Faith in the Frontier

On the wall in my childhood bedroom, there’s an old watercolor of American militiamen marching to battle...

November 22, 2020
Valley of Wyoming, Jasper Cropsey

On the wall in my childhood bedroom, there’s an old watercolor of American militiamen marching to battle. Some nights, my dad told me stories about our Revolutionary-era ancestors, James and John Piper.

James sailed to America from Kilgmore, Ireland. In the early 18th century, Northern Ireland faced religious conflicts and a broken economy. James wanted to freely practice his faith, own land, and build a better life for his family. James had faith in the frontier. He took a risk, boarded a ship, and set out to help build a fledgling society that aligned with his values and vision for the future.

James’ son, John, fought for the Pennsylvania Militia in the Revolutionary War. His dad took a risk sailing across the Atlantic to build a freer life, and he wasn’t going to relinquish his birthright without a fight. After winning the war, John served as a political figure involved in the founding of Pennsylvania’s government.

As a kid, I woke up looking at the watercolor in my bedroom, seemingly in the direct view of men like the Pipers. I was inspired by their vision and willingness to take a heroic stand to build a society according to their values.

On Sundays, my dad and I would go to Blockbuster. We’d often rent Star Trek or Star Wars. Parking on Milpas Street, getting out of our '96 Volvo 850, my dad told me that soon cars would fly. Blockbuster and my dad are both gone, and cars still roll around in much the same way that they did when I was hunting around the video store for Wrath of Khan. People in technology often complain about technological stagnation, but worse, we don’t even have clear visions for the future. The Valley is totally failing in this regard. Even AOC has nice posters.

All value systems imply a desired future; do we have a coherent value system? Liberals want a more equal future, and many vegans want to live in a world that values animal lives at par with humans (or at least treats them less cruelly). I want to live in a human maximalist future. Technology can help us build the future our values demand. We do not build technology for technology's sake – all of our efforts cash out in consciousness. Technology will help us live longer lives. Technology will help us live more purposeful lives. Technology will let humanity journey into eternity and the stars.

We’ve lost the future because we’ve lost the past. We live in an atomized society. We bowl alone and demonize our compatriots together. John Piper grew up in a society founded on common notions of good and evil. He cultivated his heroic spirit. When James Piper’s home of Kilgmore faced religious persecution, a desperate economic situation, and a society that had strayed far from his values, he left to build a new society on the frontier. To build the future, we need to converge on a vision for it; to converge on a vision for the future, we need to converge on values. To build the future, we need to build a new society. And to build a new society, we need faith in the frontier.