Everybody recognizes that our world is staggering beneath a load of troubles. We are not the first to feel this way, at many points in history people have thought that conditions could hardly get any worse. But somehow our sense of the woes of the world seems particularly acute.

In such a time, some men will rise up, like the Prophet Jeremiah, to condemn men and governments as renegades and apostates, and to threaten that unless there is a return to old and accepted values, a terrible catastrophe will overtake the world. At the same time, others will hold forth the hope—perhaps better called the dream—that the time of troubles will somehow give way to a wonderful, spiritual Golden Age.

The idea of a Golden Age has a long history. We meet it in Virgil. The well-known New England Christmas carol (composed by a Unitarian) “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” looks forward to a time when “through the ever-circling years/Comes round the Age of Gold.” People who have been strongly influenced by biblical teachings, which hold that history has a beginning (Creation) and a definite end (the Last Judgment), cannot so easily fall into the cyclic pattern with its hope for a returning Age of Gold. Yet when biblically influenced people cut their ties to Scripture as the final standard and merely use scriptural ideas as springboards for their own speculation, the Golden Age idea crops up again, though in a different form.

The idea that the wonderful spiritual age will come, not as a recurrence of an ancient Golden Age, but as the fulfillment of an ongoing process, seems to combine the biblical motif of irreversible history with man’s age-old dream of recovering a lost world of innocence, where there is no knowledge of good and evil, no sin, and ...

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