Podcast: Is the World Getting Worse?

We hear them all the time, statements about the world “going to hell in a hand basket,” sighs and longings for “the good old days,” warnings of rampant moral decay and declarations to all who want to follow God that they are living in “enemy territory.” For those prone to depression and anxiety, such framings of the world and today’s moral and spiritual state exacerbate their struggles. For children, these notions feed fears and cause some to wonder if this world is really worth engaging. There are also dozens of other subtle ways that these kinds of assessments can act against our emotional, spiritual, and physical health and well-being. The most tragic aspect of these sorts of pessimistic framings is that according to studies from many fields, the data does not prove this tale of hopeless, inevitable continual decay to be justified. Violence is down, freedom is up, and scores of other social health and happiness indexes largely show things trending in positive directions. If this is true, how, then, should we think about the apocalypticism that affects so much discussion in both the world and in Mormonism? In this episode, Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon and panelists—LDS therapists Natasha Helfer Parker and Marybeth Raynes, and philosopher and intellectual historian James McLachlan—discuss these messages and their persistence, the strength of the evidence for their accuracy, and their effects on people in general and those prone to depression and anxiety in particular. As all the panelists recognize, it is important to strike a healthy balance between optimism and pessimism, and there is a strong need for everyone to be alert to dangers and take reasonable steps for their protection. But for those who haven’t found this balance (or for those who love someone like this), they offer suggestions for how people might learn to concentrate on different, more positive messages. They also discuss possible ways we might talk with and offer fresh framings about the world situation to our children and loved ones who are overly wrought with doomsday fears.

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