Part One: All Change
Exactly one hundred years ago, at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns ceased firing in what was known at the time as the Great War. Today, we know it as the first world war. It was supposed to have been the war to end all wars. It was, of course, nothing of the sort. It was, however, the end of an era. Not that most people saw it that way at the time, and afterwards much continued as before when the men returned from the trenches. Those that did return, that is - some 40 million didn’t.
In the hundred years that have followed, however, we have seen great changes affecting and transforming every aspect of life on the planet. Thanks to many of those changes, a child born today can expect to live for a hundred years. What will life be like for him or her in the next hundred years?
Some years ago now, I went for the first time to India. I visited, as you do, the Taj Mahal, and still remember how amazing I found it that I could phone my mum and tell her where I was. A child born today simply will not be able to understand what was so amazing about it. Just over ten years ago, smartphones made their first appearance. There are now more smartphones on the planet than there are people.
What sort of a world is today’s child entering?
Charles Dickens, in his famous novel, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, set at the time of the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century, begins it with the words, ‘It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.’ That, I think, is a good description of the time in which we live. Depending on how you look at it, today is both.
A few examples may serve to make the point.
As a species, we have made huge advances in the past one hundred years. We are well on our way to eradicating famine and mass starvation. A person born today is more likely to die from obesity than malnutrition.
For most of us, war itself is comparatively rare compared to the past. Despite our fear of terrorism, you are more likely to be killed, for example, in London by a car in a traffic accident than you are by a bomb in a terrorist attack. Thankfully, today thousands are not killed in a single battle as they were during the Great War at the Somme or in any of the many other senseless battles of that terrible war.
Many deadly diseases have been either eradicated or else can be treated. We are now living longer. And while there may still be a way to go, as a species, in many ways, we have never had it so good.
We have, however, created new threats for ourselves.
We now have the power not only to kill thousands with our weapons, but to destroy the planet itself. While we have become somewhat complacent about the threat of nuclear war, it is as real as ever. Different to the days of the Cold War, certainly, but real, nevertheless. The United States, for example, has recently pulled out of the deal over nuclear weapons with Iran. And China has made its position with regard to Taiwan all too clear. In 1914, it only took an assassin’s bullet to set the world on fire. It needs only a similar event in one of the many flash points around our world for the same to happen today.
Economic growth has made us all materially better off, but it has been at the cost of huge environmental damage. A recent United Nations Report concluded that we have only 12 years left until the point of no return on climate change. And a WWF Report, just published, concludes that this is the last generation that can save the planet.
Experience teaches that any picture of the future is likely to be wrong. What we can be certain of, however, is that with the development of artificial intelligence and bio-engineering, what time we do have left on the planet is going to be as much a time of change as the past one hundred years have been.
So where do we as Christians fit into all this? Where do we as a Church fit into this?
Where does our Synod meeting fit into this?
Part Two: Being Authentic