Saturday, September 22, 2012

Human Nature in the Post Apocalyptic World


I don’t watch movies very often, and on television when I do.  But I try to keep up by checking out the reviews.  One thing I have noticed about all the post apocalypse films is the assumption that the natural and normal condition of humanity is barbaric tribal warfare dominated by the cruelest, most evil, most violent characters.  

Apparently, as the plot lines go, our thin veneer of civilization is held together only by a flimsy binding of technology, and when that goes, so goes any pretense of society based on law and respect for one’s fellow human beings.  Hobbes thought pretty much the same thing, as do today’s Tea Party types, at least in their very unsophisticated and largely unexamined view of the world.  Survivalists are absolutely convinced of it. Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army in Congo would be a good example of what is assumed to be the normal unrestrained human condition.

I wonder about that.  What makes Kony so appalling is that he is not normal but abnormal, psychopathically evil.  What the movies portray, and what modern society may fear, is that most humans are some version of Kony except for the restraints of society that are themselves dependent on technology.  Is that true?  When the Roman Empire collapsed and western Europe fell into the so called Dark Ages, it did devolve into waring duchies, but it also preserved a semblance of social structure, law and learning in each jurisdiction.  However corrupt it became, the agency of the Church did not allow moral authority to be abandoned.  The thousand years of the Middle Ages was marked by a slow, constant march toward new understandings of what it meant to be a civilized people.

Something was at work that was not dependent on Roman roads, postal systems, peace keeping forces, forms of government, and elements of social structure.  I imagine that there are many things at work.  As a Christian, I believe in two.  First, that in being created in God’s image, and in spite of our sinfulness, the spark of God in us impels us in a Godward direction, however wobbly our path may be.  Second, I am reminded by the canticle recommended for use each Friday, that God’s ways are not ours, and that the Word God sends forth will succeed in that which God intends.  That intention is summed up in the words of Christ that he came to save the world, not condemn it.  

Not all who claim the name of Christ see it that way.  Several of my acquaintances are convinced that the utter depravity of human kind, apart from the few who will be saved, is clear evidence that it is the devil, no doubt a Socialist, and not God, who is in control of things on earth.  Therefore, one must, on the one hand, affirm Jesus as one’s personal Lord and Savior in order to stake one’s assurance on being among the (few) saved.  On the other hand, one must be prepared to defend one’s self against the unsaved by whatever means are at hand, and a heavy calibre hand gun is a good thing to have at hand.

In America that gives us two large groups who are inclined to buy into the movie plot line as reliable metaphor for real life.  Secularists who worship at the altar of technology, a fragile and undependable god whose demise will unleash the very worst of what we are capable of being.  And a certain brand of Christian, probably of Jews and Muslims also, who believe that’s already happened, and God is depending on them to fight the evil forces, spiritually and physically, as proof of their place in God’s kingdom, which is not here and not capable of being here as long as the devil is around.

I don’t give much credence to the devil as a particular fallen angel, but if I did I could not imagine a better gang of allies for him than them.

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