The Perils of Screen Addiction (and How to Beat It)

The Perils of Screen Addiction (and How to Beat It)

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Do you stare at a screen for a huge portion of your day? Descend into panic when you misplace your cell phone? Feel compelled to check your e-mail or IM incessantly?
From the October 2010 Trumpet Print Edition

When you pick up a book or pause with a deeper reflection, do you easily succumb to the glow of a screen, or the chirp of a newly arrived text?

If you do, then you are part of one of the most significant cultural phenomenons in human history: screen addiction.

This infatuation with the screen is precipitating a transformation—much like the one unfolding within our libraries.

The library used to be an asylum for thought. Nestled amid the bustle of the campus or city center, it was once a place of refuge, a cocoon of tranquility, a haven for reflection. Sprawled on the floor, concealed among the forest of shelves, a person could spend undistracted hours buried in a book, lost in thought. The library was a place where thinking citizens could go to escape the rat race, where time stood still and new worlds and intellectual frontiers opened, where nuggets of knowledge could be discovered, mined and then locked away like precious stones in the mental vault. For thinkers, the library was utopia.

Today the most popular service offered by most libraries is Internet access. Ninety-nine percent of public libraries in the U.S. provide computers that connect to the Internet; more than three quarters offer Wi-Fi networks so patrons using personal laptops can surf the Web. These days the “predominant sound in the modern library is the tapping of keys,” writes author Nicholas Carr, “not the turning of pages.”

Take the Bronx Library Center in New York. “On the library’s four main floors,” noted an article in the journal strategy+business, “the stacks of books have been placed at each end, leaving ample space in the middle for tables that have computers on them, many with broadband access to the Internet. The people using the computers are young and aren’t necessarily using them for academic purposes—here is one doing a Google search on Hannah Montana pictures, there is one updating his Facebook page, and over there a few children are playing video games …” (Spring 2009).

Instead of shushing patrons, librarians check out dvds and “organize gaming tournaments.” In Toronto, teens swing by the public library on Friday afternoons for online games and music. The Stanford University Library created an online identity in Second Life, the online “virtual world.” The modern library “is in the gaming business or the entertainment business or maybe the information connectivity business” (ibid.).

In libraries around the world, books are being pushed aside and screens erected.

Why should we care? Because screens are also refashioning our minds.

Like the public library, our minds are being overhauled by screens, and more specifically, the perpetually connected, superficial world they open to us. Mentally, moments of peace and solitude are few and far between. Our minds are devoid of quiet nooks. There’s nowhere to flee that is free of noise and distraction.

In many cases, this screen-induced overhaul of the mind is changing the way our brains work, the way we absorb and digest information, the quality of our thinking—and ultimately, the nature of our lives.

Screen Addiction

In January, the Kaiser Family Foundation published the results of a study that found that 8-to-18-year-olds log an average of 7½ hours a day with media, including television, computers, cell phones and music players. When you take into account that they spend much of this time media multitasking, the total daily exposure to electronic media rises to an almost unbelievable 10 hours per day.

In 2000 there were roughly 500 million cell phones in the world. Ten years later that number is nearing 5 billion. And these phones aren’t merely devices for talking with friends; they take pictures, send e-mail, play movies and surf the Web.

They send texts too. Eighty percent of all 15-to-18-year-olds own a cell phone and their texting has skyrocketed 600 percent over the past three years. The average teen sends 3,000 text messages a month; 42 percent of teens say they can text blindfolded.

Not shocked? Then consider how much less time these youths are spending in more productive and important activities. While the average teen is exposed to more than 70 hours of electronic media per week, he spends less than 16 hours with parents, less than 10.5 hours in physical activity and just over five hours doing homework, per week.

But it’s not only the young who are addicted to their screens. At work, many of us stare at computer screens all day every day. Everyone carries a cell phone, or two. We instant message and e-mail. We chat and text. At home, screens in every room emit an enticing glow. The average American home has 2.9 televisions. Nearly all of us have at least one computer, most of which are connected to the Internet. We go online for nearly everything: to shop, pay bills, find work, check the weather, watch videos, play games, download music, join clubs, read, skim, vent, connect.

Then there’s the ubiquity of other gadgets—the iPhones, iPods, iPads, dvd players, gps units, portable video games, laptops. Next time you’re driving, set down your cell phone and absorb your surroundings: the vehicles with built-in dvd players; the driver checking sports scores on his iPod; the people engrossed in phone calls or shooting off text messages while driving.

Americans send more than a billion text messages each day. Last year, the average American cell phone user was sending or receiving nearly 400 texts per month. Facebook has more than 500 million active users, 50 percent of whom log on every day. Nearly 10 percent of Facebook users update their profile every day.

Mentally, gadgets plus perpetual connectivity equal information overload. According to research performed at the University of California–San Diego, the average person today consumes nearly three times as much information as the average person in 1960. “At one time a screen meant maybe something in your living room,” says New York Times technology journalist Matt Richtel. “But now it’s something in your pocket, so it goes everywhere—it can be behind the wheel, it can be at the dinner table, it can be in the bathroom. We see it everywhere today” (npr, August 24).

We sure do—and people are beginning to wonder if this screen addiction is not altering our minds and behavior in elemental ways. “A lot of people seem here but not here,” observed Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan. “They’re pecking away on a piece of plastic; they’ve withdrawn from the immediate reality around them and set up temporary camp in a reality that exists in their heads” (August 20).

Rewiring Our Brains

In his book The Shallows, Nicholas Carr explores the impact that our perpetual connection, specifically to the Internet, is having on the way we think. Dozens of studies point to the same conclusion, he writes: “When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning” (emphasis mine throughout).

