The Biotech Century by Jeremy Rifkin, Penguin Putnam, 1998; 271 pps. The Millennium Bug: How to Survive the Coming Chaos by Michael S. Hyatt, Regnery Publishing, 286 pps.
Just over a hundred years ago, at the time of the flowering of the great Optina Skete in old Russia, the whole look, feel, and sound of life was quite different throughout the world. This is so obvious that it hardly bears repeating. The fact that our century has seen such fantastic developments and change (both positive and negative) has been so often commented upon that it has now become "boring"; no one any longer cares about what has happened and is about to happen to mankind. And yet it is not without value to reflect once again upon what life was like in the generation of our great-grandparents and, by contrast, in the "Brave New World" into which we have already entered.
A century ago there were no familiar skyscrapers. Electricity and telephone barely existed; for the average person, night could yet not be turned into day by artificial light (as a result of which people slept and rested more and were generally more healthy and happy, although they worked very hard) and the air was not filled with the shrill ringing of telephones, the beeping of microwave ovens and answering machines, the screaming of televisions with their incessant images of The Beast (popular culture), nor the violence of computer games and the pornographic Internet; one was not assaulted by the hellish sounds of jets streaking through the heavens.
Of course, there was sin; man's fallen nature was the same, but somehow that fallen nature had not yet learned the horrible "refinements" of 20th century "achievements." While it is true that today we live longer than ever in the history of mankind -for what purpose is this extra five or ten years? To watch TV? To attend yet one more football game? To sin? And while we were being ever so gently lulled to sleep by the strong narcotic of 20th century inventions and discoveries, we slipped, unaware, into a spiritual abyss of such confusion, chaos, and darkness, that it is unlikely the Elders of Optina, could they return today, would recognize the kind of human beings we have become and are becoming. Two books in particular can help us to understand what is now already happening around us as we "sleep" the sleep of irrationality and godless hedonism. In the first, Jeremy Rifkin's The Biotech Century, we are reminded that "the public has been subjected to an unending flow of glowing, and largely uncritical, reports of the many new breakthroughs on the genetic frontier, with little effort to examine the more complex risks, pitfalls, and dangers that accompany the biotech revolution--issues that cry out for public airing as we turn the corner into the century of biology."
The new technology just now coming into its own "touches the core," Rifkin explains, "of our self definition." Therefore what is beginning to happen to us and through us is not only advanced technology, but it is theology, philosophy, spirituality, psychology - all of these, and yet, Rifkin says, no one asks, "What is the emotional and intellectual impact of growing up in a world where all of life is treated as 'invention' and 'commercial property'....
"What," for instance, "are the risks we take in attempting to design more 'perfect' human beings?" (pps. xii-xiii) He warns: "In little more than a generation, our definition of life and the meaning of existence is likely to be radically altered. Long-held assumptions about nature, including our own human nature, are likely to be rethought." Actually this is already beginning to happen, and Rifkin's next statement demonstrates how some of his statements, published less than two years ago, are already becoming outdated: "Many age-old practices regarding sexuality, reproduction, birth, and parenthood could be partially abandoned....as well as our vision of what is meant by terms such as 'free will' and 'progress.'" And as we move toward a world-wide genetic caste system - the "biotech" version of India's monstrous Hindu caste system, things will have to be done faster and faster, there will be less and less peace and quiet - so necessary to sober reflection, spiritual development, and sound religion; civilization as we know it (warts and all) will cease to exist. * If this is one possible scenario for the very near future, there is also another possible scenario as we learn more and more about how our wonderful world of gadgets, buttons, and flashing lights is also now capable of something called a "digital time bomb" or Y2K ("the Year 2000 Computer Problem") Knowledgeable opinions vary from "Everything is going to be OK; there will be no problem to speak of on New Year's Day, 2000 A.D.," to, "There is a potential disaster awaiting us all." Since computers are involved in at least 90% or more of our lives, and if even half of those computers "crash," the implications are very grave. For example: when, not long ago, the City of Honolulu tested its electric utility system to observe the effects of Y2K, the electrical system simply shut down completely. If this happens in other major cities and lasts for more than a few days or a few weeks, a disaster, a catastrophe, will have begun, the results of which may now be unavoidable. Raising our awareness of such possibilities in his book, The Millennium Bug, Michael Hyatt urges us to consider what many of us would rather not:
"No electricity means the bank's computers can't run, deposits and payments can't be made; if deposits and payments can't be paid, you'll eventually run out of money....If you run out of money, you won't be able to purchase food and other basic necessities....No electricity means the water department can't pump clean, safe water to your home, no electricity means you can't heat your home with conventional means...etc..." If there's no electricity the computers can't be fixed, and if they can't be fixed there can be no electricity. ... It's a vicious circle. "Once you lose electricity, you lose almost everything else." Transportation of all kind will come to a halt; hospitals will shut down, and, depending on how long this goes on, there will be major food and medical shortages, hunger, and outbreaks of disease. The whole economy will collapse and government - not to mention civilization as we have known it -will end. (We have only to recall the looting and other criminal activity that went on some years ago in New York City during a black-out of just several hours, an occurrence that Solzhenitsyn cited in his Harvard Address in remarking upon the fragility of our society.)
Although Hyatt does not say it, it's clear that under these circumstances the world will be ready for the arrival of a charismatic and powerful figure who will be able to put an end to the misery that has resulted from our bio-technical obsession--and that figure could well be the ruler of a one-world government, the Antichrist himself. This is the man who will promise to give us whatever we want and let us keep all of our creature comforts, our sensual obsessions, and our many idolatries. And therefore the people of the world will flock to him.
All of this recalls the startling prophecy of the Athonite hermit, Saint Nilus the Myrrhstreaming who. around the year 1550 A.D., spoke in part of the tremendous technical advances (five hundred years before they were discovered!) that would actually herald the end of the ages. In these, our very own times, he said, "people will spend their lives in comfort without knowing, poor souls, that it is the deceit of the Antichrist. And, the impious one! - he will so complete science with vanity that it will go off the right path and lead people to lose faith in the existence of God..." Such warnings have been repeated again and again, especially in this century, and most particularly in our own generation. Yet nothing changes. Like lemmings headed to the sea, we appear to be unable to change our course; we don't even want to. We do not see the truth; we don't want to be disturbed in any slightest way. We have become addicts to modern popular culture, and we no longer guard our hearts.
It is perhaps too late for the world, for whole countries and nations. But it is not too late for individuals to work on their hearts and souls and, as Scripture says, heed the command to "come out from among them." Priest Alexey Young
* The rest of Rifkin's fascinating if depressing book is devoted to a detailed examination of the "biotech revolution" with legalized euthanasia, artificial creation, cloning, and perhaps thousands of other genetically engineered life forms, with patents on gene pools and where life will no longer depend on the will of God but on the actual "engineering" of babies in the womb.
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