Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Follow Joseph, Not Hobbes

Stanley Carlson-Thies


March 1, 1999

Only 305 days left . . . no, not till Christmas but until Y2K day, January 1, 2000, when an old computer programming shortcut will cause airplanes to fall out of the sky, nuclear reactors to go critical, and elevators to stop between floors . . . or maybe it will just be a week of power outages, ATM machines not coughing up cash, a mild recession, and very busy days for technicians to work around crashed computers. Will it be a mega global catastrophe or something like a series of severe ice storms? No one knows.

What is certain is that many computers, unless they are fixed or replaced, will think the year 2000 is really the year 1900 and spew out erroneous results and mess up anything they control. And it is certain that not all of those errant computers will get fixed in time. A Senate report last week noted that many US companies and many foreign countries are far from ready. But what will happen if problems remain when 1999 becomes 2000? Society has become so dependent on computers that we can be 100% sure there will be a significant period of serious disruptions.

So prudence dictates taking steps to secure essentials such as heat, light, water, food, and money in case various systems fail. While many people seem blissfully ignorant of the coming crisis, a virtual Y2K survivors movement has sprung up with a huge trade in drums for water storage, foods guaranteed good for years, kerosene heaters and electric generators to use when the power grid shuts down, and a thousand more items and strategies. Some families are heading for the hills to establish self-sufficient homesteads and avoid the collapse of urban technological civilization. Others will stay in their neighborhoods but are loading their attics with nonperishable food and their basements with tanks of water and fuel.

And, having worked hard to make their families ready, some, including Christians, are collecting weapons so that they can fend off unprepared neighbors who will come for supplies. Thank God, the stronger Christian current is to love your neighbors by including them in Y2K preparations.

This is the Joseph strategy. Remember Joseph, kidnapped to Egypt because of his brothers hatred? A tragedy, to be sure. But Joseph rose to be Pharoah's right-hand man and thus was able to prepare the nation to survive seven harsh years of famine while giving his own people a refuge. What Joseph's brothers had intended for evil God had redeemed for the saving of many lives.

Christians remembering Joseph are protecting their own families by preparing their neighbors for Y2K. They are educating their communities, organizing their neighborhoods for shared solutions to water and power disruptions, urging churches to stockpile food, and ensuring that medical help will be available even if road travel is difficult.

The Y2K crisis demands action, but not a war of all against all. The Joseph strategy embodies the biblical command that we do positive good for others. For the Y2K crisis will hit hardest not only the imprudent but also the vulnerable--the poor without savings to lay in a food supply, families in apartments that don't allow wood stoves or water tanks, the elderly who depend on others to bring them meals and personal care.

Y2K is a chance for the church not simply to witness to the fallibility of all things human but to be an example of Gods care for the weak. Our guide must be the biblical Joseph, not the self-protective Thomas Hobbes.

—Stanley Carlson-Thies, Director of Social Policy Studies
   Center for Public Justice


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”