View from the vicarage
One of the biggest philosophical questions of our age is our cultural understanding of Time. All kinds of things have changed through human history that have changed our view of time. The building of cathedrals used to take generations to finish. Imagine starting something that you hoped your great grandchildren would see finished! The building of empires to last a 1000 yrs, and the industrial revolution which was the great hope for the future. Then, on a personal leve,l we are now living longer and longer lives, young people are maturing later, picking up responsibilities and having children at a much older age.
Different religions around the world have viewed time in very different ways. Many religions have a veneration for ancestors, and a hope that in the future they themselves will be remembered as people of honour. Others see humans as intimately part of the great age of the earth and the flowing river of the endless life of the universe. In Western civilisation, as it has developed in a Christian framework, somehow time has become shortened. It is truncated at both ends so that the tale is told of an earth that is no older than 10,000 years and the future is limited by the biblical idea of the End Times. Now of course most people outside America don’t believe this, but somehow we have still lost a sense of a long future and for planning for generations to come.
In our planning, our building, our farming and our politics everything is based on short-term returns. This is having a terrible impact on the environment and also our lives. The philosophers that I mentioned are trying to grapple with why we may have lost our vision for the future and how we might regain it before we create the ‘end times’ through our own actions – a vision that, in the past, has been seen as purely the work of the gods. They ask the following questions: Do I think that the earth is just in the middle of its lifetime, with 40 million years behind it and 40 million years to go? Do I think that human beings have a future on this planet? Can you imagine 45,000 years in the future (that is just about as far as most SciFi goes!)? And what sort of lives will humans have in just 2000 years’ time? These are not frivolous questions; they matter deeply. Because if we cant imagine a peaceful fruitful and sustainable future for humans on this planet, then how can we work towards it?
The Christian faith can be read as a time-limiting narrative – but it can also be read as an expansive hope for a long and peaceable future, with human beings evolving beyond selfishness and greed. While some people look forward to a ‘new heaven and a new earth’ others of us look for a renewed earth and call out with the prophets for justice and peace, as we learn that we are bothers and sisters; a humanity full of potential and with a long time in which to fulfil it.
It is time to look to the future, to plan for a long, long future and to live as the ancestors that our great, great grandchildren would have us be.
God Bless, Ali
Roman Krznaric is a really interesting philosopher looking into this, and will be publishing The Good Ancestor, Eight Ways to Think Long Term, in June 2020. For now, you can enjoy his most recent book. . . .