We’ve grown quite adept at scanning and skimming, Carr says, but “what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation and reflection.”

Our children especially are being affected. In 2008, research firm nGenera conducted a study into the effects of the Internet on the brains of “Generation Net,” the generation that has grown up latched to the teat of the Internet. “Digital immersion,” concluded the lead researcher, “has even affected the way they absorb information. They don’t necessarily read a page from left to right and from top to bottom. They might instead skip around, scanning for pertinent information of interest.”

According to Carr, screen addiction is rewiring our brains.

Baroness Susan Greenfield, an Oxford University neuroscientist, agrees. Referring to the popularity of Twitter, Facebook, texting, video games, and to technology addiction in general, Greenfield told the Daily Mail, “My fear is that these technologies are infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment” (Feb. 24, 2009).

Deep down, it appears many of us know and fear the effect screen addiction is having on our minds. In a nationwide New York Times/cbs poll in May, nearly 30 percent of those surveyed under 45 admitted they felt like their use of gadgets was making it harder for them to focus. By becoming addicted to the screen, Carr observes, we have “rejected the intellectual tradition of solidarity, single-minded concentration”—a state of mind often induced by reading a book, for example—and “cast our lot with the juggler” (op. cit.).

Increasingly, our minds are like the cursors on our computer screens. They dart here and there, up and down, rarely settling, constantly moving, clicking and dragging. Like the modern library, the modern mind is devoid of nooks, places to go for prolonged, single-focused, undistracted thought. Screen addicts are finding they lack the mental capacity for sustained concentration on a single task, be it at work, on a homework assignment or in productive conversation with friends and family.

The nature of our lives is being fundamentally altered. Our captivation with gadgets is making life more “frantic and rushed,” writes William Powers in Hamlet’s Blackberry. This is causing us to lose “something of great value, a way of thinking and moving through time that can be summed up in a single word: depth.”

Not only are we losing depth of thought and feeling, we’re losing “depth in our relationships, our work and everything we do,” writes Powers. And “since depth is what makes life fulfilling and meaningful, it’s astounding that we’re allowing this to happen.”

Screen addiction is refashioning the way we think—and we’re allowing it!

What is the way out of this maze? How can we reclaim control over our mental processes and salvage our capacity for depth? If you want answers, you are not alone. More and more discontented screen addicts are seeking them too.

Consider Your Ways

When was the last time you took stock of your connection to the screens in your life? When was the last time you evaluated your capacity for deep thinking? To beat screen addiction and reclaim your mind it is important to, as the Prophet Haggai put it, “consider your ways” (Haggai 1:7).

Count the number of screens in your life. Calculate how much time you spend with each. Then consider how that time is spent: What percentage is for important, engaging activities—perhaps reading serious news or researching for a term paper—versus being wasted on mindless or thought-destroying surfing?

How many texts do you send and receive per day? How many of those texts make a valuable contribution to your life? How much television do you watch? How many times do you check your e-mail? How many times do you need to check your e-mail? Do you visit a website 10 times a day when once or twice is enough?

Now, consider how much time you spend in activities that deepen the mind, that lend themselves to focused, undistracted thought. How much time do you spend reading each week? How much time in meditation? How much in conversing with your family?

Next, think about your ability to think. Would you call yourself a deep thinker?

In his bestselling book The Art of Thinking, Ernest Dimnet says that the thinking mind is like the eye: “It must be single.” Great thinkers—or as Dimnet calls them, “people possessed of a mastering purpose leaving no room for inferior occupations”—stand apart for the “directness of their intellectual vision.”

How direct is your intellectual vision? When an original or creative thought comes to mind, are you able—do you in fact have an urge—to mull it over, to flesh it out, to tie it down, to lock it away in your mental vault? Do you love being alone in thought? Is your environment conducive to in-depth thought?

The mind of the weak thinker, Dimnet writes, has a “fatal capacity for letting in extraneous thoughts or mental parasites.” Used unwisely, gadgets and the Internet can easily become conduits through which our minds are filled with mental parasites.

Evaluate your mind against Dimnet’s criteria for a thinker: “If we are bored by a topic above those which give food to our small dislikes or even smaller likes, we do not think. If, the moment a book or newspaper raises a question demanding some supplementary information or reflection, we yawn, fidget or hurriedly do something else, we abhor thinking. If, when trying to reflect, we at once feel weariness, drowsiness or a tendency to repeat mere words, we do not know what thought is. If we do know what it is, but as Montaigne says, are too lazy to tackle a problem with more than a ‘charge or two,’ we are feeble thinkers.”

Stop! If you bounced through that paragraph without pausing to reflect on each point, you might be a weak thinker.

Perhaps you’re more addicted to the screen than you thought. Or maybe you lack the mental prowess you desire. What can you do? Everyone’s circumstances and minds are different. What follows are some principles that may stimulate your own thinking on how to balance your use of gadgets with becoming a better thinker.

Create Solitude

A study recently conducted at the University of Maryland asked 200 students to refrain from using electronic media for a day. After the exercise, one student commented: “Texting and im-ing my friends gives me a constant feeling of comfort. When I did not have those two luxuries, I felt quite alone and secluded from my life. For this student, not being able to communicate “via technology was almost unbearable.”

Screen addiction had groomed him to fear solitude. His mind had been conditioned to find comfort and solace in friends. His existence was defined by his place in the crowd.

This is what screen addiction does: It causes people to fear being alone with their own thoughts!

Living in the crowd is not conducive to deep thinking. “The art of thinking,” writes Dimnet, “is the art of being one’s self and this art can only be learned if one is by one’s self.” Just as the reader loves quiet nooks in the library, the thinker cherishes quiet nooks in life. He creates solitude.

