Human achievements and God

I have seen a few posts about, especially my friend Patrick who has been writing on the limits of human technology and engineering, especially the flying machine and the aeroplane. He reflected many of my own thoughts from my Amiens visit. Patrick has certainly seen my posting on those wonderful inventions and ideas from Jules Verne.

The thing I most hate about flying is not so much the actual flying (what happens if the aircraft crashes), but entering a system of total control from check-in to getting your baggage at the destination airport. It is so machine-like, giving the passengers the idea of being “processed” from checking the bookings and tickets, the handling of baggage, guiding people to the right boarding gate – and above all the extremely invasive security procedures to make sure no one has a gun or a bomb.

I last flew for my mother’s funeral. I have been to the USA four times, a couple of times in Tennessee, once in Florida and once in Maryland (when I appreciated my forays into rural Pennsylvania). Quite honestly, for my travels between France, I prefer going by sea. I have sometimes used the Tunnel. Their procedures are also very mechanical and sometimes inefficient, and being shut-in is not very pleasant. Travel is a necessary evil, I would agree. It does broaden the mind when we are off the beaten tracks (like my forays with my boat) and it is necessary for church business and family visits.

Not all flying is such a “process”. It can be done in the same way as sailing a dinghy, albeit with a little less autonomy. I enjoyed a gliding course with a school friend when I was 16. Off we went over the edge of Sutton Bank, launched by an old Leeds bus converted into a launching winch. Once over the edge we went! We were gliding and could use the up-draft of the wind hitting the precipice to gain height and stay up as long as we wanted. Not being a qualified pilot, I was in the glider with an instructor, a Pole and a former World War II flying ace. I  remember the pre-flight check sequence, abbreviated as CBSIFTCB (Controls, Ballast, Straps, Instruments, Flaps, Trim, Canopy, Brakes). It is quite a sensation, but I am more a man of the sea than the air.

Logically, one could say the same thing about boats and ships, especially from the era of the great ocean liners like the Great Eastern and the Titanic. I noted in my posting on Amiens and Jules Verne that human inventive pride could become blasphemous like when the builders of the Titanic challenged God to sink her – she did on her maiden voyage! Where is the limit? I both admire and abhor the prevailing attitude of the late 19th century, and we find the best efforts of engineers and scientists going for the making of weapons of war.

The one thing that is frightening in all this is arrogance, the speed at which science and technology threatens the human condition. The medical and bio-engineering world is particularly frightening. Of course, we have to remember that such technology will only benefit the very rich. Most of us will be able to go to the doctor for curable problems – and then one day, we will die. That is something we have to face with or without technology. The technology we have today was inconceivable yesterday – if I consider the span of time from my great-grandfather (1859-1939), my grandfather (1901-1980), my father (born in 1928) and myself born exactly a hundred years after my great-grandfather, I go from the technology known to Jules Verne, essentially based on the steam engine, to our nuclear fission, electronics and use of fossil energy. As I have read in Berdyaev, this modern era is based on the Renaissance, which in its turn was a revival of the more human aspects of the classical Greek, Roman and Egyptian civilisations. The idea of the helicopter goes back to the ancient Egyptians, but the first one that flew was built in the 1930’s.

The opposite extreme from our technical civilisation is exactly the force that threatens us from the Middle East, the bestial fundamentalist worshipper of the Moloch-Demiurge who destroys monuments of any kind of humanism, technology or worship according to any other kind of religious tradition. These are people who stop at nothing in their inhumanity and hatred and the caricature is Daesh and all the other rag-heads running around killing, torturing, raping and pillaging. Nazism was a political ideology from which Europe could recover when it was defeated in 1945. So was Communism, which imploded under its own weight. Fundamentalist Islam destroys everything, including man’s soul – his art, science and technology, reducing him to a living death. Any country subjected to that kind of anti-humanism only recovers after centuries – if ever. It is like the difference between TNT bombs that destroy buildings and people by their shock waves – and the nuclear bomb that renders a place uninhabitable for centuries.

In its history, some forms of Christianity were no different. Christianity under Constantine or Theodosius must have been quite unpleasant. The most notorious was the Inquisition and the persecution of the Cathars. After that, we have the Reformation and the Counter Reformation, Cromwell and the Puritans. I am quite taken back when reading things written by former Protestants, Anglicans and Roman Catholics who converted to Orthodoxy – and also by converts to Roman Catholicism. But, modern conservatism is nothing compared to what existed and exists out there in the world. I am brought to think of that capital utterance of Pope Benedict XVI at Regensburg about the relationship between faith and reason.

There has to be a balance between the enormous potential of humanity to express himself in art, science and technology and the discovery within himself of the divine image. Essentially, the two are the same and nourish each other when sin and perversity do not get in the way, because faith gives way to knowledge. This knowledge far transcends simple book learning, but is a whole universal idea.

The balance is hard to find, but find it we must.

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5 Responses to Human achievements and God

  1. I did indeed read your Jules Verne post.

    One thing I alluded to, certainly in my “thread” post, was the difference in kind. Not all modern civilization is relentless progress. In 20 years I can see Western Europe succumbing to another energy crisis. The “modern” response? To permanently disfigure the landscape by constructing endless wind farms. That is surely evidence of a civilization going backwards, not forwards. Perhaps the principle is cyclical, and that progress really gets man nowhere at all, or is actually a regress. I mean, for all this wonderful technology and advances in the standard of living, particular skills, taken for granted even fifty years ago (such as sewing), are not taken seriously anymore. The same thing applies to “ready meals,” full of salt and gluten, pre-diced fruit and vegetables, energy-saving light bulbs (which throw out no light at all). Our hubris will be shattered (or perhaps not, as seems more likely, given how low we have fallen) when the machines fail and we must go back to a simpler way of life. Who among modern man could possibly cope with that? Not having a bottled smoothie with breakfast, or sun-dried tomatoes with polenta for dinner.

    • I forgot to mention, on the subject of a civilization going “backwards,” a good film to watch is The Wicker Man, starring Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward. We’re not far from blood sacrifice ourselves. The only difference is that we would sacrifice human life or dignity in the cause of medical “advancement,” rather than to appease false gods.

      • I think I saw a scene from that film. Really quite nasty. There have been tribes and suicide-murder cults all over the place. Jim Jones and the Solar Temple are examples. Most of us have read The Lord of the Flies or seen one of the film versions. It is hackneyed in schools, but the symbolism is strong. There’s something of a via media between those who said that God couldn’t sink the Titanic and the Daesh head-choppers!

    • Would you be interested in prepping? It seems a lot less wacky in England than in America. I’m not mocking you, but perhaps there is some aspect that might attract you…

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