How Christianity Invented the Future

Just some comments on the original article, How Christianity Invented the Future by Bojidar Marinov. It’s derived from the post from my Traveller sci-fi blog, with some fictional elements deleted.

Even if you go to Wikipedia and read the article on “Future,” you will see that that article is quite short, with a few sketchy paragraphs on each of the disciplines of physics, philosophy, and religion, and half of the article devoted to side issues like art styles, and music and literary genres that have adopted the concept as foundational (like futurism and science fiction). It even lacks serious references for additional reading: no books, only a few references to marginal encyclopedias and newspaper articles. To compare, the article on “Mysticism,” for example, is about 8 times longer, very detailed and comprehensive, and has about 150 references, all to serious academic studies.

So, despite the enormous importance of the Future as a concept to our civilization (and to our storytelling), Academia doesn’t like to define it as a philosophical concept.

Can you guess why?

Now, there is a good reason why modern philosophy – especially modern secular philosophy – is incapable of even beginning to define the concept of the future. That reason is that modern philosophy has fallen victim to its foundational premise: that whatever definition or logical rule we use, it cannot refer us us back to anything supernatural, or to any other and higher reason or mind outside and above the human mind and human experience. Everything man uses to define himself and the world around himself must be based on “natural” assumptions, meaning naturalistic assumptions. All the foundations for our definitions must be grounded in man’s direct sensory experience. You know the regular atheist excuse for an argument: “If I can’t see your God, then He is either non-existent or irrelevant.” Philosophers know that such excuse is rather primitive and low-brow, and they seldom use it directly, it is still, as a philosophical presupposition, embedded deeply into the modern secular thought. So when it comes to definitions of things that require some open display of non-sensory faith, philosophers are rather timid to take up the challenge.

“I can’t touch the future: therefore, it doesn’t exist!”

And it is not just modern secular philosophers. All pagan religions follow the same pattern. Well, of course, all pagan religions are by default naturalistic, given that their “gods” are simply part of the universe itself, and therefore are under the same limitations as man in terms of definitions. How can a pagan god, limited in his very being to the position of simply another being within space and time, experience the future so that he can define it? … So pagan religions never talk about the future, it is never a concept that they either define or visualize. In fact, to a great extent, it is something they are afraid of.

[My Traveller sci-fi chat deleted – AP]

[Marinov discusses the Aeneid, a beautiful Roman work that is grounded in the fear of the future.]

Then what was the promise for the people of Rome in it, and what was the appeal of Octavian’s reign? It was not progress. It was stagnation. The more things changed before that, the worse the world had become. Octavian came with the promise that nothing will ever change again. The old golden age was gone. A new one was not coming. The only hope was that time would somehow freeze and there won’t be future. And that’s what Octavian promised to do. In fact, that was a major part of his propaganda campaign. His main adversary, Mark Anthony, served him with the main propaganda pitch by fleeing to Egypt and becoming a lover to Cleopatra; all that Octavian had to do is declare that Anthony wanted to introduce changes, and bring Egyptian customs to Rome. Right there, Anthony lost all his appeal with the people of Rome. No one wanted changes. Everyone was afraid of what the future would bring. Octavian’s promise of eternal stability and no future changes was all that the people wanted.

[An anti-future sci-fi space empire] started exactly when the Western Roman Empire fell, in AD 473.

“Coincidence? I think not!”

They hated the future and change so much that whenever anything new appeared, they made sure they destroyed it. When an inventor showed Emperor Tiberius a new metal he created out of dust – which must have been aluminum – Tiberius had him executed. The steam engine was known for two centuries in the ancient world but no attempts have been made to put it to productive use. The Chinese culture made an amazing number of discoveries very early in its history, and yet, the government and the culture never applied them to mass use, and in fact, by the early 20th century, the average Chinese lived no differently than his ancestors 20 centuries earlier. And I am sure I don’t have to explain to my listeners the Buddhist and Zen-Buddhist views on time. In short, time is an illusion for them. As is all existence, of course.

The Jews, of course, were the sore thumb. They not only believed in time, they eagerly expected the future. They counted the years to that future. Their prophets tried to examine it, and some even to fast forward to it. Some, like Simeon and Hannah, lived in the Temple waiting to see the future. But their view was still stagnant. Given that the future was focused on a specific single event: the coming of the Messiah. What after that? The Jews didn’t know.

Marinov is correct… but don’t count out the Orthodox Jews just yet. With four kids per couple, they are still a people with a plan for the future!

Christ not only delivered the redemption. He also delivered a view of the future shocking to everyone, including the Jews. On one hand, he was the fulfillment of the expectations of the Jews. On the other hand, however, he was the destruction of their expectations. From a Jewish perspective, history was supposed to end right there, at the coming of the Messiah. He was supposed to defeat His enemies and establish the Throne of David, and rule over the world. And the world was supposed to enter the same stagnant state that the Aeneid postulated about the reign of Augustus: everything would be perfect, nothing would change anymore. That’s what the disciples expected of Jesus, as is obvious from their reactions to His eschatological passages: “Are you going to restore the Kingdom now?” Or, “Who of us will be greater in the coming Kingdom?”

Jesus, however, had a different view of the future, one that would shock both Gentiles and Jews. He scandalized the Gentiles by saying all their past to which they clung so religiously was nothing. That the future was that mattered. That change is not demonic and dark, but is the only way they can enter the Kingdom of God and find purpose. That God had prepared for them – if they trusted in Him – unspeakable blessings, that the past knew nothing about. All your poets, philosophers, kings, heroes, gods and semi-gods were blind. There was no Golden Age in your past. The future is what matters.

Especially the Far Future, as any believing Christian could tell you.

All believing, victory-oriented Christians can agree: leave the Golden Age conservative whining for the pagans.