This is not easy. If we carry a cell phone or iPod, we are not alone. If we’re logged into Facebook or Googling, we are not alone. If we’re sitting in a silent room pecking away at the computer but have e-mail or instant messenger open, we are not alone. Chances are, if we have a screen and it is switched on, we are not alone.

Creating the solitude needed for thinking requires flicking the off switch on every screen in our lives!

Try it.

Consider also: Whether you’re using a gadget or creating space for serious thought, budget your time. Put a limit on your recreational Internet use. When you’re on the computer, set the timer so you don’t lose track of time. Limit the number of texts you (or your teenager) send each day. Force yourself to only check your e-mail once an hour, or once a night. Turn the television off after the specified maximum time each day or week. Carve out blocks during the evening when all cell phones, or all gadgets, are off.

In Hamlet’s Blackberry, Powers explains the value of what he terms the “Internet sabbath.” A few years ago he and his wife began turning off the modem on Friday night and not switching it on until Monday morning. For the entire weekend, the family was disconnected from the Internet and the digital crowd. It wasn’t easy at first. But as time passed, the impact of the Internet sabbath was noticeable and welcomed.

On the weekends, Powers writes, the house became a “kind of island away from the madness.” Instead of each family member retiring to a room with a gadget, they gathered for board games and conversation. Naturally, the family grew closer. During the day they spent more time outdoors and grew to love nature. They got to know their neighbors.

Consider instituting a rest day from the Internet, or even all gadgets in your household. If switching off gadgets for an entire day isn’t practical, then carve out time—perhaps during dinner and for an hour afterward—when all screens must be off.

Here’s something else to consider: Create within your home nooks of solitude—areas where family members can go to be free of noise, distractions and screens. Teach the family to respect these as places where the stressed can unwind and read a book or poem, or simply reflect and contemplate.

Realize, though, that you can be isolated in a silent environment and still be plagued by thought-destroying noise and bustle within. The mind that is overloaded, filled with commotion and unorganized, unfiled information, is incapable of in-depth, concentrated thought.

To think and reflect, we also need interior solitude.

This means switching off any extraneous programs running in our minds. It means removing mental distractions, obstacles that will divert us from focused concentration. If you’re distracted because you haven’t paid a bill, go online and pay it. Forget about the tv show you might be missing. When you sit down to read a book, switch the computer off so it won’t entice you with its alluring glow. Switch off your cell phone too. Do whatever it takes to purge the distractions from your mind.

“To lead happy, productive lives in a connected world,” writes Powers, “we need to master the art of disconnecting.”

Feed Your Mind

Okay, the screens have been switched off, the children are asleep and your mind is clear and alert. You’ve managed to create conditions conducive to thinking deeply and singularly. Now what? What should you think about?

In Philippians 4:8, the Apostle Paul provides valuable instruction on this point. “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

That’s awesome advice. Be determined and be active in feeding your mind a healthy diet of information and knowledge that is true, honest, just and pure. Develop a reading list of quality books that will uplift and inspire and educate your mind. As you read, stop and meditate on what you’re consuming.

Start keeping a journal. Make time to write in it regularly. Record your goals and aspirations, for you personally, but also for your family. Take notes on a conversation you had with a friend. Flesh out a creative or original thought sparked earlier while you were reading or driving.

Take time to write a handwritten letter to a friend or distant relative.

All these activities will contribute to you developing the habit of thinking.

How much thinking should we strive to engage in? Ideally, the more the better. But strive for balance. Aim to devote at least the same amount of time (if not more) to serious, thought-provoking activities as you do to shallow, superficial activities like watching television, surfing the Internet or playing video games.

Remember: Thinking doesn’t mean only reading or writing, or sitting cross-legged in still silence on the living room floor. Abraham Lincoln took long walks on which he would meditate deeply. Nothing inspires original, creative thinking like an in-depth conversation with friends.

Embrace a hobby that lends itself to solitude and meditation, like gardening or painting. When you do these activities, strive for interior solitude. Turn the cell phone off. Have your own mental conversations. Sometimes background music is nice, but don’t be afraid to switch off the iPod or radio. Create your own mental music.

For those interested in pursuing some of the deepest, most profound thoughts available to man, study the Bible. No other knowledge on Earth will stretch and strengthen your mind like that found in this book. Why? Because the Bible is the mind of God in print.

It’s filled with what the Apostle Paul termed “the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).

In Romans 12, Paul wrote: “Be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind ….” Do you ever feel like your mind needs renewing? The more we study the Bible, the more we give God the opportunity to renew our minds, to wash our thoughts in His truth and His deep thinking.

For many, the Bible’s archaic language and seemingly illogical flow make it almost impossible to understand. (Scripture itself reveals that there is a profound reason for that.)

Let us help. We have a smorgasbord of literature explaining all of the deepest truths of the Bible. For those interested in understanding Bible prophecy better, there is our free book The United States and Britain in Prophecy. If you’d like to learn more about the Christian Sabbath, why it was created and how to keep it, request and study Which Day Is the Christian Sabbath?

We live at a time when traditional marriage and family is under assault. Now would be an ideal time to investigate what the Bible says about marriage and family. Just request The Missing Dimension in Sex, or Why Marriage! Soon Obsolete? If you want a more detailed understanding of the Bible, including all the major doctrines and prophecies, consider enrolling in the Herbert W. Armstrong College Bible Correspondence Course. This course has been designed to guide you through a systematic study of your Bible—the Bible is the only textbook. And best of all, it’s free!

