I work at a low-barrier homeless shelter. We provide the most basic life-support for people who can’t get into the Salvation Army for whatever reasons. We’d like to do more, but we’re barely funded and staffed. Really, if you wanted to do anything really meaningful to address homelessness in America, you’d have to change the entire structure.
I was walking around, getting ready to open, and I picked up a half-full water bottle that someone had left on a table, poured out the water and threw it away. A water bottle. A plastic bottle of tap water, made using fossil fuels, which will end up in a landfill. Take that water bottle and scale it by a billion or so, then add times a hundred more for soft drink bottles. Now think about plastic bags, tampon applicators, food wrappers, red Solo cups, and all the rest of the single-use, disposable garbage that the US generates every year. It’s massive. It’s a mind-boggling pile of trash that will never biodegrade. All future life on this planet will contain plastic particles — every duck, every tree, every capybara, every person, everything. In less than a century, people have permanently altered this planet, for the worse. And that’s just plastic. Other countries have jumped on the bandwagon racing to destroy the planet that we all depend on, but the USA is certainly the prime driver.
The Old Testament contains numerous stories of nations being destroyed. In a few of them, God is the active agent, but more often, God just allows things to run their course. The latter is usually the case with Israel. God sends a bunch of prophets to announce that the chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, have strayed from the covenant, and that there will be consequences if it continues. Occasionally, you find a story where people do change their ways — in Jonah, for example, the people of Nineveh repent of their sins, put on sackcloth and fast. They even make their animals wear sackcloth and go without food. As a result, God decides not to destroy the city, which really ticks off Jonah, who goes and pouts about it. Jonah is one of the books in the OT that is not, in any way, intended to be taken as a historical account. It was written several centuries after Jonah, son of Amittai, lived and died. It’s a weird little story, that makes some interesting points, but it didn’t happen.
What generally happens when a prophet announces that God is unhappy with a nation, is that the people don’t change their behavior and God lets them experience the consequences for their actions. Ezekiel prophesied that Judea would be overthrown by Babylon, if people didn’t get right with the Lord. They didn’t; it happened. Babylon was the instrument of God’s judgment, in that God could have helped Judea, but He didn’t, and the reason he didn’t is that Judea had turned away from God.
Jesus did a lot of talking about radical forgiveness and non-violence. He also mentioned, on a few occasions, the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the temple there. On the day that He was crucified, Pontius Pilate offered the people of Jerusalem a choice — who should go free: Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus Barabbas, a violent insurrectionist. The people wanted Barabbas to go free. They chose the way of violence over the way of peace. The message that Jesus proclaimed was totally consistent with what all the Hebrew prophets had been saying all along — Jesus quoted OT prophets a lot — so it’s not like the Jewish population of Jerusalem hadn’t heard that kind of thing before. Jerusalem was leveled by Rome in 70 CE, about thirty-five years after Jesus was crucified.
What if people had listened to the prophets? Suppose all the Jews in Israel had put on sackcloth — and dressed their cows and goats in it — when Ezekiel prophesied destruction. Would things have turned out different? If we believe in God, we sort of have to assume that they would have. Israel did have long periods of relative peace and prosperity — maybe those periods were when they were keeping the covenant well enough for God to protect them from other countries. But God only lets blatant injustice go on for so long.
If one doesn’t believe in God, then Judea got conquered by Babylon because Babylon was stronger. Nations rise and fall. It doesn’t mean anything.
Either way, America will reap what it has sown. There’s all that plastic, plus all the other forms of pollution. I did a research paper on nuclear waste disposal in the US one time — that situation is really bad. I’m writing at a point when elected officials — Senators and Representatives — are openly encouraging their constituents to prepare for civil war, a year after a failed attempt to take over the Capital. Mass shootings happen, on average, everyday; school shootings happen about once a month. A few people have more money than the average person can actually conceptualize, while the average person lives on the edge of financial ruin. Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless. Climate change is obvious to anyone who goes outside.
People have been talking about all this stuff a lot, but talking about something doesn’t actually accomplish anything. America’s leaders are not going to do anything to change anything because they are rich, and their wealth comes from maintaining the status quo. The average person isn’t going to change anything because average people never do — unless a critical mass gets angry enough. I don’t know why that didn’t happen a long time ago. Actually, I have a theory about that which I’ll get into another time.
Add a global pandemic to the mix. Now there’s an opportunity for people to come together, to help the less fortunate, and work for the common good. Or not. Some people have taken covid 19 seriously, but most haven’t. That’s why the morbidity and mortality rates in the US are so much higher than the rest of the world. Last time I checked, the US death by covid rate was about ten times the rate for the rest of the world — not because we have a vulnerable population or lack of resources, but because Americans simply refuse to look out for each other.
If a critical mass of the US population suddenly decided, right now, to repent, dress their cats in sackcloth and love their neighbors as themselves, would it change anything? Certainly, climate change is going to continue to get worse before it gets better, but I believe that we could make it much less bad. Natural disasters don’t kill very many people — most of the worst of tornadoes and hurricanes and such is the loss of property and resources. If Americans took care of each other, then people who lose their homes in floods would still lose possessions, but they would not become destitute. The actual experience of being helped might, for some, be more than adequate compensation. I mean, imagine your house was destroyed by an earthquake and your entire town rallied around you to help you. You’d be sad you lost some stuff, but you’d gain an entire community who cared about you in very obvious ways.
We could pull this country out of the ditch. I don’t think it’ll happen though. I think we’re at the point in the story when God says, “Okay then, if that’s how you want it…” and allows the consequences to happen.
There may be people who think that people can, if they choose, save this sinking ship without the need for a supreme deity. Actually, I know there are — they’re called humanists. I would be happy to work with a humanist toward a common goal, but honestly, the idea that the people who created the mess are going to suddenly turn around and clean it up is more outlandish to me than the idea that there is a cosmic intelligence who can alter the course of history whenever it chooses to. I’ve met humans — I have no confidence in them.
So I’m writing from the perspective of someone in the days before a civilization collapses. I admit the possibility that the USA will be around for a while longer — Rome wasn’t built in a day and it didn’t fall apart in one either — but the end is coming. Not the End — the Second Coming of Christ. I don’t see that on the horizon. I mean, the USA is at the end of it’s lifespan just like many other nations in history, some of which are mentioned in the Bible.
The actual End — the Second Coming of Christ — is what I wish would happen. I have some thoughts on that subject which I think might be original. I’ve never heard anybody else say the things that my brain says about the Second Coming. That doesn’t mean I’m right, just that I have some ideas. I’ll get around to those eventually.