Is the World Getting Better or Worse?

By John Janaro

These are some thoughts and impressions that I have on the strangeness of the simultaneous presence of good and evil in the world, the strange interweaving of good and evil that constitutes the society in which we live and which, in varying ways, affects each one of us.

People often wonder whether the world is getting better or whether it is getting worse.

I wonder, is the world getting worse and better, at the same time? In Jesus's parable, the wheat and the weeds grow together until the harvest. As our power over the natural world and our awareness of our dignity as persons grows, so grows the range of our capacity for good or for evil. I am speaking of course of its social manifestation on a wide scale; not about the goodness or evil of this or that individual human being. An example from my own experience might help illustrate what I mean.

We had a premature baby who spent seven months in the neonatal intensive care unit of a large urban hospital. Our baby's life was saved and preserved by the application of human knowledge and resources and the dedication of highly trained and deeply concerned people, who were doing the same thing for hundreds of babies who had greater issues and whose lives were even more precarious than ours. The cost was immense, but beyond insurance there was a special government provision for child health care that paid every penny.

I saw at work here a marvelous human goodness that was undeniable and a human capacity unimaginable in any previous era of history. But in another part of that very same large urban hospital, abortions were performed, every single day. The same government that pays millions of dollars to insure that rich and poor babies alike can receive this amazing level of care also approves and permits babies of the same age and condition to be killed. Great good and great evil, growing side by side.

Ultimately only God can measure the depths of the human condition, and the merit or the guilt of human hearts. This indeed He has already done, once for all time, on the Cross. But looking at "the world" in the only way we can, I think we shall see what we have always seen in human history: ambivalence. And the dramatic increase of human power in our times means an increase in the capacity to do wonderfully good things and in the capacity to perpetrate atrocities. The wheat and the weeds grow together.