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Sorting Through Competing Calamities

Hurricanes, famine, earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanoes: Every time we pick up the newspaper or turn on the television or radio, it seems there is yet another calamity somewhere in the world.

The presence of Hurricane Ivan is a perfect example. Even before Ivan hit the Gulf Coast, the Red Cross and other relief agencies were pleading for additional funds as all they had on hand had already been expended.

And yet another hurricane has formed in the Atlantic Ocean and appears to be headed in the same direction of the three previous ones.

In recent weeks, the AIDS crisis in Africa and the plight of the refugees in the Sudan have been brought to the attention of the world. And organizations seeking to help destitute children all over the world carry 24-hour programming soliciting funds.

Without question, competing calamities around the world are beginning to take their toll. Religious and humanitarian organizations are finding it harder and harder to get sufficient funding and adequate volunteers.

Criticism of the media is commonplace. Showing bloated dead bodies, weeping families, emaciated babies with flies swarming around their nostrils and mouths and mass graves of genocidal victims are condemned as excessive coverage or invasion of privacy.

Talk about reality television. This is it!

To the contrary, we are demanding diversions. We want only good news.

Since we “can’t do anything about it,” we withdraw to make sure our own are cared for.

Well, if you think these examples are exaggerated, better look again. For it is only one of several indications of what futurists warned more than a decade ago was an emerging deprivation era.

The Southern Baptist Sunday School Board in Nashville, Tenn., had retained a firm which specializes in trends and issues to advise its leadership on what must not be overlooked by the publications giant as it approached the 21st century.

In addition to competing calamities, the futurists cited nine other factors contributing to this emerging age of deprivation. Heading the list is the end of the Employee Era.

From the middle of World War II through the mid-1980s, Americans were trained to believe that everyone could get a job, enjoy health benefits and plan on retirement with a regular income. No more.

An increasing polarization of income was forecast. That, too, has come to pass. Some people are doing okay but most are slipping backward. This trend feeds into class structures and threatens democracy.

An apparent “loss of time” adds to the dilemma of deprivation, the futurists claimed. There is an overload of information and we simply do not have time to process it all. For most people, gone is the day when one could read something and have time to think about it. Everything now demands instant decisions. We no longer have time to smell the flowers.

Additionally, there has developed in recent years a victim mentality, which the futurists called the dependency ethic. The trend is to retreat into pity and blame-fixing.

In fact, so pervasive is the victim mentality that self-help solutions are experiencing phenomenal growth in every medium including books, magazines, radio talk shows and television programs. The more notable and successful centers for treating dependency are those which espouse a “get going on your own” philosophy.

Yet another trend adding to this age of deprivation is the increasing number of parentless children in the world. Being deprived of the love and compassion of parents, or a parent, is a major form of deprivation with lingering and devastating consequences.

The loss of a sense of safety and security was another factor predicted by the futurists a decade ago. The deregulation phenomenon of the late 1980s created a feeling of not being protected. Obviously, this prediction was fulfilled with 9/11.

The futurists warned Baptists that the cost of health care was putting that protection out of reach for a significant number of Americans. This condition is no longer a forecast but present reality.

Finally, the futurists warned that the growth of taxes with a feeling of receiving little in return, along with the high level of indebtedness accumulated during the 1980s, would create a situation where more and more people would be forced to survive with less and less. One decade later, personal and corporate bankruptcies are at an all-time high.

Many reading this column—written before Ivan’s landfall—can now hear the roar of chain saws and clanging of hammers. And once again, we are called upon to help others, or be helped ourselves. And if history is an accurate indication, most of us will be willing to deprive ourselves of time, energy and money once again to aid the victims.

Unfortunately, a large and growing segment of our population are victims of more than natural calamities and equally deserving of assistance and attention.

Jack Brymer of Birmingham, Ala., recently retired from SamfordUniversity after a 30-year career as a Baptist journalist. This column appeared previously in the Anniston Star.