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For future reference

Nick Thorpe

Nick Thorpe introduces a ten-part feature in which ten authorities look ahead to what the coming decade will bring in their own fields.

Humans are always pondering the future. We just can't help it. Whatever mystical religion might tell us about the sacrament of the present moment, we're constantly peering ahead with relish or anxiety, towards the latest gadget, the next hot meal, the threatened cuts, the Promised Land. Even Jesus seems a little conflicted on the subject. 'Do not worry about tomorrow,' he instructs on one hand - while, on the other, chastising the foolish maidens for failing to top up their oil lamps. At the very least, it seems, we sometimes need to think ahead. Just ask the prophets.

With this in mind, we've asked ten of our best writers to sketch out the trends that are likely to face us all in the coming decade - hopefully steering a path between prophesies of doom and those self-congratulatory end-of-year newspaper features predicting we'll soon be commuting to work in flying cars.

Such visions seem almost quaint given the reality of galloping technological progress. What, for example, are Christians to make of the possibility of brain implants that could modify moral response, or bio-enhancements to extend human life by decades? When, asks Gareth Jones, will the quality of life of the privileged few become intolerable to the starving masses on an already overcrowded planet?

It's a moral conflict already familiar to us in the form of Britain's demographic timebomb, points out Ann Morisy. As our ageing babyboomers coast towards the end of one of the most favoured eras in history, bequeathing uncertainty and environmental degradation to their descendents, will the inequality between the generations threaten the very glue of society?

On a superficial level we're all more interconnected than ever, writes Kester Brewin - but can the Facebook revolution really save the planet? Or is it selling us all short on the kind of relationships that really matter - the committed, embodied sort necessary to community cohesion? At least we can celebrate some Western progress towards equality between the sexes, says avowed feminist Kathy Galloway - but in a world where women still carry too much poverty and too little power, she believes it's time to raise our sights globally.

Ultimately, of course, men also suffer from the continuing imbalance, points out Fr. Richard Rohr. As the crisis of masculinity reaches epidemic proportions he proposes a radical emotional vaccine.

Meanwhile, with the traditional nuclear family looking increasingly shaky, perhaps it's time to embrace less conventional alternatives, writes Sarah Hagger-Holt. But is it possible to be too open to the new? Nick Spencer wonders how diverse a society can get before it loses the common ground which, for example, makes sense of taxation for the collective good. And as the public sector budget cuts bite, have the private profiteers got off scot free?

Richard Werner, the economist who first coined the phrase 'quantative easing', points out an obvious nettle to be grasped if we are to avoid being pulled back into the same financial swamp in future.

What of the planet itself? As the environment slides inexorably towards a carbon tipping point, Alastair McIntosh prescribes a remedy that is spiritual as much as political - and calls us back to a deep green understanding of God. Will it be enough to save the church as we know it, steadily haemorrhaging members? Dave Tomlinson believes we must change or die: stop circling the wagons and seek a bigger vision. For ultimately, one suspects, human survival and flourishing depends less on a crusade between warring polarities than openness to their balance and reconciliation. Perhaps there never was a conflict between Jesus' injunction to stop worrying and the need to keep an eye on the future. At any rate, we hope this special issue stimulates your interest in both.

As the old saying goes: Trust God but tether your camel.