4.0 Civilization

Of all of the things civilized man has built I am the most impressed with our roads. They are used by everyone—for good and for ill. Roads connect all of us with nearly everyone in America. We take them for granted. Few of the people who use our roads work as hard as the people who built them, or are as smart as those who designed them. Our engineers and contractors design and construct bridges over rivers and gorges that were travel barriers for thousands of years. What would the road builders of old think of our equipment and materials? Remnants of old Roman roads still exist. Even some of their bridges still survive. Many of our roads and bridges will long outlast anyone living today. Roads seem like a good analogy for our civilization as a whole. Both exist for the good of all and benefit all, the good and the evil, the civilized and the barbarian. We build roads that can be used for good and for evil for the same reason that good and evil exist in the world. 

One of civilization’s many ironies is that as people get packed in closer together in our cities, the pinnacles of civilization, they tend to get less civilized. A civilized man or woman, I think most would agree, is polite, trustworthy, honest, hardworking, faithful to his spouse, friendly, and kind to dogs, children and the elderly. When I walk across the campus of Texas A&M University, most of the young men I encounter look right at me and say, “Howdy”. When I walk across town in a typical big city, no one says anything to me except for the panhandlers, and no one makes eye contact. When we are in big cities, my wife constantly reminds me to not make eye contact with anyone, and to ignore anyone who talks to me. This advice sounds very similar to how I am told to behave if I encounter a bear on a hike. The only difference I can see between city barbarians and bears is that to get away from the city barbarian I would surrender my wallet, and to get away from the bear, I would surrender my lunch. Civilized people and barbarians both exist within a civilization. 

The words civilization and civilized come from the same word, but in typical usage they are used to represent two different things. Western, Roman, Greek, Aztec, and Mayan Civilizations are all civilizations, but we would not normally say that all of them were made up of civilized people. Even people who regard all civilizations as equal on some intellectual level, acknowledge that those civilizations whose people practiced human sacrifice are not as civilized as those who did not. Most people would agree that those civilizations who sacrificed humans were populated by barbarians, not civilized people. However, I suppose the argument can be made that what constitutes civilized behavior can only be defined from within a civilization. The problem, of course, is that the virgin being selected for sacrifice may not see her sacrifice as civilized. Which means that there is a higher standard at play than just the opinion of those who define the norms of a civilization. This cuts the other way too. I know that abortion is murder and that it is condoned in my civilization. I still think I live in a civilized civilization. Like all things touched by man, civilization is imperfect. One of our civilization’s current flaws is that it cannot tell the difference between tolerance for people who are different, and acceptance of barbarism. 

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always.” ― Mahatma Gandhi 

Gandhi did not discover some random coincidence. Our world has had a never ending supply of evil people who never win because this world and all of its circumstances are designed so that they can never win. Another way of thinking about this is to recall what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Even though our world is constantly racked with problems and evil, civilization continues to advance and get better and better for more and more people. Some might conclude that this is so in spite of the bad stuff that happens, but actually the world requires the bad stuff in order to improve. Like each of us, civilization is designed to require work and struggle to improve. 

Everyone knows that someone constructed our roads, but many people think Western Civilization just evolved randomly. Both were created by someone for specific purposes. I have no idea if Gandhi realized why tyrants and murderers always fall, but that is the way man and civilizations were designed by God. Jesus Christ started what we call Western Civilization 2100 years ago. Since that time it has improved the lot of humankind so dramatically that we can hardly imagine what the world was like before it. No matter the odds, no matter how hopeless it seems, Christian civilization continues to advance. There is no other. 

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