Increasing Lawlessness—A Sign of the World’s End?
“WHAT will be the sign of your presence and of the conclusion of the system of things?”
In answer Jesus Christ revealed that a period of history would be marked by international war, food shortages and earthquakes, and he added: “Because of the increasing of lawlessness the love of the greater number will cool off. But he that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.”—Matthew 24:3, 7-13.
An increase of lawlessness—a truly menacing development since the original Greek word suggests contempt for known laws of God. The force of the word is that one places self, and not God, at the center of one’s life. Jesus did not say there would be a ‘start’ of lawlessness, but an “increasing,” a multiplying and spreading of it. This feature would be a development so striking that the majority, “the greater number,” of professed Christians would be affected. Their love for God, his laws and their neighbor would chill, just as a hot drink is cooled by an icy blast!
There is strong evidence that our 20th century ushered in, especially with World War I, an increase of lawlessness on a scale far greater than any since Jesus uttered these words. If so, this means we are living in the “last days”—in the final part of “the conclusion of the system of things.” (2 Timothy 3:1; Matthew 24:3) Do you not yearn for the end of this lawless system that has saturated our earth with violence, immorality and injustice, and to see it replaced by a loving society of people, “a new earth” in which righteousness is to dwell?—2 Peter 3:13.
‘But wait,’ say some students of history. ‘Is not the 20th century the most civilized in all history? Was not the raw violence and immorality of past centuries much worse?’
The Past—How Bad?
“Nobody could feel himself unapprehensive of danger to his person or property if he walked in the street after dark, nor could any man promise himself security in his bed,” bemoaned the solicitor general of London in 1785. Others then expressed great fear of crime.
But how much criminal activity really existed in times past? No one can say with certainty, primarily because of the faulty judicial records. And because of the lack of reliable or specific population data in the past, there is no dependable way of comparing the number of crimes-per-population rate to ours today. Some indications are that earlier centuries were comparatively peaceful. “At no time in the history of Massachusetts,” reported the state’s attorney general in 1859, “have life, liberty, and property been more secure than at present.”
But during the 150 years before 1914 a series of developments—unique in all history—set the stage for unprecedented lawlessness in the 20th century.
The Industrial Revolution
“The most sweeping revolution in all human history.” That is how history professors M. Klein and H. A. Kantor, in their book Prisoners of Progress, describe the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the United States of America between 1850 and 1920. The extensive industrial use of newly developed machines, such as the steam engine, and mass-production techniques started in England. Like a tidal wave it swept through Europe and the United States, shattering a former life-style.
Reflecting on the period before the Industrial Revolution, Klein and Kantor continued: “Compared with our own age, life appeared to be more orderly and settled. Men still attached great importance to religion and organized their values and lifestyles around their creed.”
Most people then were self-employed and took pride in their work—money was not the sole object of business. Though there were thieves and murderers, and prevailing religious beliefs were interwoven with magic and superstition, the average person in so-called Christian nations usually respected the laws of God.
Between 1880 and 1913 world manufacturing production increased three times as fast as the world population—a rate never equaled before or since. As a result, more workers had a greater amount of money to spend for these newly manufactured goods. But many, caught up by “rags-to-riches” tales, worshiped success as a goddess.
“Those who are determined to be rich,” warns the Bible, “fall into temptation and a snare . . . and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:9, 10) This happened to multitudes. Men made work their life. Family life suffered as it had to revolve around the nearly 60-hours-a-week work schedule. When many women joined the work force, children were often without guidance and became delinquent. A devotion to making a living caused many to put religion in the backseat.
The influential German philosopher Nietzsche urged, “Become who you are!” Selfishness and greed led to violent labor disputes—2,093 strikes and lockouts in the United States during just the first six months of 1916! Cutthroat business practices were common. Many imitated the merchant described in a 1905 novel: “He’s the biggest dog, and it’s dog eat dog in our business.” Truly, the love of neighbor began to cool off all over.
In search of education, fame, adventure, entertainment, more personal freedom—but especially money—masses flocked to the cities. In 1815 less than 2 percent of all Europeans lived in cities with populations of over 100,000; by 1910 the figure was 15 percent—over seven times as many, while the population merely doubled. In the United States the number of people living in cities of 8,000 persons or more leaped from 131,000 in 1790 to over 18 million in 1890—from 3 percent to 29 percent of the total population!
Cities throughout the industrial world grew with breathtaking speed. “Urbanization has, in fact, gone ahead much faster and reached proportions far greater during the last century and a half than at any previous time in world history,” wrote Kingsley Davis, an authority on urban growth.—Italics ours.
Most of those who came from the farms to the city were young and single. In the obscurity of the city, where there was a very liberal spirit, they were no longer restrained by the social relationships of the village. “It would be hard to find a young man or a young woman, over seventeen, who is chaste,” wrote a perceptive observer concerning the laboring class in one city. This man, who lived at the dawn of the 20th century, added: “Sexual intercourse, largely the product of these dance-halls, has assumed enormous proportions among the youth of to-day. It is regarded quite simply as natural and customary.”
Yes, many showed contempt for God’s moral laws. The Bible commands: “Abstain from fornication; . . . the man that shows disregard is disregarding, not man, but God.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3, 8) However, some young men in Europe, to prove their manhood, boasted about sleeping with prostitutes—even taking pride if catching a venereal disease from them! According to a study of one European country published in 1914, about one of every five men there had syphilis.
