Dallas Morning News,
Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.
Centre College professor Beau Weston operates an interesting blog, the Gruntled Center. He put up a post last week that draws from a lecture he recently gave at his Kentucky college. In the post and lecture, Weston, a Presbyterian, makes the argument that the world has gotten better.
He notes how violence is down in most "competent" nations, authoritarianism is in retreat worldwide, various forms of discrimination have diminished, food production is growing exponentially, air quality has improved, the population bomb has been a dud and transportation costs are cheaper. He lists a number of other indices, which you can read about on this link.
So, here is the question for the week:
Is the world getting better?
We certainly read a lot in, yes, newspapers about things going awry. Republican candidates making the case against Barack Obama offer ample examples of the world being a mess. And many a book has been sold about the next coming crisis.
But are we looking at all this the wrong way. Is it indeed the case that the world is getting better?
NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas
In the ancient Vedas our modern time period is called Kali Yuga, or the Age of Quarrel. The predictions, which come from 5,000 years ago, are as follows:
"Religion, truthfulness, cleanliness, tolerance, mercy, duration of life, physical strength and memory will all diminish day by day because of the powerful influence of the age of Kali. In Kali-yuga, wealth alone will be considered the sign of a man's good birth, proper behavior and fine qualities. And law and justice will be applied only on the basis of one's power. Men and women will live together merely because of superficial attraction, and success in business will depend on deceit. Womanliness and manliness will be judged according to one's expertise in sex, and a man will be known as a priest just by his dress or position. A person's propriety will be seriously questioned if he does not earn a good living. And one who is very clever at juggling words will be considered a learned scholar. A person will be judged unholy if he does not have money, and hypocrisy will be accepted as virtue. Marriage will be arranged simply by verbal agreement, and a person will think he is fit to appear in public if he has merely taken a bath. Beauty will be thought to depend on one's hairstyle....." - Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 12.2.1-6
Although Kali Yuga is very gradual devolution that extends a period of 427,000 years, one can see even in one's own short duration of life a gradual increase of selfishness and a decrease in pious qualities of society. But it also predicted a positive: "Although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one good quality about this age: Simply by chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra, or any name of God, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom." SB 12.3.51
To make the best use of a bad bargain, one can use the distasteful nature of this material world as an impetus to make spiritual progress. So in one sense this world is better because of this fact and also the chanting of God's names will improve the quality of life. In the other sense, without programs for spiritual elevation our society will continue down its downward spiral of materialism and selfishness.