Lastly, if our cultural infatuation and addiction to screens—and the fundamental impact this is having on our brains—really concerns you, you need to study our free book The Incredible Human Potential.

The more you study this book, the better you will see how screen addiction and its effect on our brains are actually damaging a masterpiece of God’s creation: the human mind!

This book explains the magnificent difference between the human brain and the animal brain. It reveals the human mind for exactly what it is: an instrument that has the potential to receive God’s greatest gift to mankind—to be joined with the very mind of God! The Incredible Human Potential will teach you how to take care of your mind, how to build and strengthen it, and, most importantly, how to add a spiritual dimension to your life that will truly expand your mind so you can embrace your full, incredible human potential!

America: One in Six Receives Government Assistance

America: One in Six Receives Government Assistance

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Analyzing federal and state data, USA Todayreported Monday that one in six Americans receives some form of government anti-poverty assistance. The number is a new national record, and is steadily rising.

The financial help includes such programs as Medicaid, which more than 50 million Americans now depend on, an increase of 17 percent since the recession began in December 2007.

The number receiving food stamps is equally foreboding: more than 40 million people, an increase of 50 percent since the economy began to collapse. The number receiving unemployment benefits has quadrupled since 2007 to almost 10 million, and the welfare roster now includes 4.4 million Americans, up 18 percent since the economic downturn began.

This surge in growth exerts great pressure on the federal and state programs, increasing their costs to unprecedented levels. Here’s more from USA Today’s Richard Wolf:

As caseloads for all the programs have soared, so have costs. The federal price tag for Medicaid has jumped 36 percent in two years, to $273 billion. Jobless benefits have soared from $43 billion to $160 billion. The food stamps program has risen 80 percent, to $70 billion. Welfare is up 24 percent, to $22 billion. Taken together, they cost more than Medicare.The steady climb in safety-net program caseloads and costs has come as a result of two factors: The recession has boosted the number who qualify under existing rules. And the White House, Congress and states have expanded eligibility and benefits.Conservatives fear expanded safety-net programs won’t contract after the economy recovers. “They’re much harder to unwind in the long term,” says Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

As the government released the figures about the spike in anti-poverty programs, demands for a second economic stimulus heated up. But a second attempt at spending the nation out of financial trouble won’t work any better than the first.

In his October 2007 article “The United Welfare States of America,” Trumpet columnist Robert Morley wrote this about the U.S.:

It has become a nation of big government and big taxes. Contrary to the principles set forth by America’s Founding Fathers—principles involving a small, efficient, service-oriented government; principles that helped make the American republic great—America has morphed into a social welfare behemoth. … Government has become so large and all-encompassing that it acts like a big mother hen still nurturing her 40-year-old children who refuse to leave the family nest. This big-mother approach promotes a culture of irresponsibility.

In the three years since that article was published, dependency on social programs has surged, and fostered the steady spread of the culture of irresponsibility. To understand the prophetic significance of America’s deteriorating economy, and where it will ultimately lead, read Herbert W. Armstrong’s masterful work The United States and Britain in Prophecy.

Sodom in Prophecy

Sodom in Prophecy

Trumpet

Same-sex “marriage” shows a society without restraint.
From the October 2010 Trumpet Print Edition

When Californians voted to ban same-sex “marriage” in 2008, some Republicans held up the referendum as proof that America was conservative to the core. But as we wrote at the time, California and two other states voting against homosexual “marriage” did not mean America was in the midst of a moral revival. That it was even on the ballot perfectly illustrated how steep our slide into deviant behavior has been over the past generation.

Proposition 8 passed by a narrow 52-to-48 percent margin. “But with obnoxious protests and numerous legal challenges now set to inundate courtrooms,” we asked at the time, “how long will marriage remain defined in California as between a man and woman?”

Answer: Less than two years. In August, federal judge Vaughn Walker overturned California’s ban on same-sex unions.

Defenders of same-sex “marriage” often argue that whether homosexuals marry or not has absolutely no impact on traditional families—that is, the rest of society. But they miss the point—as do most opponents of same-sex “marriage”: The homosexual cause has already impacted our society. A debate over homosexual “marriage” would only be possible in a society that has already cast off moral restraint.

Our slide into deviance has been steep, and it’s only getting worse. Ten years ago, 62 percent of Californians were against same-sex “marriage.” Two years ago, with the passage of Proposition 8, it was 52 percent. Where will we be 10 years from now?

And remember—whether homosexuality is or is not morally right is not up for debate. That matter has already been mostly settled, with a host of laws prohibiting anything that might be construed as discrimination against homosexuals.

Fact is, while “conservative” media pour scorn on Judge Walker for overturning California’s ban on same-sex unions—for being anti-democratic, anti-intellectual, anti-law, anti-tradition—they are often quick to defend the rights of homosexuals in general. The horse has long bolted.

When society turns into Sodom and Gomorrah, ultimately, it does impact everyone. A biblical example is instructive in this area.

The word sodomy is derived from a Latin phrase meaning the “sin of Sodom,” vividly discussed in the biblical book of Genesis. Ancient Sodom, like its neighboring city Gomorrah, was well known for homosexuality. Jude 7 says that besides going after “strange flesh,” the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were “giving themselves over to fornication.” Ezekiel tells us that Sodom was a prosperous area, with an abundance of idleness. But it was also full of pride and abominations (Ezekiel 16:49-50).

In the Genesis 19 account, the men of Sodom wanted to sodomize two visitors, actually angels, who had come to see if the city should be spared God’s wrath. While these angels remained inside Lot’s home, an angry mob outside cried out for the new flesh. The angels gave Lot and his family clear, precise instructions: “Have you any one else here? Sons-in-law, sons, daughters, or any one you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it” (verses 12-13, Revised Standard Version).

