I’ve joined the Nonfiction Reader Challenge hosted by Book’d Out, and with my very first read I decided to take on the scariest topic: The Future!
Brian McLaren pulls no punches with the title of his forthcoming book, Life After Doom. The topic may be alarming — the coming environmental collapse, which could take a variety of forms, none of them pleasant — but rather than staying at a safe distance while laying down the uncomfortable truth, McLaren composes his book as if it’s a conversation with the reader. There is plenty of objective information and science, with abundant footnotes, but McLaren also shares his own thoughts and feelings and experiences, his fears and dreams, even a letter he wrote his grandchildren. He doesn’t claim to have all the answers, and he looks with compassion and curiosity at the strange ways human beings shield themselves from the truth. After each short chapter, he adds questions for individuals or groups to engage with, as we struggle to face uncertainty.
The basic message is that to get through whatever is coming — and nobody can say exactly what that is, except that it’s the end of the world as we know it — we have to turn towards each other and support one another. People who hole up in survival bunkers and pick off the others with guns will end up in a lonely, aggressive world. Is that the world you want? Or could you imagine a different future, one where you even went to your death while putting love and care for others above everything else? A foolish idea, one might say, but we haven’t done so well with conventional wisdom. Maybe it’s time to try being foolish.
What is happening now on an outer level is a revelation of our long-standing inner orientation toward the exploitation of others for personal gain. This is the worship of the God of progress, in what McLaren identifies as an unholy modern alliance of capitalism and religion. It’s an aberration of religion, really, warped to turn humanity’s striving toward knowledge of its own eternal nature into a short-sighted, selfish quest for survival through accumulating and hoarding resources. Perhaps we can imagine a different deity, a different ideal — the ideal of evolution. How can we participate consciously in our own evolution? That is our challenge today, and it’s an immense gift as well as a sobering responsibility.
McLaren has some sobering words to say about hope: people want and need hope, but when hope puts them off from taking action, it can be self-defeating. (This section reminded me of a verse by Rudolf Steiner which speaks of “the wings that have long been lamed by hope.”) Hoping that someone else will fix what we are responsible for puts us in the power of forces inimical to humanity. The hope we need is not a wishing for a better future we don’t have to work for, but a hands-on knowledge of the indomitable strength in the human spirit. That comes only through working together in community, and McLaren’s suggestion for inspiring a better kind of hope is to start working with others. Even two or three at a time, we can make a difference.
I suspect that any reader will find things in this book to disagree with. I disagree with some of McLaren’s fundamental premises, above all the notion that maybe after all the Earth would be better off without us, and we should come to peace with that possibility. He lyrically imagines the beauty that would remain if we were gone, but who would be there to see that beauty? There is no beauty on Earth without the human souls in which it comes to life. The Earth would be an empty, dead shell without us.
That’s why we must do our utmost to come through the coming challenges, holding fast to the human mission, which is resurrection from death. To live our lives in a way that gives life to others and to the Earth as a whole is our task, not infinite personal survival. As we face our doom, we might also find out who we really are. And that is a hope worth having, in my view.
Though I do still feel scared about the future, I also feel more energized and prepared, and motivated to make the connections which will help to carry us through to the other side of doom. So this was a good read to start the challenge, and the year. What next? I’m looking forward to learning more, as I venture into more nonfiction categories and check out the posts of others.
Brian McLaren, Life After Doom: Wisdom and Courage for World Falling Apart (St Martin’s Press, May, 2024).