Reasons That This Is a Great Time to Be Alive: Should We Be Optimistic?

OB-IY398_Trevor_DV_20100618180240I am frankly amazed, and sometimes amused, at the pervasive pessimism of so many. Christians, of all people, have an abundance of reasons to be hopeful, even optimistic. I refer, of course, to the biblical reasons that are at the core of our faith.

But there are other reasons as well. These reasons are not religious in nature but just pure common sense. I am so wearied of the pessimism and constant refrain that "America is so bad now and things have never been worse." Really? Are you kidding me?

The April issue of Reader's Digest included an adapted article by Matt Ridley with the title, "Cheer Up: 17 Reasons It's a Great Time to Be Alive." Though the world is gripped by a global economic crisis and afflicted with poverty, disease and war Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist, believes that there has never been a better time in history to be alive. Is Ridley brilliant or bonkers? You decide.

He offers some of the following reasons for optimism:

1. We're better off right now. Compared with fifty years ago the average human now earns nearly three times more (adjusted for inflation) money, buries two thirds fewer children and can expect to live one third longer. It is hard, says Ridley, to find any region of the world that is worse off now than it was fifty years ago. 

2. Urban living is a good thing. City dwellers take up less space, use less energy, and have less impact on natural eco-systems than rural dwellers. Over half the people on the planet live in cities and occupy less than 3% of the land mass of the globe. 

3. Poverty is nose-diving. Yes, the rich are getting richer but the poor are doing much better. Between 1980 and 2000, the poor doubled their consumption. The Chinese are ten times richer and live 25 years longer than only 50 years ago. Nigerians are twice as rich and live nine more years. And the percentage of the world's people living in absolute poverty has dropped by over half. The UN says poverty has dropped more in the past 50 years than the previous 500! That is astounding. 

4. The important stuff all costs less. We are richer, healthier, taller, cleverer, longer-lived, and freer than we've ever been in the four most basic human needs: food, clothing, fuel and shelter. Ridley provides numerous examples.

5. The environment is better off than you think. In the US rivers, lakes and seas, plus our air, is getting cleaner all the time. A car emits less pollution traveling at full speed today than a parked car did in leaks alone in 1970. 

6. Shopping fuels innovation. Even allowing for the millions who do live in abject poverty on planet earth our own generation has access to more calories, watts, horsepower, gigabytes, square feet, air miles, food per acre, miles per gallon, and money than any generation who lived before us. And the more we specialize the exchange, the better off we'll become. Free markets are making the globe better. 

7. Global trade enriches out lives. The global economic situation, in real life, is improving the world and how we live in it. Again, freedom is having a huge impact. 

8. The good old days weren't. Some argue that tranquility, simplicity, sociability and spirituality have been lost in the modern world. This is, says Ridley, "rose-tinted nostalgia and is generally confined to the wealthiest people. The biggest-ever experiment in back-to-the-land hippie lifestyle is now known as the Dark Ages."

9. Oil is not running out. Storms are not getting worse and great ideas just keep coming. We can solve our problems and this current depression is not nearly as depressing as some of us have made it. (This is not a denial of your personal hardship if you qualify!)

Ridley says that for 200 hundred years the pessimists have had the headlines. There is an immense "vested interest in pessimism." Why? No charity ever raised money by saying things are getting better. (I have to think about this one since I am the president of a non-profit Christian mission. On what basis do I appeal for your support? I believe my vision is filled with incredible optimism, which is one reason baby-boomers, on the whole, do not support it. I believe we can train the next generation to understand the mission of Jesus better than I ever understood it and the impact of this new way will be huge!) 

Ridley believes that the media brow beats us into pessimism by routinely reminding us of all the "bad news." Yes, there is bad news for sure. But there is much to say for this idea of rational optimism. Having said that optimism is warranted, Christians should soberly remind their rationally optimistic friends that life is improving on the earth but there is more to real life than enjoying a better and longer life in this present age. We can teach this good news without becoming pessimists. What do you think?

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