Lot relayed this sobering message to the two young men who were to marry his daughters. These were decent men—heterosexuals who had not taken advantage of Lot’s daughters. They had probably even decried the evils and perversions of society with their future father-in-law. Yet without realizing it, much of that evil had rubbed off on them! They had unknowingly grown accustomed to living there—and actually enjoyed much of it.

How strong society’s pull must have been for these two men, at this most critical hour, to mock God’s warning.

Their ridicule even caused doubt to sprout in Lot’s mind. The next morning, even after the constant prodding from the two angels, Lot lingered, delaying his departure so long that the angels seized him and his wife and two daughters by the hands and forcibly led them out of the sinful city! The angels then shouted, Run for your lives! Don’t even stop to look back, lest you be consumed as well!

“Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; And he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground” (verses 24-25, rsv).

This is the road we are on. This is why, even as conservative commentators assure Americans that a moral revival is right around the corner, we tell you the truth.

The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah compares our peoples to those of Sodom and Gomorrah, describing us as being “sick” from head to toe. He prophesied of our eventual ruin and desolation as a result of our universal sin and rebellion against God’s laws. The Apostle Peter gave us grave warnings about Sodom and Gomorrah, saying that God turned those cities into ashes, “making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly” (2 Peter 2:6). Jude speaks of them as suffering the “vengeance of eternal fire” and wrote that God set them forth as an example for our day.

Jesus Christ described our latter-day society as being exactly like Sodom and Gomorrah: abundantly prosperous, yet exceedingly wicked (Luke 17:28). They were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building—right up to the day God destroyed their cities (verse 29). “Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed” (verse 30).

Even thus shall it be. History, in other words, is repeating itself. This is why Jesus warned, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:36).

The Rise and Fall of BP

British Petroleum’s fortunes metaphorically mirror those of Great Britain, which skyrocketed from insignificance to spectacular greatness and has plummeted back again.
From the September 2010 Trumpet Print Edition

The story of British Petroleum is that of empire. It is one of Britain’s few remaining—perhaps even the last—vestige of a time when Great Britain truly was great. But it also supplies a warning to a nation facing a collapse every bit as rapid as the downfall of its most strategic and historic energy company.

On April 19, BP was the fourth-largest company in the world—worth almost $200 billion. The next day, explosions rocked a Louisiana drilling platform, and one of the most promising oil discoveries in the Gulf turned into one of the greatest environmental disasters in history.

As the depth of the disaster sunk in, and as one fix after another failed, investor flight turned into investor stampede. As of August 2, BP saw nearly 40 percent of its value—$75 billion—wiped out. Toss in the $20 billion escrow money BP was forced to set aside for damages and all the lawsuits that will drag on forever, and visions of the end of BP become very real.

All it took was one well gone bad to wreck a 109-year-old company that produces oil from thousands of wells.

A National Disaster

Even if BP survives this disaster, its days are probably numbered.

Most big companies like BP find it difficult to discover enough oil each year to replace what they pump—so they are forced to continually purchase other smaller companies to replenish their reserves. To finance these acquisitions, the big companies often use their stock like cash.

BP’s stock, however, is now ruined. It is feared that the company is doomed to deflating oil reserves, or a share price inflated away through the stock printing presses. At the very least, the company is now vulnerable to a buyout or hostile takeover.

But BP’s troubles go far beyond its 80,000 employees.

Analysts estimate one out of every seven pension dollars in Britain came from BP—that is 14 percent of retiree paychecks. BP was considered one of the safest companies in the world to own, so virtually every pension fund in the country owned shares in the oil giant. The UK government receives more than a billion dollars each year from BP in taxes. In total, BP contributes tens of billions of dollars each year to the UK’s economy through direct cash injection—never mind the thousands of jobs.

A BP bankruptcy would be an economic disaster. It would be a national one too.

Corporate-State Partnership

Few remember the integral role BP played in saving the nation. BP’s roots go back to 1901. By 1908 it was on the verge of bankruptcy. After seven years of drilling and countless disappointments, it looked like the end of the road for the Anglo-Persian oil company—and not a barrel had been found. With creditors about to seize his home, William D’Arcy sent a final telegram to his representatives in Persia. He said simply: This is the last hole; drill to 1,600 feet and give up.

Just days later, a small miracle occurred: They struck oil. The Anglo-Persian Oil Company that would one day become BP was back in business. Within a few years, Anglo-Persian Oil had built the largest refinery in the world.

But it soon faced an unforeseen problem: It had too much oil and not enough buyers. 1914 changed all that. With war looming, Winston Churchill lobbied hard to convince politicians to abandon the old coal-powered warships in favor of new, faster, more powerful oil-driven dreadnoughts. But politicians were reluctant to switch from using coal, which Britain had plenty of, to oil, of which it had none.

Anglo-Persian Oil’s excess crude couldn’t have come at a better time. Parliament acceded to Churchill’s demands and the Navy began constructing diesel-powered ships. Six weeks later, Germany started World War i.

From that point until the late 1980s when Anglo-Persian oil (then British Petroleum) was privatized, the UK government and Anglo-Persian Oil worked hand in hand to become one of the most powerful corporate-state combinations in history.

Oil-powered battleships revolutionized warfare. And because Britain controlled the oil, and the Royal Navy controlled the sea lanes, British power expanded like never before.

By the end of World War ii, the British Empire stretched from India to Australia to Canada. In Africa, the empire ran contiguously from South Africa to Egypt. Countless British islands and territories dotted the globe. The sun truly never set on the empire. And it was the Anglo-Persian Oil Company that fueled the trade and commerce that made the empire possible.

