the world. His latest appointments without Congressional approval verify his utter disdain for dissent and his moral and political laziness. Forging lasting change through effective compromise is hard work and thus far Obama is unwilling to tackle issues in real dialogue with his opponents.
Conservatives are not exempt from critique. Where is a compelling vision of prosperity that includes compassion and resources for retooling and vocational change? When are Republicans going to realize that some defense cuts are needed as part of an overall budget-balancing goal? Conservatives talk about less government, but are they willing to lay aside thousands of earmarks, subsidies and pork barrel projects, including unwise ones that may bring a few jobs to their district or state?
Will conservatives join with progressives to secure our borders while making legal immigration less onerous? Will conservatives stop calling all environmentally-concerned folks crazy and pick up the mantle of Theodore Roosevelt and affirm that free enterprise includes holding companies accountable and managing resources well?
We can unite compassion and wealth creation.
Personal and social responsibility are inseparable.
We can have an effective military response to terror without being an occupying force.
We must stand for Israel's existence and be real peacemakers, negotiating Middle East peace.
We can simplify the tax system and grow revenue by stimulating investment.
Sound ecological practice is good for the economy as we leave the world better for our children.
We must stand against any ideology that despises human rights and reject our democratic principles.
We must want for others the rights we claim for ourselves. Government does not bestow freedoms and rights; it exists to protect God-give/Natural rights that are inherent in the human condition.
We must resist moral relativism and reaffirm that there are "first principles" that are the root and fruit of a free and noble society.
We need to aspire to maturity and honor milestones that celebrate transitions to adulthood. Let's stop rushing kids into sexual adulthood and extending adolescence into our 30s.
Life and politics need to be local again, without a retreat into obscurantism or xenophobia. More money needs to be spent locally and less money managed by the elites inside the DC Beltway.
Will the world end in 2012? God alone knows the moment when current history is transformed into the kingdom of God and all swords become plowshares, lambs and lions lie down together, we cease making war, tears are wiped away and the dwelling place of the Almighty is with humankind forever. Until that moment we have daily opportunities to be signposts of this future shalom, emissaries of peace and reconciliation, ennobling work and being stewards of a bountiful world. We cannot bring instant perfection, but we can partner with God and each other to ensure that no one is hungry. We can encourage creativity, initiative and liberty to grow. Let's shape our lives so that the deepest wellsprings of reverence and mutual respect are nurtured in homes and communities of hope.