Thursday, March 26, 2009

Overpopulation of the World?

I've heard predictions of world overpopulation would lead to ecological disaster, famine, poverty and other woes. Philip Longman points out in the March 24, 2009 edition of USA Today, the world's population is expected to hit 7 billion by 2012, up from the 6 billion mark set in 1999. So, is overpopulation a real threat? Like so many other theories out there, I'm not so sure we should be quick to buy into this one either. Though population density can threaten sustainability in some areas of the world, the far greater danger for our future is what Longman calls "depopulation." On a global scale, we are seeing the population of older persons exploding and the numbers of young persons falling.

The trend toward depopulation started in Europe, spread to Asia, and is now detectable even in Latin America. The United Nations now predicts that total world population may begin falling as early as 2040, and much of the surviving population will be very old indeed. Listen to this from Longman:

Under what the U.N. considers the most likely scenario, more than half of all remaining growth comes from a 1.2 billion increase in the number of old people, while the worldwide supply of children will begin falling within 15 years. With fewer workers to support each elder, the world economy might have to run just that much faster, and consume that much more resources, or else living standards will fall.

In the USA, where nearly one-fifth of Baby Boomers never had children, the hardship of vanishing retirement savings will be compounded by the strains on both formal and informal care-giving networks caused by the spread of childlessness. A pet will keep you company in old age, but it is unlikely to be of use in helping you navigate the health care system or in keeping predatory reverse mortgage brokers at bay.

To state only the most obvious point, when the number of retirees is out of balance with the number of workers, there may simply not be enough economic activity to pay the bills. Economists and demographers will debate this new phenomenon, but from a Christian worldview perspective certain issues stand out. Longman underlines the fact that this looming population imbalance is the result of chosen behaviors and lifestyle changes -- not to forces beyond human control.

There is something haunting about his comment about pets: "A pet will keep you company in old age, but it is unlikely to be of use in helping you navigate the health care system or in keeping predatory reverse mortgage brokers at bay." The media have provided any number of recent stories on the fact that many Baby Boomers now look to their pets as children. Need we point out that the pets will not be able to return the favor?

Christians should remember that this issue is never isolated from God's purpose in creating humanity in His image and giving humans a distinctive role in the world. He also gave us marriage and the gift of children within the family. The world in general has changed the way modern people look at children. Now, children are a choice . . . and a choice many couples now do not choose. I might add that my wife and I do not have children as well at this point, and certainly I'm not advocating Children for everyone. But once a child is conceived, I see no other choice but to have the child.

Longman concludes: "Societies around the globe need to ask why they are engaging in what biologists would surely recognize in any other species as maladaptive behavior leading either to extinction, or dramatic mutation."

The trend toward childlessness bring consequences, and these are not easily reversed. The more we distance ourselves from the natural blessings of the natural family, the greater our vulnerability grows. China, Longman notes, is fast becoming a nation in which one child supports two parents and four grandparents. Not only is this pattern unsustainable -- it is untenable. So, I simply found all of this interesting as I've always heard that the world is in danger of overpopulation. It certainly appears that the world is very populated, but if this data proves correct, that could change in a couple of decades or so.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Amazing forgiveness

In July of 1984, when Jennifer Thompson was a twenty-three year old college student, a man broke into her apartment while she slept and raped her at knifepoint. She was eventually able to escape from him and later identified her attacker as Ronald Cotton. Though Ronald insisted that he was innocent, he was taken to court and, primarily on the basis of Jennifer’s identification of her attacker, sentenced to a life behind prison bars. Eleven years later, Cotton was allowed to take a DNA test, taking advantage of this new technology. The test proved his innocence. For more than a decade he had been behind bars for a crime he had not committed. Two years later, Donald and Jennifer met face-to-face and began a very unlikely friendship. Picking Cotton is their story.

Picking Cotton is a book that is co-authored by Jennifer and Ronald. It follows an interesting story with Jennifer narrating events up to the end of the trial, and then Ronald picking up the story, going over the trial from his perspective and describing those eleven long years in prison. While I have not had the opportunity to read this book, I've read quite a bit about this fascinating true life story. In the third part of the book, Jennifer and Ronald write together, alternating chapters as the story turns toward Ronald’s life after prison and Jennifer’s life after discovering her tragic error. In this third part we hear about what is really the heart of this story—their reconciliation. Despite what he had been through, Ronald never harbored resentment against Jennifer. When they finally decided to meet, he immediately and unreservedly forgave Jennifer for her mistake. I'm not under the impression that this is in any way a Christian book though. From my take on the book, it reads a psychological and medical perspective on why Jennifer chose the wrong man as her assailant; but never do we hear the Bible’s perspective on repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation.

We do see a great example of how a man can forgive somebody who has wronged him and how he can release any kind of bitterness. We also see a woman who has wronged another person seeking his forgiveness, and true reconciliation between the offended and the offender—reconciliation that creates a new relationship and a new friendship. In this way we see just a bit of the gospel message of the Bible that tells us how God offers free forgiveness and full reconciliation to those who have offended him with their sin.

This story was first mentioned (at least to my knowledge)in Chris Braun’s excellent book Unpacking Forgiveness where the story is front and center in chapter 1. It is a powerful story and one that deserves to be told. So this is not a book recommendation per se, other than just a story that truly touched me that I thought was worth sharing. I hope that I could find such forgiveness within myself, as I know that God has forgiven me through His Son.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Technology 24/7

According to a 2005 survey, most Americans—including children—spend at least nine hours a day watching TV, surfing the web, or talking on their cell phones. Of those hours, one-third of the time is spent using two or more of those media at once.

While technology has many worthwhile purposes, it demands a high price from us. Studies have shown that our increasing media dependency is crippling our attention spans, wounding our ability to create meaningful relationships, and generating a false expectation that we should be able to be contacted at every hour of the day.

Katie Dunne, a recent graduate of the University of Illinois, says that while the Internet has made it easier for her to find information for class, it also made it easier for her fellow students to avoid face-to-face interactions with their professors—and with each other.

She wrote in her school newspaper: “It seems like the more advanced our technology becomes, the more likely we are to withdraw from the real world. The intimacy of conversation and the integrity of relationships are compromised by quick and cold forms of communication.”

But getting away from technology is easier said than done. Many of us (myself included) couldn’t do our jobs if it weren’t for computers, cell phones, and PDAs. But the problem is when we leave work, technology is following close behind us in a stream of text messages, Facebook posts, and emails. We’ve become addicts to the god of information.

So, here’s a challenge that I've found (on the internet!) —take a technology sabbath.

Joe Carter—editor of the Evangelical Outpost blog—recently began making one day of his week completely technology free.

He writes on “After drinking from the fire hose of information a day without info tech will seem like a year long drought. But by unplugging the god of Technology you might just find something new in the pause—a still small voice sharing the information that truly matters.”

But like anything worthwhile, taking a break from technology takes practice and patience. Here are some of Carter’s tips on making a technology sabbath worthwhile.

First, make sure to give yourself a full 24 hours, preferably from sundown to sundown. Let people know that you are unplugging, so they understand why you are not responding to them right away. Lastly, dedicate some of the time to practicing spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, and attending a worship service.

In the meantime, meet a friend for coffee. And leave your Blackberry at home.

I'm not saying this should be dogmatic, but could be an interesting and rewarding thing to try.