Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Time of Troubles

A Study of History by Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975) is acknowledged as one of the “greatest achievements of modern scholarship.” Toynbee’s book, huge in scale, achieved wide prominence but he was more admired by the history reading public than by his fellow historians, who criticized him for contorting information to fit his alleged patterns of history. I suspect this criticism stems largely from the fact that Toynbee likely viewed the patterns of history through the redemptive theme of Scripture.

In A Study of History, Toynbee details the rise and decline of twenty-three civilizations about which he wrote, “Of these, sixteen are dead and nine of the remaining ten-all, in fact, except our own are shown to have already declined.” He did suggest then that we may have passed our zenith. Were he alive today he would likely move Western civilization into the category of those in decline.

Toynbee’s over-arching analysis centered on the moral and religious challenges within a given society, and the response to such challenges, as the reason for the health or decline of a civilization. He described parallel life cycles of growth, dissolution, a “time of troubles,” a universal state, and a final collapse leading to a new genesis. Toynbee argues that our own time of troubles began during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, which produced a tolerance, “based not on the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity but on the Mephistophelian (devilish schemes) maladies of disillusionment, apprehension, and cynicism.”

I dare say that these devilish schemes have, with nearly unabated force, led us to the tolerance of that which was once thought to be morally repugnant such as abortion, pornography, sexual licentiousness and more recently the legitimization of homosexual behavior at the expense of marriage.

Toynbee added that civilizations arose in response to some set of challenges of extreme difficulty prompting “creative minorities” to devise solutions that would reorient the entire society.

When a civilization responds to challenges, it grows. Conversely civilizations declined when their leaders stopped responding creatively or with wisdom. Our culture today is rife with moral and religious challenges and scarcely do our leaders demonstrate a coherent understanding of the challenges much less offer real wisdom. All too frequently, the emphasis within the church tends toward technique and methodology instead of intelligent theological teaching and wisdom. Toynbee points out that in the wake of such an inadequate response, the civilizations in question sink due to nationalism, militarism or the tyranny of a despotic minority.

It seems that we, as a nation, have arrived at the level in which a “despotic minority” is in the process of reorienting our entire society, that minority being those who advocate a natural and now constitutional right to homosexual behavior.

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