he warns of the dies irae and prays for therngrace of understanding.rnBut to return to territory more famiUarrnto the sociologist and the historian,rnnamely, the course of worldly events:rnWith hardly an exception. ProfessorrnSorokin’s detailed predictions of the directionrnour society would take in the remainderrnof the century have turned outrnto be almost completely accurate. Thernaccuracy with which he made short-termrnpredictions of things that have now actuallyrntaken place far outstrips that of mostrnother prognosticators, many of whomrnfind their prophecies disproved only arnfew years after they were made.rnWhat most attempts to predict the fiiturernhave in common—besides their inaccuracyrn—is a pronounced pessimism.rnExamples abound. Aldous Huxley {BravernNew “World) and George Orwell (NineteenrnEighty-Four) predict a terribly bleakrnand dismal future for mankind. PaulrnEhrlich, with The Population Bomb, andrnthe “Club of Rome,” with The Limits ofrnGrowth, predict an increasingly crowdedrnworld with growing poverty, loss of freedom,rnand hopelessness. DemographerrnPierre Chaunu predicts exactly the oppositernof Paul Ehrlich, namely, that thernworld’s population will go into declinernand that the entire human race will diernout sometime around the year 2500—arndifferent line of reasoning, but the samernsense of inevitable disaster. As Austrianrnsociologist Hans Millendorfer observes,rnwhat all of the futurologists think is needed,rnand what we do not have, is a differentrnkind of man from the kind of humansrnthat we seem to be.rnThese bleak and hopeless visions arernalso spread by some of the great philosophersrnof history, such as Arnold Toynbeern(A Study of History) and, the most famousrnof all (although not many have actuallyrnread his complex and difficultrnwork), Oswald Spengler (The Decline ofrnthe West). Spengler, and to some extentrnToynbee, looked on societies as living organismsrnand believed that each societyrnpasses through stages from birth throughrngrowth, youth, maturity, old age, decrepitude,rnand ultimately death. Both of thesernwriters, like many others, see our own society,rnespecially Western Christendom,rnin a late stage, either totally decrepit orrnnearly so. Consequently, they issuerngloomy prognostications or at best presentrnUtopian visions of what the futurerncould be if only . . . if only we were notrnthe kind of human beings that we are.rnEven scholars (and dabblers) in biblicalrnprophecy usually focus on visions ofrnthe “Great Tribulation” that is to precedernthe “End of the Age” rather than onrnthe attractive features of the Kingdom ofrnGod where the lion is to lie down withrnthe lamb. Pessimism has become thernrule whenever people speculate aboutrnthe future today, whether they do so onrnthe basis of secular data or biblical interpretation.rnFrom science fiction writersrnto excited Christian interpreters of thernApocalypse of St. John, the general attituderncan be summed up by those wordsrnof Louis XV, “Apres moi, le deluge.”rnYet at the close of this 20th century,rnmany nations and peoples ought to havernmuch to make them happy. Those inrnthe West are awash in material benefits.rnThere seems to be hardly any danger of arnmajor war. Entertainment is availablernvirtually everywhere at the touch of a TVrnremote or VCR button. Never have sornmany young people (and, increasingly,rnthe middle-aged and older as well) enjoyedrnthe “advantages” of higher education.rnRestraints on personal behavior,rneven in public, have all but vanished inrnmany places. Yet none of this seems tornmake people either happy or confident.rnThe age of the greatest human “liberation,”rnof anti-authoritarian educationrnand complete sexual freedom, is notrncharacterized by optimism and hope forrnthe future, but by a sense that the conditionsrnof life will probably continue to deteriorate.rnThis dramatic loss of confidence, ofrnhope for the future, is typical of the kindrnof culture that prevails across most of thernworld today. With respect to what oughtrnto be humanity’s “fine arts,” Sorokinrnwrote in 1941, “Contemporary art is primarilyrna museum of social and culturalrnpathology . . . operating mainly on thernlevel of the social sewers. If we are forcedrnto accept it as a faithful representation ofrnhuman society, then man and his culturernmust certainly forfeit our respectrnand admiration.” In art, in sports, inrnbuilding, in merchandising, we are in anrnera of colossalism. Big is good, bigger isrnbetter. Religion and education are in therngrip of what Sorokin calls “chaotic syncretism.”rnWe have a crisis in law, a crisisrnin systems of truth. His work precededrnthe rise of what is called “postmodernism,”rnbut that movement correspondsrnexactly to his predictions.rnFor our contemporary society, there isrna danger that, after all these bleakrnprophecies have been fulfilled, there isrnworse to come. People who are convincedrnthat their prospects are hopelessrnand that their best efforts will ultimatelyrnprove to be in vain will not be inclined tornmake much of an effort to forestall suchrna future.rnIn order to break out of the pessimisticrnmold that our problems are beyond us, itrnis necessary to step back behind the currentrnphase of our own particular culture,rnto understand it, and to see where it is situatedrnon the great canvas of human history.rnWe should be delighted to encounterrnsomeone who, having livedrnthrough two world wars and a bloody revolutionrnin this bloodiest of all centuries,rntells us that a fiery dies irae is not predestined.rnSorokin is fully aware of the dangerrnof a culture-wide catastrophe—arncatastrophe that was incipient when hernwrote and which has now almost overtakenrnus—but he nevertheless challengesrnus to hope. This does not have tornbe our fate.rnDramatic improvements may even bernprobable, provided we understand thernpresent situation well enough not to wasternour energy in minor improvements andrntemporary expedients, and are given therndiscernment to see and to follow thernright road out of the impasse of our laternsecond millennium culture. In order tornavoid catastrophe and to frilfill whatrnSorokin calls “man’s unique creativernmission on this planet,” a real understandingrnof the crisis is necessary, and tornthat he helps us. But more is required: arnmeasure of grace, and grace is not somethingrnthat we can manipulate or generaternon our own; it must come from God.rnNo one man’s work, nor the work ofrnany group or even of whole societies, isrnsufficient in itself to solve our systemwiderncrisis of the greatest magnitude.rnBut Sorokin has helped us to see whatrnthe crisis really is and not be paralyzed byrnthe awful vision, but inspired to searchrnfor ways to resolve it. We do not see itrnyet, but if Sorokin’s hope is even partly asrnreliable as his analysis and prognosis,rnthere is reason to take heart. Let me conclude,rnas he does, Benedictus qui venit inrnnomine DominilrnHarold O./. Brown is religion editor forrnChronicles and a professor of theologyrnand philosophy at Reformed TheologicalrnSeminary in Charlotte, North Carolina.rnThis article is adapted from a lecture deliveredrnat an international symposium onrnPitirim Sorokin held in Moscow and St.rnPetersburg in February.rn50/CHRONICLESrnrnrn