Why The World Is Getting Better!
We’ve been on the subject of encouraging Fervent, Effectual Prayer for the nations. One of the primary things that hinder Christians from engaging in believing prayer for the nations is a negative eschatology and worldview. After we looked at a scriptural view of God’s Purposes For the Nations, we briefly touched on eschatology in Victorious Eschatology and Who is “The Antichrist.”
Today we have a sample from J.D. King’s new book, “Why You’ve Been Duped Into Believing That The World is Getting Worse.” King uses empirical data to show that, on multiple fronts, our world is better today than it has been in a very long time.
Casualties of War
Across the annals of history, millions have been in entangled in violent conflict. The drumbeat of war resonates over land and sea. Bloodshed and atrocities seemed unending.
During the Medieval Crusades, over 1.7 million died, and in the Mongolian invasions of Arabia, causalities were over 2 million. Both bloodbaths occurred during a period when less than 400 million people walked the earth.
Centuries later, 20 million were slaughtered in the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864). During that same era, 750,000 died in the American Civil War (1861-1865). Less than fifty years later, 9 million were slain during the Russian Revolution (1917-1922). Finally, an unfathomable 117 million died in World Wars I and II.
Until the 1940s, nations were continually in conflict. Western European countries initiated war every two or three years.
Historian Arnold Toynbee, writing in the afterglow of the Second World War, declared, “In our recent Western history, war has been following war in ascending order of intensity.” To his well-informed mind, the bloodshed was unceasing.
Most everyone was shocked as battles began to wane. War—understood as the uniformed armies of nation-states fighting—became virtually obsolete in recent decades. There have been less than four major conflicts in any year since 1945 and, in most years since 1989, there have been none.
Along with fewer incidents of war, genocide and collateral deaths are plummeting. Pinker declares, “By any standard, the world is nowhere near as genocidal as it was during its peak in the 1940s, when Nazi, Soviet, and Japanese mass murders, together with the targeting of civilians by all sides in World War II, resulted in a civilian death rate in the vicinity of 350 per 100,000 per year.”
Since the mid-twentieth century, genocide and civil strife have diminished drastically. War-related deaths are currently the lowest ever recorded. In the twenty-first century, only a tiny percentage of the global population has been maimed in conflict.
Pinker notes, “The rate of documented direct deaths from political violence (war, terrorism, genocide and warlord militias) in the past decade is an unprecedented few hundredths of a percentage point. Even if we multiplied that rate to account for unrecorded deaths and the victims of war-caused disease and famine, it would not exceed 1%.”
It is easy to forget how violent our ancestors were. They lived in an unimaginably brutal world. This observation might seem absurd, but the past was drastically more appalling than the world we now reside in.
Few, if any, in media will tell you this, but we might be living in the most peaceful time in the history of the world. In fact, traffic accidents often take more lives than military conflicts. Gregg Easterbrook reminds us that “in the current generation, roads have been more dangerous than armies.”
A little while back, I spoke with a man from Chicago. He described the horrendous murders taking place in his city. He said, “So many young men are dying that they don’t even put it on the news anymore.” He explained that homicide was perhaps the number one crisis in America.
It is easy to see where he was coming from. In the twenty-first century, fears about violent crime keep people awake at night. It is not just anxieties about terrorism and war but a sense that our children might be harmed.
In Gallup polls, over the last twenty years, at least two-thirds consistently believed homicides were increasing. Many are convinced that murder rates are the highest ever recorded. But things are not as they seem.
Most don’t realize that untamed violence prevailed in the past. Hans Rosling documented what archeologists found in the ruins of early civilizations.
The truth is to be found in ancient graveyards and burial sites, where archeologists have to get used to discovering that a large proportion of all the remains they dig up are those of children. Most will have been killed by starvation or disgusting diseases, but many child skeletons bear the marks of physical violence. Hunter-gatherer societies often had murder rates above 10 percent and children were not spared. In today’s graveyards, child graves are rare.
It is hard to imagine living in a world where the homicide rate was 15 percent, but researchers have concluded that was the reality in some ancient societies. Bloodshed, in ages past, must have been unusually severe.
In comparison to today, a medieval traveler was a hundred times more likely to be murdered in Italy. During this era, Europeans encountered relentless brutality. Pinker writes, “Lords massacred the serfs of their rivals, aristocrats and their retinues fought each other in duels, brigands and highwaymen murdered the victims of their robberies, and ordinary people stabbed each other over insults at the dinner table.”
In subsequent centuries, murderous acts decreased, and the civilized world became less violent. Lives were not taken as often as they were in previous generations.
Although homicide rates were tremendously high in the early American colonies, they plummeted in succeeding eras, reaching an all-time low in the late twentieth century.
It is counterintuitive, but the FBI disclosed that homicides dropped nearly 50 percent in the last twenty-five years. Murders are now less frequent in every region of the United States. While there are outliers like Chicago and St. Louis, most cities are witnessing a marked reduction in gun violence.
Reflecting on positive changes in New York City, Gregg Easterbrook suggests that “Central Park after dark now is as safe as Yellowstone Park at noon.”
The decline of violence isn’t unique to the United States. Among eighty-eight countries with reliable data, sixty-seven reported fewer homicides over the last forty years.