That was a war. When you read all the Roman edicts against the Christians, what is the main argument there, sometimes repeated three or four times in the same edict? That Christians did not follow the ancient ways and did not honor the past and the ancestors. They had higher expectations of something the Gentiles did not understand: the future.

The Rapture-ready masses, fearful of the future, have FAR more in common with the pagans than they think.

The scandal was much graver for the Jews, however. They were OK with a faith in the future. The scandal that Jesus brought to them was not that the future is important. It was that the event they have been waiting for was not the end of history but rather its beginning.

The Jews, in the end, were just a door God used to physically get into History.

Still, there is something about them… after all, it is God that opens the womb, and it is the Orthodox Jews — not White Americans or Black Americans or even Christian Americans — who are having the kids.

Something to consider, hmm?

Either way, the vision Jesus introduced of the future was a shocking novelty, and Christians were specifically persecuted for it. We won’t understand it unless we understand that for the pagan world, the future was demonic and was to be feared. In fact, all change was demonic and was to be feared. And here was this new religion which not only disrespected the past but it also promised cosmic and gigantic changes on earth, and its followers were actively involved to make those changes and to build that new civilization they wanted, the Kingdom of God. They were somehow sure that those changes would bring something new and better, and were so committed to bring them about that they were willing to die for the privilege. Even an avowed enemy of Christianity like Karl Marx acknowledged this unique view of history and the future. In his address to the Hague Congress in 1872, he said the following (take note of the language of “new” and “old”):

Someday the worker must seize political power in order to build up the new organization of labor; he must overthrow the old politics which sustain the old institutions, if he is not to lose Heaven on Earth, like the old Christians who neglected and despised politics.

That’s where he got his idea of change and optimism for the future: from the Biblical idea of Heaven on Earth. And then he rightly mocks Christians for abandoning their own idea

There was a time when Christians walked with their head up high, shaping the future. Instead of crawling on our bellies before Our Betters, begging for mercy, hoping that things will Just Stop Changing.

It’s long past time to straighten our spine, and walk upright like a man. Rather than crawl and beg like a dog.

But the reality is, before modern Christians abandoned that idea, the only bearer of a true concept of the future – or of any concept of the future at all – was Christianity. Everywhere where Christianity touched, it was met with opposition not so because people were hostile to the idea of a Savior Who gave His life for His people, but because they realized that Christianity meant death to their concept of history. It demanded a full break up with the past, a full commitment to the future, and an uncompromising belief in the benefits of change. Any change. In culture after culture, we see the same motif as we saw in the Roman edicts against Christians: “Christians abandon the heritage of the past and dishonor the ancestors.” When King Boris I moved to Christianize Bulgaria in the 9th century, that was the only objection of his nobles: This is a war against our past. And my native country wasn’t an exception. No matter where you are from, when you look back at the history of your ancestors, you will see the same pagan refrain: Your Christianity dishonors our past.

Yes, it does. It does it because it presents to you a God who is above time and has created time, and He controls past and present and future. And He commands you to abandon your past and your pagan heritage, and instead of heritage and looking back, He invites you to adopt a hope, a faith, and looking forward. Your past is worth nothing

[Sci-fi chat about a vast space empire that tried to stop the future from arriving… and failed.]

What is worth everything is the things that God has prepared for you, what no eye has seen and no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived (Isaiah. 64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9). Christianity radically shifted the focus of men from the past to the future, and thus created a radically new mentality, one that has never existed before. And it scared the daylights out of the pagan culture. Or, rather, scared the darkness out of it. You want to know where the original idea of progressivism came? It was from Christianity. Modern Progressives have simply stolen the idea and have stripped it of its Christian roots. And, they have only done it because Christians have abandoned the idea of progress.

When Christians start looking to the Far Future with confidence, instead of a craven and cowardly fear, they will rise to be what they should have always been.

If want to know what a culture thinks of the future, see how it treats its young people. Does it trash them, bash them, and distrust them? That culture has lost its vision of the future. Does it trust them, uplift them, encourage them, arms them with purpose and vision? That culture has broken its chains with the past, has abandoned its idolatry of the ancestors, and has adopted an optimistic outlook.

It is for this reason why, when we look at the days of Christendom in Europe and North America, we see that the majority of the important figures in those centuries were men in their 20s and 30s. Luther was 34 when he nailed the 95 theses. Calvin was 21 when he broke openly with the Roman Catholic Church, and he was 27 when he fled Paris and settled in Geneva. By that time, he already had written half of his Institutes – at least the first version. The majority of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were young men that today wouldn’t even be seriously considered for political office. Men joined the military or the Navy at unbelievably young ages – some even starting at 9, and some reaching commanding ranks by the age of 16. This speaks much about these young men, but it speaks even more about the society around them which saw no issue with giving them authority over older men. Benjamin Franklin was 70-year-old at the time of the American Revolution, and he worked with young men 50 years his junior, and discussed politics with them, and issued proclamations with them, and we never ever see him even mentioning this gigantic age gap between him and his co-workers and co-conspirators. Never even a condescending word or a patronizing tone. Same thing with George Washington or some of the other older men among the revolutionaries. To compare, Lafayette was only 20 when he joined the Revolution; and yet, we see no hint of any distrust or patronizing of the Frenchman by any American Founding Father.

When you love and welcome the Future, you love, respect, strengthen, and honour the young.

When you hate and detest the Future, you do your level best to carve it up before it is born.

(Or at least poison the youth, if you can’t kill the future under cover of law.)

… it was the church that had dropped the ball. Pessimistic eschatologies – amillennialism and premillennialism were already creeping in. By the beginning of the 20th century, the church had surrendered to pessimism. And with it, the Western civilization.

And Christians learned to crawl, and beg, and fear the Future… and human Masters.

Time for a change.

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