I’ve recently becoming involved with a group of thoughtful and brilliant people from Pilgrim Place, a local retirement community, as a part of a Progressive Christians Uniting reflection group. Last week we read and discussed Robert Heilbroner’s 1972 publication An Inquiry into the Human Prospect–a text that Heilbroner updated in both 1982 and 1992, but that remains a timeless work. Today just happens to be the anniversary of Heilbroner’s birth, and I thought it might be appropriate to write a few words about our discussion and about whether there is any prospect left for humanity?
In The Human Prospect Heilbroner cites three threats the to prospect of continued human existence: the rapid increase of industrialization, (nuclear) war, and the energy crisis (which we now view as the ecological crisis). After giving depressing statistics and laying out desolate scenarios, he evaluates possibilities for helpful responses from a socio-economic position and a political position, finally hinting at the fact that strong governmental pressure may be necessary for coalescing efforts around finding solutions to these three threats. His conclusion is rather bleak, and while Heilbroner himself does not endorse totalitarian movements, he does see them as perhaps one of the few ways in which humanity may have any prospect for the future–a possibility that I find rather frightening.
In the coming weeks, our group plans to discuss ways in which Christians can and should (or already have) respond(ed) to this book and to the seriousness and timelessness of the threats Heilbroner lists. Two of the responses I want to throw into the discussion are:
- Shane Clairborne’s new monastic community – communal living with religious convictions can develop in urban settings and radically change the lives of those involved.
- Mobilization around critical issues via online communities and relationships – The NFL raised more money in 60 minutes during the playoffs via text messaging than most professional fundraisers raise in a lifetime. Protestors in Iran utilized Twitter in order to find and communicate locations for demonstrations following last year’s elections.
Yet is communication and community enough? Can localized communities or delocalized online communities change the shape of the future, or are we simply doomed to letting totalitarian regimes guide the way? What other options does Christianity propose to the threats of war, rapid industrialization, and the impending ecological crisis?