Contradicting the fear-inducing pessimism of the media, fewer than ever are dying from gunshots or stabbing. Against common assumptions, violence is plummeting across the globe. Pinker reminds us that
There are 180,000 people walking around today who would have been murdered just in the last year if the global homicide rate had remained at its level of a dozen years before.
Although brutality continues, conflicts that kill hundreds aren’t the same as wars slaughtering millions. Bloodshed has dramatically decreased. But in spite of the advancements, the evening news still finds just enough violence to anchor every broadcast.
Sporadic catastrophes on the far side of the world continue to mar the worldview of a generation. Johan Norberg writes, “War, crime, disasters and poverty are painfully real, and during the last decade global media has made us aware of them in a new way—live on screen, every day, around the clock—but despite this ubiquity, these are problems that have always existed, partially hidden from view. The difference now is that they are rapidly declining. What we see now are the exceptions, where once they would have been the rule.”
While we mourn the pain that remains, we must recognize that the world is considerably improved. There has never been a better time in all of history to be alive.
Occasionally I think of the Vietnam vet that I chatted with over coffee a few years ago. Because of what he and others like him fought for, this world sees less bloodshed. As I thanked him and told him that he was making the world more peaceful, a tear rolled down his face. Hope is rising in some of the most unexpected places.
“Why You’ve Been Duped Into Believing That The World is Getting Worse” is a great resource! It also documents decreases in terrorism, hunger, poverty, infant mortality, sexual assault, racism, and domestic violence, increases in life expectancy and prosperity, and the global explosion of Christianity.
The statistics in this book make it clear how much the news media and a negative eschatology can distort our perception of reality. I have heard some Christians speak as if we were in the worst time of history, but nearly the opposite is true. While we still have major problems in the world, there has been a drastic improvement, especially in the last several decades.
King attributes these improvements to the rapid growth of Christianity.
 . Jay Michaelson, “Was Obama right about the Crusades and Islamic extremism?” Washington Post (February 6, 2015).
 . Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (New York: Penguin Publishing, 2011), 196.
 . “Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864),” Columbia University, http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/special/china_1750_taiping.html.
 . Guy Gugliotta, “New Estimate Raises Civil War Death Toll,” New York Times (April 2, 2012).
 . “Highest death toll from a civil war,” Guinness World Book of Records, http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/highest-death-toll-from-a-civilwar.
 . See “World War I (1914-1918): Killed, Wounded, and Missing,” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/event/World-War-I/Killed-wounded-and-missing.
 . Arnold Toynbee, War And Civilization (New York: Oxford University Press, 1950), 4.
 . Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (New York, Penguin Publishing, 2018), 158.
 . Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack, “The World Is Not Falling Apart: Never mind the headlines. We’ve never lived in such peaceful times,” Slate (December 2014).
 . Steven Pinker, “Violence Vanquished,” The Wall Street Journal (September 24, 2011).
 . See C.J. Werleman, “We’re living through the “most peaceful era” in human history—with one big exception,” Salon (Wednesday, January 15, 2014).
 . Gregg Easterbrook, It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear (New York: Public Affairs, 2018), 109.
 . A personal conversation with a used car dealer from Raytown, Missouri in early 2005.
 . Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (New York, Penguin Publishing, 2018), 191.
 . Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think (New York, Flatiron Books, 2018), 122.
 . Ibid., 121.
 . Various, Human Security Report 2013 (Vancouver: Human Security Press, 2014),
 . Various, “Number of Terrorist Attacks Globally Dropped in 2016: U.S.
Government,” Reuters (July 19, 2017).
 . John Gramlich, “5 Facts about Crime in the U.S.,” Pew Research Center (January 30, 2018).
 . Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think (New York, Flatiron Books, 2018), 67-68.
 . See Johan Norgerg, Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future (United Kingdom: Oneworld Publications, 2016), 88.
 . Douglas T. Kenrick, Ph.D., “Ten Ways the World Is Getting Better: Steven Pinker, Science, Humanism, and Progress,” Psychology Today (March 2018).
 . Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (New York, Penguin Publishing, 2018), 168.
 . Max Roser, “Homicides,” Our World In Data, https://ourworldindata.org/homicides
 . John Gramlich, “5 facts about crime in the U.S.,” Pew Research Center (January 30, 2018). The homicide rate in the United States is now lower than five per 100,000. Manuel Eisner, “Long-Term Historical Trends in Violent Crime,” Crime and Justice 30 (2003): 83–142.
 . Editor, “The 30 Cities with the Highest Murder Rate in the US,” Bismark Tribune (November 13, 2017).
 . Gregg Easterbrook, It’s Better Than It Looks: Reasons for Optimism in an Age of Fear (New York: Public Affairs, 2018), xvii.
 . Various, “Homicide Declined in Most Nations,” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. https://www.unodc.org/gsh/en/data.html.
 . Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (New York, Penguin Publishing, 2018), 171.
 . “The average interstate war killed 86,000 people in the 1950s and 39,000 in the
 s. Today, it kills slightly more than 3,000 people.” Johan Norberg, Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future (United Kingdom: One world Publications, 2016), 100.
 . Ibid., 48.