Raising a little boy in troubled times is a tremendous feat. They say marriage makes you a better man; but it is not a wife that improves you. Being a father makes you a better man, or it should. Carefully protecting the heart and spirit and the delicate balance of wonder and curiosity all the while working on the transformative power of discipline – that is a hero’s task indeed. It is in that spirit, that I have some thoughts this crisp fall morning. Those without children should, out of humility, refrain from opining. They don’t know anything.
Thousands of years ago there was a great flood, that at least is for sure. The Epic of Gilgamesh describes it, as do the ancient pre-Incan legends on the altiplano of Peru. The Bible says it was because man had become wicked in all his thoughts, inclinations, and actions, he was a curse to the land and the Lord regretted having created him.
The flood might have been caused by an asteroid that hit Greenland about 12,000 years ago and immediately ended the last ice age (which had itself lasted for many thousands of years). God often uses the natural world that He created to carry out His designs. It might have been another event. Nobody really knows, we have only the record written in the crusts of the earth to tell us of what it was like before the great flood that filled Lake Titicaca. And we have one story – the story of a utopia lost.
Whether you believe that the tale of Adam and Eve, two naked people frolicking in a garden somewhere in southern Armenia or Eastern Anatolia or Northern Mesopotamia is a true story or an allegory is irrelevant. Because the principles of that story ring true, and are consistent with the principles, ideas and teachings of our great philosophers and our great religions which stand in stark defiance against the nihilism of now. Nihilism is after all not a philosophy, its an anti-philosophy.
God created humanity in a perfect balance, with nature and with God and with each other – a binary balance, male and female, right and wrong, positive and negative, God and the Devil. A harmony of existence played out in a secret garden. But it was not to last. Because, in His incredible attempt to lend sentience to the flesh, God allowed a ghost to slip into the machine. A fundamental flaw that keeps reappearing, a ‘bug’ that no amount of ‘patching’ can seem to fix. “Every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil…” the flood story tells us – far from the garden utopia rejected in pursuit of greater knowledge, forbidden knowledge. It had to do with sex, we are after all hot-blooded mammals (maybe God should have made us from the reptiles). It had to do with a defying of the natural order as well (sex between ‘sons of God and daughters of men’, whatever these strange verses mean). It also probably had to do with technology. Nobody knows how advanced the pre-Noah civilization had become, but it is arrogant to think they were banging sticks together or sitting around a cave. Most of modern humanity’s greatest technological advancements have come in the last 100 or 200 years. Imagine a world where people lived 800 years (and generations after generations after generations of them – amounting to thousands and thousands of years), during which they continued to learn and grow. Even for myself, now approaching middle age is when I am finally finding balance and learning true discipline and the ability to focus and make linkages. What if I were not already dying? What if I had another 600 years of study? – More to the point, what if Einstein or Tesla had? Even more to the point, what if Hitler and Goering had?
Technology advances, we know, building from one generation to another thanks to the written word. But human morality does not. Which is why as our tech gets better, the growing technological power of un-improving beings creates imbalances and distortions that grow, exacerbating the disorder. Entropy.
We get a hint of this in the next great story, the Tower of Babel (only 5 chapters after Noah). Humanity has moved south, from the Mountain of Ararat into Mesopotamia. The weather changed after the great flood five chapters before; people were living much shorter times; life was harder; crops did not grow like they did and the cyclical patterns of the rains were less constant, less reliable than the heavy dews before the “windows of heaven were opened.” “Let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other,” because “if they can do this (build a huge tower), then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.” God could not destroy humanity with another flood, the rainbow that occasionally graces the sky still today was a reminder of that promise. He could not use fire, that comes later. He was committed (for whatever reason), the die was cast – humanity, machine ghosts and all, would have to do. Bill Gates probably felt the same way. After Microsoft was in its third patch, the sunk costs were too great. Who cares that the program is fundamentally flawed, glitchy and hackable – it’s the best we have. Starting from scratch was not an option.
Today feels a lot like I imagine the days before the great flood felt. When “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart is only evil”, as it is today. When I have to screen my little boy’s cartoons for him and read his elementary school curriculum and opt out of school offerings meant to befuddle my little boy and make him miserable, because the Godless are miserable, and misery does love company – that at least I know. When with pills and an operation scientists can play God; men of the mind who might well be using their knowledge for good, can change even the most fundamental natural order of things with impunity, expanding the sadness. People who are not even bad, the modern wicked – that is the extent of the evil, it is no longer a malevolent force, it is just empty – filled only with the ideas of others unto the greatest cul-de-sac civilization has seen since the flood. As Patrick Deneen has said, “My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their brains are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation.”
And the know-nothings have destroyed the world.
It is ironic that modern ignorant-wickedness has appropriated the rainbow to their own purposes. Man’s evil is only exceeded by our cynicism, it would seem. The signal of God’s commitment to not destroy man again; usurped to represent the ruination of the greatest civilization known to man. An apogee, because there is nothing like a fall from great heights. The world, however, does not end in a nuclear explosion, an epic fight of good against evil. “Head for the bunkers!!!” and “We will prevail” read out by commentators as Russian subs rise to prepare their payloads and newscasters shed tears for so great a world as we have made snuffed out in a blaze of radiation. It ends with two people, childless, sitting in front of “The View”.
The sad fact is that as “Everybody does what is right in their own eyes” upon the promise of a fun-filled impune utopia, we have only gotten more and more miserable. The extraordinary joy which I found in Armenia; poverty steeped in family and hard work, a BBQ on a Sunday afternoon beside an ancient monastery where a robed priest still lights the candles and the smoke floats upward to leave its smudge as a prayer beside the millennia of others that blacken the roof in a deep layer of faith? A joke, to be mocked by the know-nothings. Instead the opulence of limitless wealth swallowed with the daily pills we need to get up in the morning, to “turn this frown upside down” as we trudge through a joyless life without good and bad, without mom and dad, without God and certainly without the devil. Because the devil is to be found inside; yes, we have no need of him, because – far too often – the devil is us.