No doubt you’ve heard the news that Malaysian Airline flight MH17 was shot down by Russian separatists…298 people died as a result. The separatists claim it was an accident, because while they were trying to shoot down the aircraft, they didn’t realize it was a civilian airliner. Not much of an excuse I say. Last month I was writing about the need to curb our outrage over things like the death of Marius the giraffe, but feel free to have outrage over this! The challenge though, is to maintain our faith and larger beliefs about how the world works while in the process of denouncing the actions taken against innocent civilians.
We believe in God and yet wonder about the future promised in Isaiah, where God will rule over His people and, “Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). There are plenty of people who certainly look forward to that time, when there will be no more war or even preparation for it. I do too, but I also want to acknowledge that we’re getting closer to that reality every day. I see this happening as Scripture tells us it would. Isaiah’s prophecies relate to the time of the last judgement, i.e. the book of Revelation. As mentioned before, the New Church believes that those prophecies have already occurred…which means that we are heading towards the promised time of no war. It’s been happening slowly, at least by our standards, but there actually is less and less war, and less and less violence in general. Yes, I’ve written about this before, and the news agencies are telling you the opposite, but today I come to you with some facts.
The facts come through Harvard professor Steven Pinker, author of the book, “The Angels of our Better Nature.” He writes that one such way of getting to the facts is through forensic archaeology. You can think of it as “CSI Paleolithic”. What proportion of prehistoric skeletons have signs of violent trauma, such as bashed-in skulls, decapitated skeletons, femurs with bronze arrowheads embedded in them, and mummies found with ropes around their necks? Here are 20 archaeological samples for which these analyses have been done. Plotted here are the percentage of deaths due to violent trauma. They range as high as 60 percent, and the average is a little bit more than 15 percent.
Pinker goes on to say, “Let’s compare that rate with those of modern states, and let’s stack the deck against modernity by picking some of the most violent eras that we can think of. This is the United States and Europe in the 20th century. This is the entire world in the 20th century—and I’ve thrown in not only the wars, but also the genocides and the man-made famines. It’s about three percent, compared to the 15 percent rate in pre-state societies. And here is the world in the first decade of the 21st century. The bar in the graph would be less than a pixel, about a three one-hundredths of one percent.”
I think this is some pretty impressive data. Essentially, over the last 4,000 years, up until about 200 years ago, you were five times more likely to die from war than you are today. This downward trend relates to other areas of violence as well. God IS ruling, and while there is still war, there is a lot less of it.
It isn’t just death-by-war that has seen dramatic reductions, but also death by homicide. Believe it or not, homicide statistics are available going back to around the year 1200 and Pinker shows that “a contemporary Englishman has about a 50-fold less chance of being murdered than his compatriot in the Middle Ages…This is a phenomenon that is not restricted to England. It is true of every European country for which statistics are available.”
Judicial death has plummeted as well. He states, “In the United States in the 17th and 18th centuries, the death penalty was prescribed and used for theft, sodomy, bestiality, adultery, witchcraft, concealing birth, slave revolt, counterfeiting, and horse theft. We have statistics for capital punishment in the United States since colonial times. In the 17th century a majority of executions were for crimes other than homicide. In current times, the only crime that is punished by capital punishment other than homicide is conspiracy to commit homicide.” As a result, death by government punishment is WAY down.
So…death by war, death by murder and death by punishment are all sitting at the lowest levels the world has seen since maybe forever. Maybe things were better at the dawn of humanity, in the “Golden Age” but nevertheless it hasn’t been this good in thousands of years. Can you imagine living in a world that is five to fifty times more violent than what we live in today? This is perhaps why 16th century British philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote, “the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”
For some reason, these days we seem to have a much rosier picture of the life of our ancestors. Maybe it is because we’ve romanticized medieval times with books, movies and festivals that depict the times in what seems to be reality but what is actually a fantasy. The reality is that since the fulfillment of the Revelation prophecies in the 1700s we are more peaceful and less violent than ever. Believe it or not.