Is Optimism Dead?
WHAT has happened to optimism? Has it become a casualty in this modern world that marks its cycles by its wars? Before World War I optimism had reached an all-time peak. A glorious future was foreseen. Declared an eminent British statesman, William Ewart Gladstone: “The world grows better from century to century. Let pessimism be absent from our minds, and let optimism throw its glory over all our souls and all our lives henceforth and ever.”
That “henceforth” was all too short, for where is optimism in this postwar world? For many people it is dead. Is it dead for you?
Hope for optimism is dead, says Chaplain John McGill Krumm of Columbia University. Speaking to senior students, the university chaplain declared that he thought the most serious casualty of the twentieth century was the “death of optimism.” The traditional view of optimism, that “things will get better,” said the clergyman, is dead. “We have the ability to make the earth uninhabitable. All that stands between us and that fate is the pathetic little store of wisdom and patience and good will that mankind and its leaders have been able to engender.” Anyone who has looked at life with an eye to history, he explained, could hardly be an optimist now. The situation today, he said, is “absolutely unique in history,” and optimism is dead “beyond any hope of resurrection.”—New York Times, May 30, 1955.
Not just clergymen have put optimism’s name in the obituary column. Politicians, scientists and historians in mounting numbers admit that, though they believe in the inevitability of change, they can foresee nothing but a dark future. Declared Adlai Stevenson, after Eisenhower’s victory last year: “Let us give the Administration all responsible support in the troubled times ahead.” So optimism’s death has not left a vacancy in the house of mankind; pessimism has moved in with all its gloomy baggage, including a chestful of popular books about a dark tomorrow.
Even novels sound the somber, pessimistic note. In Philip Wylie’s H. G. Wellsian novel Tomorrow! New York is hydrogenized to a crisp and Washington is turned into scorched acreage by Kremlin bombs. Nonfiction books are equally bleak. In his The Next Million Years Charles Darwin, a theoretical physicist, makes a long-range forecast: the ultimate future of the human race, concludes the writer, will be much like its past—deplorable. That student of history and politics, Elmer Davis, takes a close look at the immediate future in his Two Minutes Till Midnight: “We are facing a desperate struggle, and there is no certainty at all that we are going to win: these are conclusions that few people will accept if they can find any other way out.”
Can observer Davis find a way out? Says the book reviewer for the New York Times of Davis’ conclusions: “These are critical, pessimistic and ruthlessly realistic. . . . Mr. Davis has little specific advice to offer. What he does offer is a lot of gloomy opinions based upon a lot of frightening facts. . . . Elmer Davis can’t find any other way out and so this book is grim indeed. Let us hope that there are grounds for optimism which Mr. Davis failed to notice.”
Have the prophets of gloom failed to notice grounds for optimism? Yes, they have.
There is only one true basis for optimism today. That is the Book most people are too busy to read, God’s Word, the Bible. Therein we learn that there would come a time in man’s history when optimism would die, when the situation would be unique in history and when the most astute statesmen would fail to find a way out. Yes, the Bible foretold the worst of times for the world during the “time of the end” or the “last days” of Satan’s world. We are in this epic time right now.
Christ Jesus pointed forward to our day by giving a sign. It is made up of many woes that would come upon the world. When they occur in harmony with other Bible prophecies, the “last days” are upon us. It has been so since 1914. And one of the features to mark this “time of the end,” Jesus said, would be “on the earth anguish of nations, not knowing the way out because of the roaring of the sea and its agitation, while men become faint out of fear and expectation of the things coming upon the inhabited earth.”—Luke 21:25, 26, NW.
Yet does this worst of times for the world mean the death of optimism? By no means! It means the birth of optimism, for Jesus declared concerning these unprecedented woes: “But as these things start to occur, raise yourselves erect and lift your heads up, because your deliverance is getting near.”—Luke 21:28, NW.
How could it be the worst of times and yet also be the best of times? It is the worst of times for Satan’s world but the best of times for Christians who wake up to this truth: God has promised to bring in a new world of righteousness and to destroy this evil system of things at Armageddon. For those who learn the full facts of this truth the outlook for the future is thrilling. It is inspiring.
This good news must be made known. Jesus said it would be: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for the purpose of a witness to all the nations, and then the accomplished end will come.” (Matt. 24:14, NW) The New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses is proclaiming this good news far and wide.
So what if optimism is dead for the world? This world will soon die anyway at Armageddon. But there is no reason for you to die with it. Nor need you be without optimism. You can hope for the best. Learn the good news of God’s kingdom that this journal proclaims. Act on it. Then, with the New World society, “rejoice in the hope ahead.”—Rom. 12:12, NW.