Sunday, September 7, 2014

We shall be free

Five discoveries or inventions (the original meaning of ‘invention’ was ‘discovery: in old history books, ‘the invention of the Holy Cross’ means ‘the finding of…’) have at various points in our evolution given mankind the ability to become something more than we are by nature. At least one of these occurred in pre-history, one at the dawn of civilization, one inaugurated what would later become the ‘information age’, and the last two are bunched in the lifetimes of people today and threaten to be the precursors of post-history. Without these five, man would be little more than an animal sharing the planet with all other life forms. With them, we have gone from being mere lords of the earth to its possible destroyers.

The first, fire, comes before the dawn of history, that is, before we have written records to ‘prove’ what happened, as in the adage ‘if it didn’t get documented, it didn’t happen.’ Possessing the secret of how to make fire, we became a terror to all creatures. We learned to cook with it. We also used it as the basis of almost every weapon known to humanity. No, swords don’t kill with fire, but you can’t easily make a sword unless you have fire. By fire we also overcame the darkness of night, enabling us to increase our power over others, making them slaves. Labors done by day provided for our basic needs. Working at night made us think of ourselves as ‘gods’. We didn’t have to sleep. We could grow rich and powerful.

The wheel. Almost every ancient people had it sooner or later. A few (American ‘Indians’) used it in making toys but missed its technological application, a fatal mistake. No people without wheels ever got anywhere. They were subsumed under other peoples who road over them in chariots or outwitted them by wagons and pulleys. Almost every mechanical invention derives its possibilities from some form of the wheel. We used it to make the best pottery. We found that rolling it over and over again overland let us transport objects great distances. Running ropes over and under other wheels, we could raise and lower objects too heavy to move any other way. Abstractly, wheels in our heads got other balls rolling.

A third invention, great enough to be included because through it we began to write history, not only make it, was writing. Discovered by many races (maybe independently) all over the planet, it almost guaranteed the continuity of every human endeavor, while at the same time aggravating and sometimes defeating the cultures into which it was introduced. The third invention I am counting is, however, not writing itself, but rather its expansion into every corner of every nation, and into every cell of every mind, through the printing press, through movable type. Here, finally, is the genesis of the real middle class, a new sort of humanity that really believes it can do anything, because it knows everything.

For almost five centuries the third discovery made its inventors and owners lords of the world in a way that no one could have ever foreseen. Personal liberty, economic prosperity, progress in every field, divided the ‘haves’ from the ‘have nots’. The unbridgeable gap between godlike but godless races and classes on one side, and everyone else on the other, believe what they may, was formed gradually. Christianity is still caught in the middle, trying desperately to bridge the gap without success because it too has been divided between two irreconcilable cliffs. Without forgetting itself and remembering Christ, it cannot begin bridging the gap, for only He is Mediator between man and man, as well as man and God.

The automobile, everywhere the sign and symbol of the ‘new man’, is the fourth invention, standing at the threshold of the ‘modern age’, and in four generations realizing the dreams of every race from the beginning of time, to fly, to glide over the earth effortless and powerfully, to see the world from the vantage point of the gods, to depart and arrive the same day on a journey that on foot might take weeks. To every man, woman and child is power given, and speed, and authority. Behind the steering wheel no one is weak, or slow. No one can be ignored. No one can have his rights trampled. The singular sign of entry into the middle class is the ownership of a car. It makes you ‘lord of the earth’ in a personal way.

The final, the fifth invention is, what do you think? The computer? The internet? These are definitely the bases for it, but they are still generalities, cannot be held in the hand, making that hand all-powerful. The fifth invention is the cell phone. As if created by divine fiat, this device has emerged and in less than a generation has invaded the human race faster than any plague. Overtaking every people and nation, no matter how primitive, making up for uneven technological and cultural development, and granting access to the world of ideas to everyone who has one and knows how to use it. Fire, wheel, printing and automotion, all taken up and culminating in a hand-held divinizer of the human species. Man as god.

‘If something is possible, we can do it,’ is the innate attitude of mankind, and it is put there by the Maker. Why, then, is it that by these five inventions we have not created a paradise planet? The easy answer provided by one religion after another is that we’re somehow flawed as a species. Non-religious man senses this, writes God off as a worthless bungler and proceeds to do the best he can (if he is an idealist), or decides here and now to take advantage of the situation and do the best for himself (since there is no accountability). Clearly, our five inventions and every other revealed by reason (that Divine spark) make us godlike, but always at a price we cannot pay. We shift that burden onto others, to prosper ourselves.

That is the bad news. That is our glory turned to shame. The good news is that the New Man has arrived. He didn’t pay us a mere ‘courtesy call’ or, like the gods of pagan mythology or our modern fantasies, come to tantalize us with what could never be ours. Every one of the five inventions has a flip side, or rather, they were never discoveries of our own but gifts He sent us ahead of Him. He always goes to prepare a place for us. In time, He went ahead to prepare an earth. Beyond time, He goes ahead to prepare a heaven. These five ‘inventions’? We have to let Him show us how to use these things He’s given, unlearn our abuse of them. The good dreams He sends are true. Choosing them, we shall be free.

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