"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Notes On Graham Greene, Resurrection, And Worries About Climate Change

Despite the Christmas Season - one of hope, possibility, peace and reconciliation - doomsday climate scenarios persist.  There can be no peace, activists say, when ignorant, politically-motivated policies are dooming the planet to an undeserved and unlikely fate when with but a little intelligence, foresight, and modest commitment, the glaciers would not melt, the Tropics would retain their oxygen-producing forests, temperate zone agricultural lands would not desiccate and die, and the low-lying cities of the world would not be inundated and the displacement of millions avoided.

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Christmas, although not so hallowed as Easter, the symbol of resurrection, and rebirth, is a memorable time; and even marginally-affiliated Christians celebrate the birth of Christ as an event of religious and historical importance.  No matter what the world may offer; no matter what insurrections may defy law, justice, and community, and no matter how ignorant secular decisions may be, another better world awaits.

Non-believers of course dismiss all this as chicanery – the persistence of the Church to gain and retain converts who, dissatisfied with the real world, have at least a chance at spiritual salvation.

Believers, however, reject temporal concerns as distractions, blind alleys, and no-exit mazes.  Time is passing and no secular cause ever garnered chits with the Good Lord who decides fate on the basis of grace, election, and prayer.

There is a lot in between.  Most peorple are neither believers in a coming nuclear winter, a climate change inferno, or even geophysical structural adjustment.  They understand the nature of environmental conflict, are able to calculate current and future risk, and act accordingly.  

Of course there are those who prefer to minimize risk, overvalue human ingenuity, and rely too much on the lessons of history; and those who are perennial Chicken Little pessimists; but for the most part people are willing to take what comes, react moderately, vote within reason, and hope for the best.

Graham Greene is often described as a ‘Catholic writer’ whose stories of intrigue, adultery, and duplicity would stand any test against any modern writer even without the underlying moral context of religion, has raised fictional drama to another level by adding religious doubt to existential conundrums.  Scobie, Bendrix, and Querry are normal, ordinary men for whom marriage, love, and intimate responsibility are not merely secular markers but theological ones. 

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Greene might have set his stories in modern America amidst the political confusion and contention of the day, but he would never have veered from his moral North.  Human decisions are matters of the soul.  No Greene character would ever be a secular crusader; nor one whose moral decisions would be framed or conditioned by socially environmental issues.  The questions of right and purposeful behavior – the only legitimate criteria for redemption – would have nothing to do with politics.  Identity, civil rights, justice, equality, fairness have no relevance whatsoever  except within a moral context.

In other words it matters little whether the world is headed for an incendiary end or is on the path to peace and reconciliation.  What matters is one’s relationship or reconciliation with God.

Sarah, Bendix’s lover in The End of the Affair is concerned less with the loss of physical love and intimacy than the loss of love for God.  Both are conflated in Greene’s Catholic vision.  She has taken a vow before God.  If he spares her lover’s life, she will be forever after devoted to Him.  As time passes she expands the jurisdiction of the vow, so still in love with Bendix is she; but she refuses to nullify the more important spiritual contract she has made with her spiritual Father.

The analogy with political movements and climate change in particular is pertinent.  Scobie’s doctrinaire faith  (The Heart of the Matter) is corrosive, damaging, and ultimately destructive to those who do not share it.  His religiosity is arrogant, self-serving, and selfish.  While claiming to honor and respect God and His covenants, he is only concerned with the secular, the immediate, and the personal.  In his slavish obedience to the Church, he has lost sight of true Christian values.

Doctrinaire faith – whether religious or secular – is always blinding and neutralizing of more fundamental and temperate beliefs.  Those who perpetuate the myth of a climatic Biblical extermination as existential as The Flood, the razing of Sodom and Gomorrah, or the Final Reckoning lose credibility.  Within God’s universe there are no causes, no imperatives, and certainly no discouraging results.  God’s will and only God’s will will prevail.

Progressives insist that there is a role for human involvement– or better, engagement – in God’s plan.  Jesus Christ came to Earth not indifferently but to help promote a better world.  While the doctrine of grace applies universally and in perpetua, God never intended Man to be a bystander.  We all have an obligation to see to a better world.  No effort to promote world peace, to stave off climate change, to encourage equality and communitarian harmony is insignificant.

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Conservatives are willing to stand pat with God’s grace. Who among us has the temerity to tinker with His plan?   He created us in His image –apparently intelligent, resourceful, courageous, and enterprising – and let the chips fall where they may.  For better or worse, Man will make the bed he lies in.

So, it is normal and quite natural for progressives to be upset by climate change and what they see is a dereliction of duty by mankind and an unpardonable insult to God himself.  They cannot possibly accept the transfiguration of the natural world according to man’s law and preference, and are under obligation to maintain the Biblical purity of His vision.

It is equally normal for conservatives to accept the course of events as they happen.  Man is not the predator, interloper, or despoiler.  He is simply a part of His plan – neither actor nor acted upon, but pawn in the divine game.

Progressives veered off the moral decades ago when socialism became the pretender to Utopia.  The sharing of wealth, the doctrine of ‘each according to his need and each according to his ability’, and the belief in human perfectibility were irresistible enticements to the disaffected Left in Europe and America; and political parties worldwide dismissed more fundamental concepts of human enterprise, competition, and mutually advantageous compromise in favor of state-induced equality.  The current move to the Right is less of a political phenomenon than a philosophical one.  The time for government (secular, human) intervention is over; and individual enterprise, free markets, and especially free risk and proportionate rewards have returned. 

Climate change?  A matter of harmless speculation.  Whether the climate warms or cools is an indifferent matter for those who hope to understand the ineluctable value-free, ineluctable evolutionary change.  Neither Darwin nor God himself ever believed in a better world.

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