It was still only half bright at a little before six in the morning when the pain became too much to ignore; the pain in both hip and knee that would not allow sleep to continue. As if to sweeten the “alarm’s” steady pulse down my leg, a little wren began to pipe morning aboard at about the same time so insistently that, having rolled this way, that way and back around to this way again, I simply gave up. My first long look told me God had done a good work on dawn whose red lips opened wide in bright song and welcome, whose blue eyes smiled at me through my bedroom window.
Tea, strong and hot, was just the thing when I had fired up the kettle and measured out the sugar. Settling into one of my favorite chairs I decided to read a little from the latest issue of Touchstone magazine. A letter from Dr. Peter Kreeft, the philosopher and professor from Boston College caught my eye. He wrote about the sure and certain – and soon – arrival in our sad midst of legalized infanticide. This, Dr. Kreeft argues, is inevitable because the reasons advanced for abortion’s legality, it’s right, can be used point for point for legalizing infanticide. He tells of two young women, pro-choice students in one of his classes, with whom he had this argument, asking them to refute his claim if they could. After the class the two women approached him and said they were convinced. “So, you are now pro-life,” he asked them. “No,” he wrote that they replied, “we are pro-infanticide.”
Somehow what first came to mind after reading this little letter was another thing I had read while waiting for my haircut yesterday. This was a little story in Smithsonian about some scientist who had “created” what he called a “planimal”. (The story is on page 71 of the current issue.) His “new creation” is the result of mixing some of his own DNA with that of a petunia. There is a picture of this New Thing that illustrates this accomplishment. It shows a bright little blossom. Since I am a man and can therefore name only three colors, I’ll merely say that the photo showed a red flower. The petals were a lighter red than the veins in the petals. It was a nice looking flower. The fellow whose “flesh” was now a part of the flower was particularly pleased with the dark red veins. Can you figure out why he is pleased? It is because they remind him of blood, and it was that part of his DNA, the part that colors blood red, that he put into the flower. The reaction is very favorable to this new thing from artists and scientists eager to try their hands at “creating” fluorescent frogs and flashing flowers. I caught myself wondering why God hadn’t thought… But, then. Good Saint Mary Shelley, pray for us I thought, shuddering.
Reading further in Touchstone I came across an article by Ken Myers whose work appears there regularly. He writes about a book he’s been reading called “Foolishness To The Greeks”, by Lesslie Newbigin, who died in 1998. He was a missionary in India for a long time, and when he “retired” from the work in India took up the same work in England. And, found it difficult.
Why? Myers quotes the author: “From the point of view of our contemporary culture, the claim that God raised Jesus from the dead is irrational. It cannot be incorporated into the existing plausibility structure…. It must be regarded as the esoteric belief of a community that is living in a world of make-believe rather than the world of facts.” A little further on, Myers himself writes this in explanation of Newbigin’s observation: “Modern science is crippled by a materialistic reductionism that eliminates the category of purpose in explaining reality.” In other words the question, “Why?” need never be asked. There is, really no answer for someone so crippled, and by a self-inflicted crippling, too. Myers next sentence explains the two ladies of Dr. Kreeft perfectly: “Modern social and political institutions promote a depersonalizing individualism that renders the pursuit of the common good precarious if not impossible.” Is there a reason to care? Well, no, really. Why care about anything when all that really matters is your own self?
I put down what I had been reading as I finished the second sentence just quoted, and began to wonder about them. It was early, and no one was up. Over in the corner of the room I noticed that the hibiscus had just put forth its first blossom, a big red thing that immediately reminded me of the “planimal” I’d looked at just yesterday.
Below the hibiscus an African violet bloomed in blue, another color I could name.
I remembered reading a book long ago, a science-fiction novel by a fellow named Larry Niven called “Ringworld”. Wikipedia will tell you all you need to know about the book, which entertained me. To my mind, the “star” of the book is a vast engineering triumph, a world as big as a million earths strung out like a ribbon around its sun, and built by man. But, it failed. It had become in the book essentially a ruin by the time the ‘characters” had reached it. The cause of the ruin was a collision with a meteor which punched a hole in the “ribbon”.
Wow! Fancy that, a meteor hitting a planet and ruining a civilization. Here, though, it’s just a plot device. It happened to a world “created” (that word again!) out of hundreds of other worlds to be a perfect place which is destroyed by a random encounter thousands of years before the time of the novel and become a ruin millions of miles in circumference in the desert of space. (Fellows like Larry Niven, an engineer, really do think this can be done. They have it all worked out, and look longingly at places like the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter to give it a try. They call it “terraforming”.)
So was Babel, the next thing I thought about, essentially a ruin. Someone wrote this about the reason Babel failed: “The evil is in their desire to “make a name” for themselves (cf. Gen. 12:2) rather than in the attempt to build a tower “with its top in the heavens” . . . Human smallness, not divine impotence, is emphasized in the Lord’s descent (vs. 5). … The great city and its (implied) defeat thus becomes synonymous with man’s revolt against God and its consequences.” (http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/what-was-the-sin-of-the-tower-of-babel)
I am not smart enough to draw a straight line through all of these things. They make me just a bit dizzy to be honest when I think about them. But I think there is a line that can be drawn, a line from Babel to dead babies, a line from blood in flower blossoms to the death of worlds that cannot fail, a line from “materialistic reductionalism” and “depersonalizing individualism” to that attitude which proclaims that my right is right and your right is negotiable or doesn’t exist, and “Why?” need never be asked.
The sky has clouded over. It is much colder. A storm will come.
NOTE: Another version of this story appeared a day or so ago on the Facebook page of The Christian Book Corner