Monday, June 2, 2014

Eyeing Outer Space

‘Shall we, when the grim shape
Roars upward, dance and sing?
Yes: if we honor rape,
If we take pride to fling
So bountifully on space
The sperm of our long woes, our large disgrace.’

--C. S. Lewis, ‘Prelude to Space: An Epithalamium’, Poems, Walter Hooper, ed., San Diego, Ca.: Harcourt, 1992 [1964], p.57

In the background of a world gripped by wars, economic and political turmoil, family breakdown, etc., what do we find?  A rising interest in space.  The American Empire, Japan, Russia, India, and China are all clamoring to implement some plan or project or another.  Here is one ensample - Japan’s desire to install solar panels on the Moon to supply her with energy:

As C. S. Lewis tried to get us to see, we should all be saddened by this enthusiasm for space exploration and colonization.  For the impulse behind it is the same one that has been corrosively at work since the Fall, and especially since the Great Schism of 1054 A. D.: the lust for power that is unleashed in man when he separates himself from God and seeks to accomplish perfection, godlikeness, on his own terms. 

Cruel conquest and exploitation, of man and the creation, are always its manifestations (e.g., the Norman Conquest, the Crusades, the Inquisition, mass slaughter of natives by European explorers and settlers, the Enclosures, the Highland Clearances, and more recently, abusive treatment of animals on factory farms, strip mining for natural resources, and genetic engineering of plants and animals).

This is not the Southern way.  ‘The pioneering life is not the normal life . . .’ John Crowe Ransom wrote in ‘Reconstructed but Unregenerate’ (I’ll Take My Stand, Baton Rouge, La.: LSU Press, 2006 [1930], p. 4).  Sane human life, of which Southern life partook, is rather about ‘[coming] to terms with nature’, should be ‘successfully adapted to its natural environment, and that as a consequence it is stable, or hereditable.  But it is the character of our urbanized, anti-provincial, progressive, and mobile American life that it is in a condition of eternal flux’ (p. 5).

The same themes resound throughout Southern lore:  John Taylor of Caroline (Arator), Andrew Lytle (‘The Backwoods Progression’ in From Eden to Babylon), Wendell Berry (‘The Unsettling of America’ in The Art of the Commonplace and elsewhere), and so on.

Until we begin again to take seriously the wisdom of our Southern forefathers, which is the wisdom of our ascetic, God-bearing Orthodox Christian forefathers covered over with the ashes of the Schism and the Reformation, life will be continual warfare between one faction and another, each vying for the domination.  Should we be successful at mining asteroids or the Moon, or obtaining endless, cheap energy from the Sun, this strife will not end.  Only by renouncing every need and want and by trusting in God’s provision does contentment come to man, as St Justin Popovich reminded us in his teachings.  And only by humility does man overcome his bent toward pride and greed and other sins, and thus begin to approach God, as Father Andrew Phillips said in his ‘Sermon on Ascension Day’:

Our monastic mothers and fathers of Ireland, England, Africa, France, etc. have much to teach us, but we must ready ourselves to learn from their words and lives.  Elsewise, they will be of no use to us.

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