The arrogance of hope
Christianity perpetuates the hazardous myth of progress
It’s not depression. At least, I don’t think it is. There’s no denying that my emotional state as of late has exhibited a few symptoms that point towards some clinical problem — constant melancholy, feelings of hopelessness, a lack of concentration — but I’m almost certain that it’s not a psychological issue.
I’d describe it as more of a lingering sadness: one that comes from looking around at world and realizing that the future of the planet we inhabit is looking pretty dark.
Perhaps it’s that I’m awakening to the reality that the world as we know it might not exist in a handful of generations. As Robert Jensen argued in a recent column for Truthout, “We are all apocalyptic now, or at least we should be, if we are rational.”
Our land is dying. Forests are being leveled, oceans defiled, our air polluted and ground constantly rocked with explosions from fracking.
Aboriginal peoples are trying to remind us of the earth’s fragility with the breathtaking Idle No More movement. Politicians ignore them. Instead, we try to convince ourselves that the rising temperatures and odd weather patterns are natural.
Neo-liberalism has consumed our way of being. Profit is all that matters. Jobs are cut, stock prices rise. Unions are busted, the elites prosper. Global South countries take out loans from the IMF, resistance to vulturous multi-national corporations plummet. Liberty, equality and fraternity have taken a backseat to quarterly reports and high-frequency trading.
This is not how it should be.
Christianity is a large part of humanity’s complacency. It sounds overly simple — perhaps even offensive — to blame a tribal religion with the decay of our species. But the “myth of human progress,” to quote the brilliant Chris Hedges, is heavily propagated through the religion.
Christianity, through the promise of Jesus Christ’s return, has created a narrative that suggests we’re ultimately heading in the right direction.
RELEVANT, an evangelical Christian magazine that I used to devour, published an article about heaven, stating that “Jesus thought heaven had just now begun to grow here, had just now begun to reclaim all the places that had been neglected.”
That sounds pleasant enough. But what if it’s all horseshit? What if the remaining sites of heaven are being slowly wiped out by corporate greed and destructive militarism?
The theory goes that this Christ fellow arrived a few thousand years ago, told and showed us how to love, and just happened to inject some sort of magic mustard seed that would redeem this broken world. No strings attached, really. Some 2 billion people have bought into the myth; of course, it’s more complicated than this, but there’s no time to dissect eschatology and end-of-the-world theories.
So there are a fair number of people across the globe, including many legislators in government, who believe things will just get better. Climate change, corporate personhood and out-of-control banks are all problems, sure, but it’s eventually going to get better. Jesus said so, or at least the dude who wrote his words down 70 years after the fact thought so.
But in reality, the world as we know it is almost over. We’ve been treating both humans and our ecosystem as tools for profit, and the system’s failing because neither of those things are sustainable commodities. Jensen might have said it the best: “To think apocalyptically is not to give up on ourselves, but only to give up on the arrogant stories — religious and secular — that we modern humans have been telling about ourselves.”
We need to snap out of this progress-obsessed trance that we’re caught in, and realize that at this point it’s all looking downhill from here.
To quote the terrific band Godspeed You! Black Emperor, “We’re trapped in the belly of this horrible machine/And the machine is bleeding to death.” Christianity needs to realize this, quickly, and help change our collective course.