“The cities must be hot-beds of immorality,” wrote historian Adna Weber in 1899. He showed that illegitimacy rates in cities in much of Europe were, on the average, twice as great as in the rurals. In England during that time cities had twice, or even four times, the amount of crime that rural communities had.
But not only did the Industrial Revolution and the growing cities pave the way for our 20th-century increase of lawlessness; another occurrence—also unique to our day—was to have a dramatic effect.
The Great War
Erupting in 1914, this war was called “the bloodiest and costliest conflict in the history of mankind” up until that time. The major participants in this monstrous act of lawlessness were “Christian” nations! Referring to the war’s atrocities, a letter in a 1914 newspaper ironically protested: “Nations should fight like Christians, or, at least, like gentlemen.”
Because of that war, force and violence came to be viewed as acceptable. “When the rules of civilized society are suspended, when killing becomes a business and a sign of valor and heroism,” wrote clergyman Charles Parsons in 1917, “then it seems almost useless to talk about crime in the ordinary sense.” No wonder that researchers D. Archer and R. Gartner found that most of the nations they analyzed that were involved in World War I had “substantial postwar increases” in the rate of murders—Italy had a 52-percent increase and Germany a 98-percent increase over that before the war! But war led to a different type of lawlessness.
Jehovah God, who ‘hates a divorcing,’ considers the unscriptural putting away of a mate and remarriage a serious sin. (Malachi 2:16) In the wake of World War I there was an unprecedented upsurge in divorces. For instance, in England and Wales during the 50 years before 1911, the number of divorces averaged 516 each year. In 1919, the first postwar year, there were 5,184—over 10 times the average for the previous 50-year period!
The war mobilized 65,000,000 men, separating many from their family for years. “The abnormal strains and enforced separations of the 1914-18 War,” according to historians G. Rowntree and N. H. Carrier, not only increased the divorce rate but also insidiously “modified public disapproval. . . . The more liberal attitude established in the aftermath of war, appears to have been extended.” This broad-minded attitude began then and has extended till today!
So with the rapid migration in “Christian” nations to industrialized cities, coupled with the violent lessons taught by World War I, the setting was ripe for an increasing of lawlessness on a magnitude never before beheld. What have been the results since 1914? Has the love of the greater number of professed Christians truly grown cold?
Current Surge of Lawlessness
Back in 1945 many persons in the United States were surprised that the total crimes reported to police rose to 1,566,000. But 35 years later the total reached 13,295,000—and is still rising! This is a 750-percent increase, while the population grew about 60 percent! Rape increased over 600 percent! Violent crimes in general, nearly 900 percent! Imagine, in 1981 one out of every three households was touched by some form of crime! And this trend is not just in the United States. “The one thing that hits you in the eye when you look at crime on the world scale,” wrote a leading criminologist, Sir Leon Radzinowicz, in his book The Growth of Crime, “is a pervasive and persistent increase everywhere. Such exceptions as there are stand out in splendid isolation, and may soon be swamped in the rising tide.”
Are all these increases simply the better reporting of crimes to the police? For an answer, a team headed by Dr. Herbert Jacob of the Center for Urban Affairs Policy Research at Northwestern University analyzed the crime statistics, police expenditures and methods, arrest rates, and much other information from 396 cities in the United States during the period between 1948 and 1978. In an interview with a representative of this magazine, Dr. Jacob stated: “Reported crime rates have surged everywhere in the U.S. Part of this is undoubtedly a consequence of better police and civilian reporting of crimes. But this does not account for all the increase.”
“What is surprising,” continued Dr. Jacob, “is that in every kind of city—in the north or south, declining or increasing in growth, with a large minority population or a small one—the crime rose at approximately the same rate. It was a nationwide trend.” Can the police stop this ominous trend? “The police force has been generally ineffective because of several social forces beyond their control,” answered Dr. Jacob.
Of course, crime is not the only indicator of an increasing of lawlessness. Just look at the general disregard for God’s laws. The illegitimacy rate of the United States of 7.1 for every 1,000 single women in 1940 pales alongside the 27.8 figure in 1979. The 83,000 divorces in 1910 have zoomed to 1,182,000 in 1980, a 1,300-percent increase! Now, instead of one divorce for every 11 marriages during a year, as in 1910, the United States has one for every 2 marriages! Similar trends are reported earth wide.
Consider also the shocking atrocities committed in our 20th century. When in all human history was there anything to compare with the carefully planned execution of 6 million Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II? or the total death toll from that war—55,000,000? More recently, consider the 1979 reports of a possible slaughter of over 2 million Cambodians. What other generation ever developed and used a weapon that in a single blast eventually killed perhaps as many as 140,000 persons, such as the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan?
Space does not allow us to give further details of contempt for God’s laws, but what has been presented clearly shows that since 1914 there is an increasing of lawlessness on a magnitude unlike any period in history! Yes, among the greater number of professed followers of Jesus, the love for God and neighbor has cooled off, just as Jesus predicted.
Do not, however, let such growing lawlessness affect your heart. Keep your love for God and his laws warm, and it may be your joy to be saved into the promised “new earth,” where never again will there be a plague of lawlessness.—2 Peter 3:13; Matthew 24:12, 13.
[Graph on page 6]
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total number of reported serious crimes in the United States increased over 1,000 percent from 1935 to 1980, while the population increased only about 78 percent during that same period!
Source: FBI Uniform Crime Reports of the total number of murders, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts reported to police. Because of incomplete reports the 1935 and 1950 figures have been adjusted to represent total population
[Pictures on page 5]
WORLD WAR I
These developments, unique to our modern age, have contributed to the greatest increase of lawlessness in all history