12 November 2015

"When death comes it is always a shock..."

The ordinary attitude of people toward death is a very curious one. Death is the one absolutely certain thing in life after birth, yet most of us live our lives without much regard to it, and whenever it comes and under whatever circumstances, at whatever age, it is always a shock to us. No matter how old people are it always comes a little before it is expected. When death comes it is always a shock.... 

James J. Walsh, Psychotherapy (1912), page 730.

Sometime this past week I heard someone quoting these words, written a century ago by a doctor and medical educator, James Walsh.

Walsh was referring to individual death and the grief of loved ones. But what hit me was this question: Doesn't his observation apply equally to societies, empires, civilizations?

In his article "Splinterlands: The View from 2050," Tomgram contributor John Feffer helps us apply these words to the nation-states around us today. If death is certain for individuals, isn't it equally certain for our political systems, no matter how badly they want us to believe in their immortality?

In Feffer's projection of the future, the USA hasn't exactly died, but is on a declining path. Do you think his account of the American decline is reasonable? If not, why not? If so, what is the role of intelligent patriots, either in terms of preparing for this shift, or warding it off?

At that moment early in World War II when the Battle of France had ended and the Battle of Britain was about to begin, Winston Churchill urged, "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour'." Even his inspiring rhetoric here had an important moment of realism -- "a thousand years" after all is not eternity. But the danger that Britain faced was not a gradual decline over (or after) a millennium, it was immediate. How immediate must danger be for us to begin bracing ourselves to our duties and determining what we want to sustain, and how to do it?

A related case study: responding to global climate change. (A BBC reporter just a day or two ago challenged the head of the World Meteorological Organization, Michel Jarraud, concerning whether the term "climate change" was too calm, too neutral. Jarraud agreed.) With the recent news that "climate change is set to pass the milestone of 1C of warming since pre-industrial times by the end of 2015..." we have yet another challenge to "brace ourselves to our duties" -- if we could only persuade our distinctly non-Churchillian elites to help us define those duties!

Of course we also need to come clean about the motivations behind our inaction. You might think that even a 5% chance that the dire predictions of most climate scientists are correct would mobilize the world's resources. After all, we Americans seemed willing to devote a trillion U.S. dollars to a war in Iraq based on an unrelated terrorist act (9/11) and fabricated evidence, and all in the face of concerted opposition from experts and ordinary citizens alike. In the case of halting global warming, the evidence is far more solid, and the opposition is tainted by self-interest and dubious science. (Examples here.) But even if the evidence for global warming were not as certain and urgent as most scientists agree, isn't the risk sufficiently high for the future of our species that we should unite on a campaign to reverse the trends?

Right now it doesn't appear that "this is our finest hour." I hope that COP 21 will prove me wrong.

Fr. Yakov Krotov presents a lecture on "Pacifism's Past and Future" at the Sakharov Center in Moscow on Monday.

Scientist incorporates Christian values in discussing climate change to evangelicals.

Why would you cross the Pacific on a wooden raft? Again?

Our nephew Chris Bicknell, a volunteer at Portland, Maine's The Telling Room writing center, reports that their Young Writers and Leaders program has won a national award. Congratulations!

Not far from Elektrostal is Star City, an "oasis in an uncertain world."

At their Yearly Meeting sessions last month, German Quakers approve an open letter to Angela Merkel concerning refugees. Links to the Yearly Meeting's epistle and open letter (including English versions) are on the annual sessions Web page.

"God is big enough to stomach us both": Bill Yoder's reflections on Franklin Graham's visit to Moscow.

Pyotr Pavlensky and the art of weakness.

Andrew Brown reviews a Church of England report: non-Christians don’t like evangelism.

Not for the first time, the mention of Stalin stirs a row.

"If I don't read, well, my soul is lost, nobody's fault but mine."

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