Monday, June 28, 2010

Cloud cuckoo land

Walter Russell Mead reminds us that the times we live in are not protected from tragedy and that every bad thing that happens isn't a problem that has a solution:
.... Brought up in a soft and candy colored consumer paradise, most Americans today aren’t psychologically prepared for a world that, in critical respects, doesn’t live up to our standards. This is only a sign of how out of touch we have allowed ourselves to become: we have constructed a bubble of affluence and optimism for ourselves and told ourselves that the bad old days of existential threats, tragic trade offs and agonizing choices were over for good. Like credulous investors plunging into a fizzy and exuberant stock market at the peak, we console ourselves with the mantra that “This time is different.”

Previous generations would laugh us to scorn. Our ancestors lived in a world of mysterious terrors, subject to forces that they did not understand and could not control; so do we. The difference between us is that our ancestors saw this more clearly; in our days, blinded by the extraordinary scientific and technological progress of the last two hundred years, many of us start with the assumption that ‘progress’ has cured history of tragedy and tamed Mother Nature. But that is just where we are wrong: the western enlightenment did not produce a stable world order in which the forces of science and good government could protect us from every ill. It has produced a wild new world filled with unprecedented dangers and extraordinary challenge. The scientific revolution eliminated smallpox and cured polio — and gave us the nuclear bomb.

...[T]he alternative to living in a world of danger and challenge isn’t the idyllic existence we sometimes imagine. While people sometimes reject and fear change, risk and uncertainty — rude forces that disrupt our routines, challenge our assumptions, and threaten our cherished plans — those are exactly the conditions required to make us grow and to become our fullest selves. We would be dull people, and this would be a dull world, without adventure and change. To venture out on the great seas is in our nature; without this kind of challenge and risk, we become small and petty people.

Neither religion nor the living God Himself is about protecting and sheltering us from danger, disruption and disturbance. God wants us out there on the open seas; faith is the quality that gives us the courage to confront the great storms of life. As Cowper put it, “He plants His footsteps on the seas and rides upon the storm.” That is where we must be, too and in those storms we will need the kind of faith that enables people to feed on tumult, to grow on storms — rather than being overwhelmed and submerged by the tempests and tumult of the wild and woolly times into which we are called. [more]
One of his commenters quotes Kipling:
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
Faith Matters: For Those In Peril On The Sea - Walter Russell Mead's Blog - The American Interest