Monday, December 12, 2005

Waiting for the turn of the tide?

When I first met my wife, six years ago now, she was still very much a girl. She was at university, had always lived with her parents and has only a limited idea about life. She was also vibrant, cheerful and filled with curiosity about the world. In the time since then she has, of course, matured. She has become competent and confident in her job. At the same time, I take pleasure at watching how much patience and wisdom she shows in the way she treats out daughter – I can only hope that I am as good a father as she is a mother.

I think about this because I have come to the conclusion that humanity has crossed an important boundary in its history – much as my wife has (and as I am sure I have though it is not so obvious for me). Throughout human history the dangers that it faced were external – it had always been the darkness of the night outside the camp-light that hid the things that threatened us. However, we have conquered the night. Of course, we may still be killed by natural disasters but this is not the main threat that now faces us, this is not the threat against which we feel powerless. No – as Conrad showed so well – the danger lies now in our own heart of darkness.

While we had to fear what lay outside, religion helped us. It gave us succour and filled the cold and empty world with meaning, making it more human. It gave us the tenacity to fight on. What had been a boon once is now a threat, however. When the dangers we face are human we must learn to face them as they are. Fighting as we are against our-very-selves means that every victory is a defeat. Take the current conflict that the extremists are trying to drag the whole Western and Muslim worlds into. It ought to be plain by now that in this conflict even the victors, whoever they will be, will end up the worse off. With every one of its victories America is diminished.

We must now see that the human scale has become ultimate. Recourse to higher authority than that of the will and needs of our fellow human beings can only make compromise impossible – such compromise being the only way not to lose the struggles we now face. This means that, if we are to go on, humanity must put away the childish things and let go of religion.


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