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November 9, 2023

I Fear!

S. M. Gollmer

I fear!  There is talk everywhere of existential threats.  How will we survive global warming, atomic wars, economic collapse, pandemics, and ascendant artificial intelligence?  Each is traced back to humanity’s scientific and technological achievements of the 20th Century.  Not rising to the level of global threat, natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, and drought, invoke fear on the local level.  Ironically, the threats rising from humanity’s efforts are byproducts of our attempt to control the natural world.  Becoming masters of both space and time, we have deluded ourselves into thinking science and technology will provide solutions to these threats and ones arising in the future.

I fear not the existential threats themselves, but the impact of ideologies using such threats to drive society to their version of a solution.  There is an assumption that action only occurs when the urgency of the situation is obvious.  By proclaiming the direst outcomes for a threat, some can pierce through the background noise and be heard.  However, these same individuals, convinced of the urgency of their cause, push for solutions promising equally dramatic results.  What is often overlooked is these promising solutions are likely the product of market hype, and thus over promise and under perform.

Jacques Ellul, a French philosopher and self-identified Christian Anarchist, proclaimed the dangers of technique.  He defines it as follows, “In our technological society, technique is the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity” (The Technological Society, p. xxv).  The consequence of technique is that when solutions are devised, they involve more technology, better technology, efficient technology, …  The solution to global warming is more efficient energy production from carbon free sources, such as wind turbines and solar panels.  Very few are promoting nuclear energy because its perceived byproducts are too dangerous.  However, there are always consequences for adopting a particular technology.  We are only now beginning to see some negative aspects for wind and solar.  If these byproducts are deemed too costly, we will turn to the next technological development to solve the latest existential problem.

I fear!  Not the existential crisis, but where we put our trust in the face of existential crisis.  Two millennia ago, Jesus was asked about the End of the Age.  Their existential crises were, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24:7).  These crises fall into two categories: moral evil (due to human action) and natural evil.  Our modern fears fall into the same two categories.  We are in the 21st Century and I am looking towards the 22nd Century.  Do I trust humanity to find a solution to the latest existential crises?  No, I chose to place my trust in the Creator of the cosmos and Redeemer of my soul in whom I fear.

Considered the most expensive natural disaster in US history, Hurricane Katrina (2005) resulted in 1,833 deaths and caused $186.3 billion in damage.  The deadliest hurricane-type event on record is the Bhola cyclone of 1970.  Making landfall in East Pakistan (present-day Bangladesh) it killed between 300,000 to 500,000 people.

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