The Too Few Flue

“I earned more money last year than my father/grandfather made his entire life!” Have you heard people saying that? I have; many times. It often means that the speaker is astounded at having earned more money than he ever expected to and the polite way to express this sentiment is by comparing it to a previous generation. Many people maintain a mental money-making number that they believe deep in their hearts to be the unspoken upper limit of what they think themselves capable.

Were it not so, nobody would ever be surprised at how much money he made. On the contrary, if our expectations were really limitless, we’d always view our revenue as merely okay. Better than last year this time, perhaps, but nowhere near what is possible. But we don’t think that way. Instead most of us think upper-limit rather than limitless. Instead of planning next year’s income in terms of “Let’s see how high we can make it,” we think in terms of “How close might I get to my goal?” The trouble is that the goal is almost always far lower than it might have been.

None of this is surprising, of course. After all, we are susceptible to propaganda. You may call it ‘advertising’ if you wish. We are susceptible to it. Were that not so, advertisers would be foolish to spend substantial funds on placing their names before you. And advertisers are not foolish.

There’s another form of propaganda to which we are equally susceptible. It’s the cultural messaging that beams out at us from entertainment, media, and politics. From a physical perspective, one can think of viruses, such as influenza, that spread through a population. Not every single person will necessarily fall victim but doctors easily recognize the passage of the virus through a population. Initially, not everyone knows why they are feeling the way they do. From a spiritual perspective, ideas, thoughts, and themes also spread through a population. Not every single person will necessarily become infected but cultural observers can easily monitor the spread of the idea through a population.

For instance, during World Wars One and Two the spiritual virus of patriotic enlistment quickly spread throughout the population. It was what drove men to enlist and many women to view non-enlisted men with disdain. By the time of the Viet Nam War in the 1960s, an entirely different kind of spiritual virus infected vast numbers of America’s younger population. Obviously there are reasons for the spread of these spiritual viruses just as there are reasons for the spread of the flu viruses. But here I am less interested in the underlying reasons for the virus spreading as I am in the fact that the spiritual virus does spread, and often the infected are unaware of why they feel the way they do.

One of the most damaging spiritual viruses that has been spreading like an epidemic lately is the idea that we live in a world of shortage and limits. It’s not a new idea. Back in the 1850s Americans were being advised to extinguish reading lamps no later than 10pm in order to conserve….that’s right, you’ve got it….energy! In those days it was whale oil and the ‘experts’ rightly observed that the world was going to run out of whales at the rate at which they were being hunted.

They were right of course; whales were tragically becoming extinct. However, they were wrong about energy. In 1859, a railway conductor named Edwin Drake discovered oil in a well he drilled in Titusville, Pennsylvania. From then onwards, whales were no longer hunted for their oil and America lit up.

The spread of the shortage virus throughout American culture has caused many complications. For instance, it is one of the reasons given by people to justify not having children. Whether it is shortage of space, shortage of food, water, energy, or shortage of anything else, this virus has caused millions of otherwise healthy people to live their lives in anxiety of running out of something, or everything.

Just as folks infected by physical viruses react angrily to well-wishers who assure them that, “it’s nothing, you’ll probably feel fine in the morning,” the same is true for those who suffer from this spiritual virus. If you try to reassure these patients that there is really no shortage of oil, trees, trash landfill, or any other commodity necessary for life as we know it, they become highly irritable.

Though the causes of this spiritual virus are varied and many, the main source of the scarcity scourge is secularism. Only God is truly without limits, thus a world without God has to be a world of limited resources and a dearth of almost everything we need. The more ardently a culture ejects God from daily life, the more that culture becomes infected with the dreaded limits virus.

Want to solve the shortage of paper plates, bags, and wrapping? Simple—plant more trees to harvest! Want to solve the shortage of energy? Simple—frack more shale or fire up more nuclear power stations. Want to solve the shortage of water? Simple—build more reservoirs to trap rain and snow before it all flows into the Pacific Ocean.

God provided His children with just a touch of His limitless creative powers with which we can solve anything. We smile gratefully at His bounty which echoes in our optimism. We eagerly confront challenges knowing that God will help us find the solution. Above all, we see no limits in our own lives. Anything at all is possible.

But in a secular worldview, there is no hope. More people and fewer resources means that we are doomed. Perhaps recycling and the sacred sacrament of sustainability can defer doom for a few more years, but at the end of days, shortage will wipe us all out. It sounds ridiculous but, hey, you can’t argue with a virus.

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