Sam Norton, a Church of England vicar here in Essex, is quite astonishingly pessimistic, even apocalyptic although it seems for entirely secular reasons, about the state and future of the world. Last year I reported his predictions that oil prices would continue to rise, but instead they have fallen dramatically. He starts his new post with something of an explanation for why this has happened, while insisting that it will not last. For, he argues,
The problem will emerge with further strength when the economy gets through the economic aspects of the present crisis and tries to get back upon its previous growth-based models: the price of oil will increase again and choke off that economic growth. In sum, my view is that, for a period of 10-15 years, economic growth has ceased, indeed, that it will go into reverse.
Well, so far, this is believable – but it ignores the point that as oil prices increase, so, after a time lag, will supply, as expensive oil reserves such as the oil sands of Alberta are exploited, and as users shift to alternative energy sources such as coal, nuclear and renewable. Some of these shifts of course would have worrying implications for the environment and for global warming, but that is a separate issue.
But Sam then takes his predictions too far, matching the nightmare scenarios of the climate change extremists whom he does not support:
I see much of the middle-class Western lifestyle coming to an end over this period; a vast amount of unemployment which will – in a benign outcome – shift to working the land, or, in a less benign outcome, the resurrection of a slave society. …
I see us rapidly approaching a bottleneck – a time of greatly increased pressure and tension, and not all of us will get through. However, decisions that we make now – more at the personal and local society level than at the government level (I tend to see the government as a problem not a solution, as people know) – will make a big difference to what happens. Learn to store more food. Learn to garden or develop a skill that will allow for trading for food. Get to know your neighbours and develop contacts across the community.
I foresee a time of tremendous upheaval and suffering in this crisis that has now begun; a time with greater parallels to the 1340s [the decade of the Black Death] than the 1930s, and a lot of people, a lot of societies, quite possibly even some nations (eg the US and UK in their present form) will not make it through.
Now I think it is clear to me that this is not intended to be a prophecy or any kind of divine revelation, but simply a prediction based on data and trends, even if perhaps it is informed by biblical principles. This is what distinguishes Sam from those preachers who walk around with sandwich boards proclaiming “THE END OF THE WORLD IS NIGH!” But, just as those preachers typically used their backs to preach “REPENT AND BELIEVE THE GOSPEL”, so also Sam finishes off as one would expect from a Christian minister, with a Bible verse:
Yet I also believe that what we do now will make a difference in the end, and I trust that our labour will not be in vain. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I’m not quite sure what Sam means here. But even if this blackest of scenarios does prove accurate, God will provide for those who trust in him, and will eventually put all things right in the new heavens and the new earth.