It is this icon of empire—this most strategic of companies—that is now facing the same plight as the country that it helped make great.

Beyond for Britain

Just as the British Empire so quickly fell apart following the Second World War, so now may be the company that was so integral in preserving it during the wars.

Today, as BP has tried to distance itself from the oil industry’s dirty image, it has adopted the marketing slogan “Beyond Petroleum.” But what Britons really need to know is what is beyond for Britain. Will Britain ever be a world power again? Why is social tension on the rise? Why is family breakdown so rampant? Will Britain remain part of the European Union?

For the answers to these imperative questions and a whole lot more, read the book that more than 5 million readers have previously requested. Order a free copy of Herbert W. Armstrong’s most popular work: The United States and Britain in Prophecy.

Egypt’s Next Pharaoh

A change of leadership in Cairo will alter the entire Middle East, particularly Israel.
From the September 2010 Trumpet Print Edition

Egypt could soon experience the most significant political development in three decades.

More than likely, the catalyst for this change will be the death of President Hosni Mubarak. Egypt’s “Pharaoh,” as he’s not-so-affectionately known, is reported to be suffering the advance stages of stomach cancer and is expected to have less than 12 months to live.

Naturally, rumors of Mubarak’s imminent demise are raising questions about his replacement, Egypt’s future, and the future of the entire Middle East. These are important questions, not just for Egyptians, but for citizens of Israel and, ultimately, for all of us.

The Rise of Islam

Although he hasn’t announced it officially, it is widely known that Mubarak has groomed his son Gamal to replace him as president. A smooth transition, however, is unlikely. Although Gamal has strong ties with Egypt’s business community, his relationship with the military—the instrument through which his father has maintained his 30-year vice-like grip on Egypt—is tenuous.

Mubarak’s death and the political chaos that will inevitably follow it will provide his many opponents a long-awaited opportunity. Without the military to silence dissenters, Gamal will face intense and unchecked opposition from his increasingly fearless enemies.

The group best positioned to gain from Mubarak’s death and the subsequent struggle for power is the Muslim Brotherhood. Banned from government in 1954, the MB is a thriving organization of Islamic conservatives who seek strict implementation of Islamic law in Egyptian politics and society. The Brotherhood helped give rise to Hamas and al Qaeda and has strong ties with Iran.

Although persecuted, the MB’s political footprint has grown, especially since parliamentary elections in 2005 in which it ran candidates as independents and won 20 percent of the seats in Egypt’s parliament.

The organization’s political popularity is peaking at the perfect time partly thanks to an added boost from Egyptian-born Mohamed ElBaradei, the internationally recognized Nobel laureate and former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. In February, after 12 years of living and working in sophisticated Europe, ElBaradei returned to Egypt. While traveling through the rundown cities and villages of his homeland, ElBaradei says he was “shaken by the backwardness of my country, deeply moved by the people’s palpable desire for change, overpowered by the sympathy and enthusiasm I was met with.”

When the Mubarak regime took note of his swelling popularity and launched a smear campaign against him, ElBaradei says he realized he had no choice but to become “politically active.” Since then, he and his National Movement for Reform, which has fanned out and spread the word in villages and cities across the country, has grown increasingly popular.

In June, ElBaradei led roughly 4,000 people in a protest against the Mubarak regime’s strong-arm tactics. He has developed a robust presence on the Internet, out of the reach of Mubarak’s censors; he has tens of thousands of permanent users on his website and more than a quarter of a million followers for each of his Facebook pages.

Tellingly, ElBaradei has also forged a relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. In a July interview with Der Spiegel, he confirmed having spoken with MB representatives about “the struggle against Mubarak.” His embrace of the anti-Israel, pro-Iran Brotherhood reveals much about his moral and political leanings.

More than that, it says a lot about the political weight and influence of the radical Islamic organization within Egyptian politics and society. ElBaradei would hardly hitch his wagon to the MB if it was political suicide to do so.

For the Brotherhood, gaining the support of an internationally recognized mainstream figure surely positions the Islamic party to make significant political gains in the event of Mubarak’s death.

Israel’s Nightmare

Keep a close eye on Egypt. The death of Hosni Mubarak and the emergence of a more radical Islamic administration in Cairo will have monumental implications for the Middle East. Most notably, it will be a tremendous victory for Iran. For Tehran, forming an axis with Cairo would do more than provide an ally: It would provide Iran and its terrorist proxies game-changing strategic and tactical advantages over the Jewish state.

Ever since the Camp David Accords in 1979, Israel’s safety—and the entire security equation of the Middle East—has hinged on Egypt’s willingness to maintain peaceful relations with Israel. As Stratfor ceo George Friedman observed, “The only thing that could threaten the survival of Israel, apart from a nuclear barrage, would be a shift in position of neighboring states. [And] the single most important neighbor Israel has is Egypt (June 19, 2007; emphasis mine).

Should Egypt sweep aside the Camp David Accords and align itself with Iran—which is certain if Islamic lawmakers in the MB gain power—Israel will face the nightmare scenario of having its southern border vulnerable to attack from Iranian-sponsored radical Islamic terrorists!

Ultimately, we must take note of the impending radical change in Egyptian politics because it will speed up the fulfillment of the biblically prophesied events to occur in the Middle East, and in Jerusalem specifically, immediately before Jesus Christ’s return. As the Trumpet’s editor in chief has written, Egypt is actually prophesied to align with Iran in this end time! Today’s events appear to be pointing in that direction in a dramatic way. To learn more about these prophecies, request our reprint article “Egypt in Prophecy” and our free booklet The King of the South.

