Beliefnet
I used to be an optimist, a believer in the perfectibility of mankind. This is right in line with Judaism's most important teaching-that one day the world will be ideal. The messianic era will do away with war, contention, disease, and death.

While this utopian belief might strike some as unrealistic, as recently as the early nineties it was easy to be buoyant about the world's future. The dreaded Soviet Union crumbled without a shot being fired, the Arabs were moving to recognize Israel, the world's stock markets had no ceiling, and I, as a member of Chabad-Lubavitch, had a colossus of a spiritual leader, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, to look up to. I believed the world to be on the dawn of a Messianic awakening. The Christian dualistic vision of the world, which subdivided existence into two antithetical parts-heaven and earth, body and soul, ambition and conscience, and ultimately good and evil-had had its day. Monism, the Jewish mystical belief that everything has an underlying G-dly nature and that there is a latent unity behind all creation, was in ascendance.

I found secular substantiation for my messianic optimism in Francis Fukuyama's epoch-defining book The End of History and the Last Man (1993). Like a prophet stepping out of the ancient Hebrew bible, Fukuyama made a convincing case that utopia was upon us. The spread of liberal democracy had ushered in an era of prosperity and peace. Evil had been vanquished. Tyrannical and dictatorial regimes were collapsing as a result of their inner hollowness.

Pessimists of the world be damned! We were living in an age when you could have it all. Even G-d and mammon seemed suddenly compatible, as the materialistic citizens of the United States embarked upon a spiritual journey with New Age gurus like Deepak Chopra and self-help stylists like John Gray leading the way. Along with our fancy cars and expensive vacations, we wanted G-d in our lives-as well as deeper, more intimate relationships. And it was all happening. Much of what Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied about a world of material plenty and spiritual renewal was coming to fruition before our very eyes.

But it wasn't long before the whole edifice came tumbling down, and darkness once again reigned over the earth. First, my Rebbe died, and there didn't seem to be any Jewish spiritual leader to take his place. A never-ending wave of suicide bombings in Israel reminded us that the Arabs were prepared to recognize Israel only as a giant Jewish graveyard. Then the suicide attacks of September 11 demonstrated that fairy tales about "peace in our time" had about as much credibility as they had when Neville Chamberlain, tried to "pacify" Hitler. Fukuyama's professor at Harvard, Samuel Huntington, had argued in his far more prescient classic, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1998), that violent conflicts between cultures that base their traditions on religious faith and dogma were increasingly likely. This time it was the teacher's vision of apocalypse that eclipsed his student's dream of utopia.

My fading optimism for the world's bright future was dealt another crushing blow as I watched great democracies like France and Germany use everything in their means to keep the world's foremost murderer, Saddam Hussein, in power. And last month I watched Fidel Castro throw 85 democracy advocates into jail for terms of about 25 years each, and then execute three men whose only crime it had been to steal a boat in order to escape Cuba's island prison. . The world, busy scrutinizing Israel, barely uttered a word in protest against the popular Castro whose recent visitors included both the Pope and Jimmy Carter.

My optimism sank further as I beheld the growing hedonistic degradation in my own beloved USA. America has always moved me with its values, its religious freedom, and its compassion. But the age of reality TV has caused me to loathe its culture. One recent movie release is called The Real Cancun, which chronicles the escapades of America's college students in one of their favorite Spring vacation destinations. In it, thousands of women strip completely in front of cameras, simulating the most explicit sexual positions, in order to entertain libidinous men. These are not strippers, mind you. They are women who go to some of American's best universities. America is rapidly becoming a misogynistic culture of lewd reality TV shows and pornographic images on the internet all designed to exploit women for the edification of corporate and entrepreneurial wallets.

It is this pessimistic assessment that has led me to accept, for now at least, the dualistic belief in light and darkness. To be sure, I am still at heart a messianist. But for now I am back to believing that there is a deep evil that currently stalks the earth and that must be combated tooth and nail. Christians believe that before the second coming there must a be a slaying of the anti-Christ. And while I do not subscribe to the literalism of that view, I can appreciate its nuances. Brutal, genocidal murderers, whether or not they are designated the direct enemy of Christ, are certainly the enemies of G-d and all mankind. And they must be vanquished.

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