The Dichotomies of Charles Dickens still hold true today
by Ted Slavinpublished in St. Catharines Standard
St. Catharines, Ontario: 2011-02-19
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ..." is the oft-quoted first line from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, and though I can't tell you how many times it's reappeared in print, I can confirm that this column's online version has just been added to the some 77.2 million appearances of the quote, according to Google.
Despite its common use, or overuse as the case may be, I'm willing to wager five chocolate Timbits* or their equivalent in a French Vanilla cappuccino that far fewer (myself included) who recognize the opening words can recall what follows: a remarkably accurate reflection of our current times, though Dickens published them in 1859 a period "so far like the present period."
"... it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ..."
The wisdom of the human race has progressed beyond the dreams and imaginations of our forefathers of a mere century ago or more. We accept travel to outer space as commonplace. We expect instantaneous communication across the planet (not only audio, but video) to be a standard and affordable commodity. We are trustees of a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the foolish side, we have gambled and lost many times with the world's natural resources and habitats; a vast majority of us continue to view the advancement of women as a threat to humanity's progress; and alcoholism, drugs and various forms of abuse and neglect have superseded the value and worth of our precious children.
"... it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity ..."
With the global tribulations facing the human race, many are finding solace and certitude in religion, in science or a harmonized balance between the two. Still, the voices of belief that make the most noise, whether for religion or science, currently tend to belong to those who take their acts to fanatical extremes with harmful consequences. Faith has been lost in religion and, with the corruption and biased influences that have affected many avenues of research and technological advancement, faith has also been lost in the work being done in the name of science.
"... it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness ..."
As a Bahá'í who believes that God's most recent Revelation has illumined potentialities for great things, I see an awakening taking place around the world. It is a slow awakening -- painfully slow at times -- but peoples who have been oppressed for decades if not longer are yearning for what their hearts recognize as justice, surging to remove those who have denied it. By the same token, we know darkness all too well. We have seen it in the leaders who assume their position as an inherent right and live off the suffering and toils of those they claim to serve, and though we in the West have the benefit of a democratic system of governance, the allure of materialism has led to the despair and isolation of many.
Dickens' quote continues with dichotomies: "... it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us ..." and so on. Likewise, the present-day world swings between the extremes of unprecedented achievements and unimaginable horrors. We sway between the birth pangs of a new world and death throes of the old.
Around the mid-19th century, Bahá'u'lláh stated the following in relation to His Revelation: "The world's equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order."
It's a bold statement to make for the condition in which we now find ourselves as a human family -- in the best of times and worst of times. However, I'm willing to wager a lot more than those Timbits I won earlier that any such claim, given its timing and evident influence, is worth investigating.
[Note: a Timbit is a small round doughnut from the chain Tim Horton's, what in the United States is called a "donut hole." -J.W.]