The Collapsing ‘China Fantasy’

The Collapsing ‘China Fantasy’

Feng Li/Getty Images

As the smoke clears and the mirrors begin to crack, Westerners are forced to acknowledge the menacing reality of China’s rise.
From the October 2010 Trumpet Print Edition

More than two centuries ago, Napoleon Bonaparte nicknamed China the “Sleeping Dragon” and advised the Europeans of his day not to awaken it. Today, the dragon is wide awake, and the dynamic changes it has undergone are astounding.

Few international relations developments have been as epic and consequential as the exploding increase of China’s political power, military muscle, cultural influence and, towering above all, economic capacity. And all of the monumental growth began with the liberalization of China’s economy, when Beijing abandoned the Maoist economic planning model and transformed more than 100 million oppressed peasants from the “Great Leap Forward” into a colossal middle class.

Since China’s first steps toward this economic liberalization 35 years ago, Western political and commercial leaders have celebrated the trend. The assumption was that Beijing’s rapid integration into the global economy would lead China to replace its oppressive and authoritarian political ideologies with responsible international behavior, and that the nation’s burgeoning middle class would be granted greater political rights.

In short, the West believed that China’s rise would become a boon to the whole world. Based on this belief, Western nations pursued policies of engagement with Beijing and worked to facilitate China’s growth. James Mann’s 2008 book of the same name identified the pervasive Western optimism toward the Middle Kingdom as the “China Fantasy.”

But decades after Beijing’s first moves toward economic liberalization, the popular assumptions are coming under question. Westerners are beginning to grasp a truth that the Trumpet and its predecessor, the Plain Truth, have proclaimed for decades: China’s rise means trouble on the global stage, especially for Europe.

“When China wakes up,” Bonaparte said, “the world will shake.” Westerners are now beginning to sober up to the implications of China’s multiplying power.

China Then and Now

The China of the mid-20th century was unmistakably hostile to the West. Under Maoist rule, the proclaimed constitutional goal of the Chinese Communist Party (ccp) was to eradicate capitalism from the planet. But the country was in an ideological stupor. It was too mired in the fetid swamps of Maoism to pose a real threat or advance toward its goal.

A set of political and diplomatic events in the early 1970s prompted a reversal in the hostile international relations between China and its capitalist rivals, and moved Chinese leaders to launch an economic reform in 1978. Political leader Deng Xiaoping replaced the previous autarkic model with the opening-up strategy, and China’s export-oriented industries started to boom.

Since then, the growth rate has averaged a sizzling 9.8 percent per year. The number of citizens living in poverty has plummeted from 250 million to 14 million.

In April of 2009, China Reform Forum Chairman Li Jingtian gave the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace a startling collection of statistics illustrating his country’s meteoric growth between 1978 and 2008. During that period, China’s overall foreign trade blossomed from $20.6 billion to $2.56 trillion, its foreign exchange reserves skyrocketed from $167 million to $1.95 trillion, and foreign investment leaped to more than $100 billion. In 1978, only 52 Chinese students were studying abroad. By 2008, that number had risen to 1.36 million students matriculating in 109 countries.

This August, news of China dominated headlines when it was revealed that China’s economic output, for the first time, had overtaken that of Japan to become second only to the U.S. The World Bank and other analysts say that, even though its economy is presently only one third as large, China will overtake the U.S. in no more than a decade.

The deep economic impacts of the reform make it easy to see why China’s ascendancy as a world power was, until recently, a globally celebrated story of success. But China’s newfound economic clout has enabled it to act with a growing geopolitical assertiveness—a trend that is beginning to disillusion many observers, especially in the West.

A growing list of grievances has onlookers on both sides of the Atlantic reevaluating their stance on China’s rise: the ccp’s refusal to liberalize the nation’s political system; Beijing’s behavior at last year’s Copenhagen climate change summit; China’s tarnished human rights record; its heavy-handed political repression; Beijing’s support for tyrannical Third World regimes in a rapacious drive for resources; its obstinacy over Iran’s nuclear program; its military build-up; its soft power build-up; its increasingly belligerent claim to sovereignty over the entire South China Sea—and the list goes on.

The fantasy was that the budding economic freedoms would become a boon for the world economy. The reality is that, as China gains power, it only becomes more antagonistic toward the West, more oppressive, and more authoritarian.

Starry-eyed geopolitical forecasters have to come to terms with a sobering reality: China is an authoritarian economic behemoth with little in common with the West except an appetite for resources. It has always been oppressive and belligerent, but its insularity and weakness made it harmless. Pundits are beginning to understand that Beijing’s newfound power will enable it to project its same old communist and nationalistic ideologies with far greater force. China has not liberalized its society as the West had hoped, and it has not become a responsible member of the international community.

The fantasy is collapsing.

Feeding the Dragon

The speed at which China’s economy is growing is staggering and historically unprecedented. As it wakes up from its long slumber, China is bent on consumption, consumption and more consumption. On July 19, International Energy Agency (iea) chief economist Fatih Birol said, “In the year 2000, the U.S. consumed twice as much energy as China; now, China consumes more than the U.S.”

China is presently growing at five times the speed of the U.S. economy. Data released by the iea in July shows that, at some point in 2009, China overtook the U.S. to become the world’s largest energy consumer. To sustain explosive growth on such a mind-boggling scale, a country requires resources—vast expanses of resources.

In 2007, China was a net exporter of coal. This year it will import between 105 and 115 million tons of coal, putting it on track to overtake Japan as the world’s largest coal importer. In recent years, China has also become the world’s leading consumer of rice, meal, wheat, fertilizer, steel and cement. Twelve years ago, China was a net exporter of oil. Today, it is Saudi Arabia’s largest oil customer and the number-two global importer after the U.S.

