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Looking around the corner

Culture | A WORLD opinion poll: What changes are just ahead?

Issue: "Going it alone," Nov. 2, 2013

If you were to point to the single biggest cultural shift in American society during your lifetime, what would you mention? If I asked you instead to list the three or four biggest cultural shifts, what would you add?

For sure, your answer depends significantly on your age. If you’re still in your 20s, your possibilities are limited. Some of us who have lived through two or three generations have to ponder and compare at least a few more social phenomena.

I ask this not so much to start a discussion about the past as to explore what might be lying ahead. So keep in mind that I’m planning to ask you, before we finish here, to do a little social prophesying.

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But first, look briefly at the past. I’ve been asking folks for several weeks now, in a variety of settings, which cultural shifts seem, in retrospect, to be most significant.

An overall advance in racial equality has dominated the responses I’ve heard. We’re a nation that during World War II had not yet integrated its fighting units or its Major League Baseball teams, but that now reelects a black president and for the most part doesn’t bat an eye at an interracial couple walking down the street, hand in hand. Any one of those might be less than an overwhelming signal—but together, they’re symbols of something already huge and getting bigger.

The wide-scale tolerance and practice of abortion is the second most profound change noted in my informal survey. History tells us that humans have, in all ages, found ways to destroy babies they didn’t want. But it’s just been over the last half century that we’ve managed shamelessly to add public approval to such a practice. Both China and India are already wrestling with the socio-economic fallout of decades of gender-specific abortions; the British Parliament started public discussion of that issue early in October. Will the United States be far behind?

Ironically, that issue of gender-specific abortion is a thorn in the flesh for proponents of contemporary feminism—which just happens in my survey to be the third major contributor to societal shift. Freedom to snuff out the life of your baby has been a foundational pillar of modern feminism. But what if two-thirds of those whose lives are ended are females? The fruit of modern feminism comes in a big but very mixed bag.

The advent of homosexual rights is the fourth big shift my survey took note of. Few would have guessed even a decade ago that homosexual marriage and an open Boy Scouts policy would become the American standard—and with such suddenness.

Rarely mentioned by the folks I chatted with were the collapse of the American family and the disappearance of “absolutes” or “absolute truth” in the expressed worldview of younger Americans. I guess when something simply disappears, it’s harder to take note of it. Racial justice, abortion, feminism, and homosexual behavior have tended to be highly visible changes.

OK. If those four profound changes generally suggest the way our society has changed in recent decades, what lies ahead? Who’s ready to predict the jaw-droppers likely to reshape our society and culture during the two or three generations just ahead of us? Some might be positive in character, fostering redemptive aspects in the same way racial justice has born so much good fruit in recent years. Will that be the pattern—or will a majority of the changes display still more rebellion against God’s created order?

I’d love to get your thoughts on the subject. No long treatises, please! But a quick summary of which cultural shifts are likely to be coming along during the years God gives you during the rest of your life. Email me at, and I’ll report back on what you tell me.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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