In his great book Hope in Time of Abandonment (1978), French reformed professor, social critic, and lay theologian, lays out four sign of the presence of hopelessness in a modern society. Thirty-five years ago he foresaw the point we are reaching now, a point evident to anyone who bothers to look. Here are his four signs of hopelessness:
1. Magic: in the face of technological challenges, rigidifying institutions and structures humanity has recourse to the magic, occult, the dark, dreams and the like that characterized our ancient forebears.
2. Scorn: no longer content merely to conquer and dominate others, we now feel compelled to destroy others inwardly.
3. Suspicion: we refuse to take anyone or anything at face value, always on the alert for everyone’s angle and slant, wary of being taken or fooled.
4. Derision: this is the natural consequence of scorn and suspicion; the young deride the old, the media derides politicians and vice versa, much of the arts are given to deriding the current standards and conventions.
Technology, however, Ellul notes, is the one thing that escapes this derision. “(Humanity) cannot compete with technology in power, precision, finesse, and intelligence, so he founders in self-accusation. The system of derision is really an essential aspect of a society in which technology becomes God.”
According to Ellul, the end of hope is quiet. It leads to nothing new. We hardly recognize it. Our technology dazzles us with enough faux-transcendence that we scarcely realize we are bleeding out as a society. There is no anguished cry for help or even dereliction. For what or to who would we cry out anyway?
Why has this happened? Well, that a fascinating topic for another post!