Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Could this be one of those times in human history when the future looks more bleak than the past? I look out ahead of me and don’t like what I see: explanations of our existence bereft of any soul; theories of our origins that could be explained with a pencil and a slide rule; ideas about love that are the provenance of chemists and not poets; and poetry itself, reduced to nothing but syntax arranged by a computer.
Marilynne Robinson once wrote, “I miss culture and I want it back” (from her “The Death of Adam and Other Essays” collection, I think). I join in her lament. Scientists, those high priests of truth, are the self-appointed experts on everything, a position we all happily oblige them. After all, says we, if they can invent a light bulb, surely they can explain the mysteries of life. And so, slowly but surely, eternity morphs into infinity, poetry into word-play, erotic love into the chemical consummation of oxytocin and dopamine. You see this kind of reductionist metamorphosis all around you if you know where — and more importantly, how — to look. Ads on TV, the perfume fragrance strips of magazines, pop music. It’s all about appearances, about glitz and glamor, pomp and ceremony, OMG! and Highlight reels. Even talk of content these days is so stylized, so self-conscious. Our souls collectively waste away as we settle for the Quick Fix.
Yes, I believe in souls, and that we embody them, and that because of this, our existence is greater than the sum of our parts, more complicated than our chemical alchemy, more mysterious than multiverses. Even philosophers, long since relegated to the back of the cultural and intellectual bus (I mean, who’s the last living philosopher you’ve read?), think they can cash in on the cheapest bit of intellectual property left for intellectual speculators: religion. It won’t be long before religion becomes an artifact of history, and supernatural belief a diagnosis in the DSM. Flannery O’Connor was right when she said that nihilism is in the very air we breathe.
Count me among the relics if and when that time comes, because explaining life by nothing more than a series of fantastical collisions of atoms does nothing for me. It doesn’t even make me sigh. It’s like being hit over the head by a fortune cookie. I mean, what’s the point?