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Sunday, August 24, 2003

I'm a 21st Century digital boy...

I don't know how to read but I got a lotta toys.

Jim Cork, via his brother Bill, brings to our attention this mural, which adorns the "worship space" in the chapel of St. Mark's at the University of California-Santa Barbara. Jim compares it to the famous Japanese comic/anime' Akira, and I see his point, especially where the central Christ figure (?) is concerned. For me, the details brought to mind the cover art for the Del Rey Lovecraft reissues.

Perhaps you need to see it in person to get the right impression.

I'm not going to get into a taffy-pull about whether it's "art" or not. Nor am I touching the de Chardin quote. I think a case could be made that it's "religious" art of a sort, and makes a statement along those lines. I think a stronger case can be made that it's not "liturgical" art in any way, shape or form.

Be that as it may, the part that got my goat was the following statement by the artist:

The inspiration to use images of modern science to express ancient beliefs of Christian theology makes those beliefs more accessible to those of us -- university students and all 21st-century adults --who are immersed in the techno-scientific revolutions of our age.

News flash for us so-wonderful moderns: We're not the Pinnacle of Human Development. We do not walk among the stars like giants. We are not the sinless demigods who Stand Above All That and can safely tsk-tsk at the quaint museum piece called "History."

In short, we ain't that wonderful. We have longer lifespans and (maybe) better teeth than our ancestors. And Lord, the gadgets--the shiny trinkets of all those "techno-scientific revolutions of our age"--we have those by the bushel.

But morally, intellectually--we're still the same ol' homo sapiens that's been trudging across the muddy globe for the past 5000 years.

We're Scythians with blenders, Etruscans with DVD players, Vikings with satellite TV. In some ways, we're probably worse than those we deride as barbarians. After all, even a Viking probably would have puked at the idea of deliberately splicing together humans and rodents. Even the most tyrannical of Etruscans would have blanched at the goal of slaughtering millions to build a utopia.

Likewise for things spiritual. Our ancestors lived through times far more turbulent than our own--the collapse of the civilization that was Rome, plagues that killed off one in three on a couple of continents, innumerable lengthy wars and invasions, even, yes, "technological revolutions." Even our more immediate ancestors contended with the same issues. Ever read The Jungle, Mr. Dvortcsak?

Yet they still kept going to the same types of churches, participated in the same liturgies, contemplated the same art. So inspired, they endured and even flourished, despite tyranny, fire, sword, pestilence and new gadgets.

We go through one bleeding ecumenical council and it's Novus Ordo Freaking Seclorum. The past no longer speaks to us.

Just stop it.

What we are "enduring" is a little culture shock mixed into a big ol' glass of self-pitying ennui. We are confusing inconvenience with suffering, information with knowledge, and sensation with wisdom.

Instead of looking back at those who preceded us with embarrassment, as an example to avoid, we ought to be sitting down to listen to them. We could learn something. At the very least, we might avoid a few of their mistakes. Which, with our doodads, might be far more catastrophic in our "advanced" era than theirs.

If the past doesn't speak to you, you aren't listening.

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