Arthur C. Clarke - The Importance Of Engaging The Future
The New Yorker described him as 'one of the truly prophetic figures of the space age.' There can be no doubt that Sir Arthur C. Clarke was very influential both in the area of sci-fi writing - he was, after all, the co-writer of 2001: A Space Odyssey with Stanley Kubrick - and, indeed, within science itself, for a great many scientists are familiar with his work.
Clarke's recent death and the media response to it remind us again of the interest we post-moderns have in all things futuristic. As I noted in my own book The Church of 2020:
'The study of the future has become big business today… Futurists charge their corporate clients huge sums of money for the benefit of their research and their prognostications about what is to come. Future study has also become a form of entertainment. Sci-fi movies haven't lost their popular appeal over the years. If anything they've grown in stature as much of today's technology fulfils the seemingly fantastic promises made by early sci-fi writers. Bookstores now feature whole sections devoted to the study of the future.'
Today, the study of history seems a little tame for many people, while the 'study' of the future is somehow sexy, interesting and evocative. For others, thinking about the future produces feelings of apprehension, if not downright fear.
A couple of years ago, during a speech I made to a group of US church leaders, I was asked whether all the technological changes I was addressing made me fearful of the future.
I replied that the future itself need not be a cause for fear; after all, it's not the technology itself that determines our destiny, but the choices we make about the uses of our technology. In the light of that, people of faith need to become involved in researching possible future trends; for faith is a powerful shaper of choices.
Europe's leading futurist, Dr. Patrick Dixon told me in a TV interview that he was sometimes surprised by the reactions of Christian people to his presentations. Some, he said, almost made 'signs of the cross' at him, pulling out scriptures to prove how dangerous the future is going to be.
That has been my experience, too, at times. Some people of Christian faith react to the future with the mentality that we should all hide under the bed, stick our fingers in our ears, and hope evil goes away - and good conquers without us doing anything.
In so doing, they do themselves and their message a great disservice, for as far as I can see the Christian message is one that produces boldness, courage and a settled state of mind.
Book series like Left Behind often do little more than feed paranoia in some sections of the evangelical church. They produce more heat than light. They do very little to help people who profess to have no faith deal with the pressures of life - present or future.
My friend future researcher Dr. Tom Sine writes: 'I am convinced that the number one crisis in both society and the church today is a crisis of vision... When I use the term vision, I am not talking about anything spiritual in the clouds. I simply mean the image of the better future that we want for ourselves and those we care about.' (Mustard Seed Versus Mcworld)
The church should, I think, be made up of the most positive, proactive and future-minded people on earth. For one thing, Christians serve a future-minded Lord.
Have you ever read the last chapters of John's gospel - particularly chapter 17? At the darkest point in his human existence, Jesus is looking forward, to the salvation of future generations. Even facing an imminent and horrific death, Jesus refuses to indulge in wistful nostalgia sessions. You don't find Jesus in Gethsemene sitting with his disciples around a campfire talking about the 'good ol' days'!
The writer to the Hebrews took note of this. He says that, 'for the joy still in his future' Christ went through with the cross (Heb. 12:2 - Jerusalem Bible).
Our culture today is one that is all too often driven by fear. People make choices based on fear of their environment, fear of other groups of people and fear of what tomorrow might do to them.
Micheal Crichton describes this poignantly in his book State of Fear. Like Clarke before him, Crichton has proven to have the knack of predicting - albeit in a make believe way - developments within the scientific community.
In this particular novel, he deals with such subjects as global warming, pointing out - quite rightly - that much of the debate is one-sided and motivated by a desire for financial profit or power gained through manipulating people's fears.
Are we wrong to be concerned about global warming? Or any of the other pressing matters that bear upon our future - both societal and personal?
Not at all - especially if we are people of faith. Our faith itself demands that we take seriously our role as stewards of God's creation, and of our own lives which are a gift from him.
Yet we must not allow fear to dictate how we respond to the challenges presently facing us, or those likely to face us in future. Fear has never been a good basis for human choices - beyond, that is, the choice for survival.
Survival is, of course, essential, but most of the big changes we make to the direction of our lives are not single decisions made in the face of dangerous trigger events. They are made up of smaller, incremental choices made over time. If fear becomes the background music of our lives, we become candidates for powerlessness and despair.
In an age where so many face their future with fear, or even downright terror, it's high time for Christians to abandon an escapist mentality. It's time for us to stop abdicating responsibility for our world on the grounds that 'Jesus might return at any moment.'
It's true, he might. But, as the sage of old put it, 'We should plan as if Christ will not return for a hundred years, but live as if he may return today!'
It's part of our job, our role on earth, to put trainer wheels on the future, for people who fear it; to give people the support and courage they need to press into the unknown. That's part of what Jesus meant, I think, when he called his followers the 'light of the world'.
Have you read 'The Church of 2020' by Mal Fletcher? It's been described as 'futurism at its best', taking a prophetic look forward at what the future holds for the church and for Christians who aspire to have influence in their world. For more, click here.
See the 30 minute interview with Dr. Patrick Dixon at the Video Section of this site.