Reflections on the Challenges of the Future
By Keith Allen

In Association with

Reflections on the Challenges of the Future
26 November, 2008

The recent success, in California and several other parts of the United States, of a number of pieces of discriminatory legislation, of constitutional amendments that, by defining marriage as a bond existing between one man and one woman, deny access to the privileges of marriage to countless people, is not just disgraceful; such victories reveal the insular, mean-spirited attitudes of many people in this country. Though I am, of course, saddened by the sufferings of those immediately hurt by these spiteful new proclamations, I am actually scared by the reactionary currents that have been exposed within our culture by their passage. Such trends, after all, could lead to far, far more people being hurt than already have been.

There are, no doubt, strong secular movements in American society that are opposed to these trends, and many of these movements appear to be gaining strength from year to year. However, while I personally hope that secularism and reason will win, their victory is not assured. That's a reality we ought to face. In fact, we ought to do more than that. We need to think about what could happen if we were to lose. There is no universal law that ensures that society is heading in the direction we would like it to. I don't think that it can be denied that we are, right now, seeing a resurgence of religion, fanaticism, and savagery. This resurgence is something that we have to take into account. We have to admit its reality and its vitality. We have to grant that it could well be a danger to us not just today, but tomorrow as well. There is a real possibility that this spreading, but still relatively confined fire could, in the future, with the right fuel, explode into into a terrible conflagration. No one can proclaim with absolute certainty where current societal trends are taking us, and, if we admit that we are not assured success by Providence, we will have to concede that our enemies might just beat us. If they do, things could get very bad, and that's a possibility of which we have to be aware. Instead of ascending into the light of an age of reason, freedom, and human dignity, we could find ourselves falling into the chasm of superstition, ignorance, and oppression. The people moving us towards a new dark age do, after all, have reasons for holding the beliefs they do. Extrapolating future situations from those we see today is not, therefore, impossible.

If current trends do not simply vanish into nothingness, if they continue, as is probable, it is likely that we will see in the US increasing cultural influences from certain foreign nations (such as the ever greater impact Japanese culture is currently having on the US), increasing threats posed by certain other foreign civilizations (like the dangers, real and imagined, that Islam now presents), increasing ethnic diversity in the US itself (which will, by the middle of this century, no longer have a white majority), and an increasing prevalence of scientific understandings of (and correspondingly controlled interactions with) the universe (which are, barring a collapse of global civilization, virtually inevitable). Such things are, however, likely to frighten and anger many people, and these people, trembling with dread and wrath, could retreat (even further than some already have, and, perhaps, in greater numbers than we have yet seen) into the comforting blindness of superstition. Surrounded by a mechanistic world governed by rational laws, yet filled with iniquitous enemies, they could close their eyes, cover their ears, and run back shrieking to the gloomy cavern of irrationalism, to a small, anthropocentric universe ruled by a dire, hoary, all-seeing father-deity who, being susceptible to human feelings of love, hatred, jealousy, and anger, will be ready to banish to fiery hells those who threaten his congregations and to take the faithful, those who flatter him, into the safety of his presence. Overwhelmed by scary foreigners and their weird beliefs, these people could look back at an imaginary past when their ancestors were protected by inflexible traditions that, like blinders, kept them ignorant of the outside world. Of course, these people won't turn to real traditions (those who desire to turn back the clock never do). Instead, if this scenario comes true, what we'll see are new, shallow, fanatical religious movements, like the evangelical churches of today. There will be no real connection to the past. The past the followers of such hypothetical establishments will embrace will be a make-believe one, though it'll seem real to them. More importantly, it'll give them a comforting, hedged in universe, where bad people with their odd beliefs, unpleasant skin colors, and noxious behaviors won't be able to disturb them. Regrettably, one reason these individuals won't be able to disturb such fanatics is because the fanatics will be busy destroying their foes. When people accept beliefs like those I've described, they invariably go on to take away the freedoms of those who disagree with them, to liquidate those who are different, and to impose their hellish heaven on as much of the world as they can. The possibility is something to think about.

That said, I'm not making a prediction here, but I do think what I've described could come to pass. It's especially possible since so many liberals seem so complacent about or so afraid of religion. Liberal movements are, by no means, guaranteed to succeed. If we allow irrationalism to gain ground, it could. There is no law of history promising us victory. If we don't fight, we might just lose. In fact, the last election has shown that losing is a real possibility. That election showed us the reality of certain trends in the US. We ought to be aware of those trends.

By Keith Allen

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