My wife and I spent time over the holidays with our two sons and their families in Jacksonville, Florida. Actually we spent most of our time with our new granddaughter, Josephine (Josie), who is eight months old. Josie is delightful, and her smiles light up a room. We held Josie, played with Josie, and managed to avoid changing a single diaper. Retiring to our hotel room in the evening, we were bombarded by the constant stream of disturbing news – refugees in Syria, immigrant caravans in Mexico, government shutdown, stock market instability, local murders (“if it bleeds, it leads”), corrupt officials, and nationalistic behavior by various leaders. What does Josie have to look forward to?
One of my Christmas gifts from our data analyst son was the book Factfulness by Hans Rosling. Rosling paints a radically different world from that portrayed by our news media. The 2018 book starts with a multiple choice quiz about world conditions – education of girls, income of countries, life expectancy, world poverty, deaths from disasters, population growth, child immunizations, and endangered species. Rosling points out that even highly educated people are completely misinformed on most of these topics. The book is based upon data gleaned from United Nations agencies, the World Health Organization, and other authoritative sources. The late Hans Rosling was a Swedish physician, a professor of international health, and founder of the Gapminder Foundation devoted to a fact-based world view. See https://www.gapminder.org.
The World Is Improving
Let’s review several of these topics. Rosling divides the world’s population into four groups. At level 1 is a family living on $1/day. They are barefoot, walk an hour to fetch dirty water, cannot afford antibiotics, and often face hunger from poor crop yields. One billion people are at this level, and the number is dropping. Level 2 people, three billion strong, live on $4+/day and can afford chickens, a bicycle, a gas stove, and mattresses. Level 3, a total of two billion, averages $16+/day and can afford tap water, a motorcycle, high school education, and a vacation. Finally level 4, which includes most Americans and one billion people worldwide, averages $32+/day and may have a college education, a car, restaurant food, and hot and cold water.
Only 9% of the world’s children now live in countries where the daily family income averages less than $2/day. In the year 1800, 85% of the world’s population lived at level 1. In 1966 this dropped to 50%. Over the last 20 years the percent has dropped from 29 to 9. Average life expectancy worldwide has crept upward to 72 years. The following are actually improving despite news media reports: legal slavery, oil spills, childhood death, disaster-related deaths, ozone depletion, and world hunger. Improving also are women’s right to vote, scientific publications, literacy, girls in school, electricity coverage, protected water sources, and immunizations. At the elementary school level, 90% of girls attend school compared with 92% of boys. Crime rates in the United States continue to drop.
When I was in medical school, I recall several lectures on the threat of world over-population. I was introduced to Thomas Malthus who theorized that either people had to voluntarily limit their family size or face the likelihood of famine, war, or pestilence. Rosling is far more optimistic. He notes that with better education of women, population growth is slowing. The number of children in 2100 will be the same as today. The 7.6 billion people on our globe will see only a slow growth to about 11 billion and a leveling off at that point.
A Spiritual Response
Rosling argues that the way we view the world is shaped by several misperceptions. One is our instinct toward negativity. Others include misremembering the past and selective reporting by journalists and activists. We fear vaccinations, terrorism, chemicals, natural disasters, crime, and immigrants-fears that are overblown and not based upon data.
From a spiritual perspective we can take heart in Rosling’s advice and conclusions. I think we as Christians need to guard against doomsday theology with its fatalistic interpretation of prophecy. This theology sees worsening world conditions coupled with the inability of world leaders and governments to improve people’s lot. Such an approach tends to render us impotent to confront our world’s challenges. By contrast, post-millennialists of the late 19th century believed they could hasten Christ’s return through carrying His gospel – personal and social – to everyone in the world. That concept is debatable, but it inspired post-millennialists to dedicate themselves to solving the world’s problems, not bemoaning them. That’s a far more productive approach. Let’s correctly identify the challenges the world faces, apply Christ’s message of hope for everyone, get involved in solutions, and give Josie a better world.