Although the U.S. economy is “mature,” its energy consumption continues to increase. Despite China’s gargantuan size, it is a developing economy—an “economic toddler” that is growing rapidly. If China’s appetite for energy doubled in the past decade, how will it change in the next 10 years?

The projected 2015 Chinese middle class—600 million strong—will be twice the size of America’s current population. To meet the country’s skyrocketing demands, China’s leaders have launched an astounding global outreach program. They have laid myriad inroads throughout Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, paying particular attention to nations with substantial reserves of oil and natural gas such as Nigeria, Venezuela and Kazakhstan. Beijing’s preference for resource-rich nations includes third-tier countries the West typically ignores. These developing countries have voting rights in international organizations, so Beijing cultivates relations with them, forgiving billions in loans and lavishing them with infrastructure projects, asking only for their voting support in return.

Unlike Berlin or Washington, Beijing does not entwine its development assistance to conditions of “good governance.” While Western powers sermonize and punish authoritarian actions by withholding aid or even effecting regime change, China constructs palaces for tyrants and builds summer villas for despots. It guarantees them territorial integrity regardless of any human rights violations they may be committing.

Decades ago, Chinese Marxist revolutionary Mao Tse Tung promised his people that “All that the West has, China will have.” China’s historically unprecedented growth—and the ethical low road it travels to sustain it—is evidence that Mao’s words still resonate clearly in the Chinese mindset.

China’s frenetic drive for resources is intensifying the global scramble for the planet’s wealth. As Europe and other powers watch China devour a rapidly increasing proportion of resources, they are provoked to tighten the grip on their own supply channels.

On June 15, the Inter Press Service reported on the 25th Africa-France summit held in Nice, writing that French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared it was time for Europe to fight to increase its influence in Africa before China devours the African pie. As China’s global footprint grows, other nations, especially in Europe, will assume a more combative stance in securing resources for themselves. When more than one power aggressively pursues the world’s wealth with such ferocity, intense competition results and eventually gives way to war.

War Between East and West

More than 2,500 years ago, the Prophet Daniel was inspired to write that in this modern age, “tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble [German-led Europe].” The northern threat mentioned here is Russia, and the eastern power is China. (To understand the details of these astounding prophecies, request Russia and China in Prophecy and Germany and the Holy Roman Empire.)

While Russian power has been formidable for centuries, China, until it industrialized, presented no genuine threat to the West. Sure, it was belligerent, but it was a belligerent grasshopper. Now, in the early stages of fulfilling Daniel’s prophecies, China is a belligerent dragon—a reality that has Europe on edge.

When the United States inevitably succumbs to its weaknesses and fades off the grid, Europe will be the world’s only superpower—except for China. Absent America, Europe would stand alone as the world’s sole superpower, if not for this one menacing threat that has become a juggernaut in a spectacularly short span of time. China is the one powerful civilization on the planet most opposed to European values and modes of thinking. And, very soon, China alone will threaten EU hegemony. If the U.S. had decomposed two decades ago, there would have been no nation to counter Europe. Now, there’s an angry, menacing power to ally with Russia and fulfill that role.

As the “China Fantasy” collapses and disillusionment hits the West, more and more European voices are expressing concern about Beijing’s growing assertiveness. Sino-German relations veered into difficult terrain in 2007 when German Chancellor Angela Merkel rebuked China’s human rights record. In June 2010, Sarkozy admonished Europeans to fight to keep pace with China’s rapacious resource procurement in Africa. In a July 2010 meeting with Chinese President Wen Jiabao, two leading German industrialists attacked China’s business environment, which they said was disadvantageous to non-Chinese firms. Also in July, the German DerSpiegel published a scathing report on the threat to the West posed by China’s mushrooming soft power in Southeast Asia. An August 2010 Pentagon report warned that China is using its growing wealth to develop its military power.

Clearly, Western concern is amplifying and the rift between East and West is growing broader.

The Power of Prophecy

The geopolitical realities of the world have sharply shifted as a result of China’s rise as much as because of America’s decline. Because it is easier to discern than Europe’s rise, China’s ascendancy to juggernaut status is among the starkest prophetic trends of the last two decades. And it is a powerful, ongoing reminder of the accuracy and inevitability of Bible prophecies.

While the “China Fantasy” duped many Western political and commercial elites, those following Bible prophecy would have never been taken in by the illusion. Longtime Trumpet readers would not have been taken in by the delusion that China’s rise was good news for the world, even when the situation looked most promising. They would have known the true purpose of China’s rise all along: to check Europe.

Right now, it’s easy for the world to finally see what students of prophecy have long understood. When Herbert W. Armstrong identified China as one of the key pillars of the biblical “kings of the east,” it took faith to believe it. China was weak, backward, and too mired in domestic turmoil to pose a formidable threat to world powers. Reality seemed to contradict Mr. Armstrong’s prediction—for a time. But events have unfolded, time has marched on, and the early phases of these predictions have come to pass to reveal that Mr. Armstrong was right!

Nations of the West are correct to be sober about China’s mushrooming power. Bible prophecy reveals that the burgeoning hostility between China and Europe will culminate in the greatest military conflagration in mankind’s strife-ridden history. But just beyond the perilous times on the horizon is some amazingly good news. Jesus Christ will return to put an end to the conflict between East and West, and between all other peoples of the Earth! He will usher in an era of divine rulership that will effect peace and prosperity for all of mankind.

To understand more about China’s rise, and its prophetic connection to this most hope-filled future, request a free copy of Russia and China in Prophecy.