Have you ever placed yourself beyond someone's love? Perhaps your parents or devoted friends? All that is required is to reject or even despise that love, which we humans can do in rebellion or pridefulness or in a desire to pursue "private" lives. St. Paul reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God, yet we can reject or despise Him or pursue our own agendas.
We know very well that preference of vice over God ruins many lives, but there is something else more powerful, more widespread, and more subtle, and its history is older than the sins of the flesh: and that is the preference of our powers of reason over the ways of God, separating us from the life of faith. Its history is as old as humankind. It begins in Eden with Eve being promised godlike powers of apprehension, which she chooses over the love of God. She was invited to scale a mighty tower that was said to reach beyond Heaven, and she chose for it. In our own era, from the scientific revolution to the present, we have made human reason our foremost god, as well. Indeed, during the so-called Age of Reason, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris was gutted, and a Statue of Reason was placed in the midst. Today we hold up and admire scientific and technological achievements as our gods, even implying (falsely, I might add) that science has brought our civilization out of a "dark ages" of religious belief. Indeed, one hears our intellectual leaders discard morality as being the artifact of a superstitious age now past. Human reason, it is claimed, will propose and ratify new moralities, or no moralities, as human reason deems right. (And I need not remind you that the popular "religion" that dominates our culture today is "Live and let live" and "Don't judge me," which is a subterfuge for discarding morality altogether.) But, I ask you, which age grows darker the further we tread its paths? The age that has preceded us or the age that lies before us?
I have to take special pains to keep track of our culture. We do not have a television at the Hermitage, and the only radio we own is in our farm work truck. But when I do listen to public radio, which I take to be the pulse of the culture, I hear, either implies or said outright, a premise that disturbs me: and that is that our culture is evolving, meaning that our civilization advances steadily along a great arc toward perfection, ever upward to higher laws. The god which governs this all-encompassing progress is human reason. I even hear it said that those who do not agree with the imperatives of this reason or philosophy are simply further behind on this great arc of evolution. First, let us be clear that no scientist believes that civilization or culture could be subject to evolution. The Darwinian Theory of Evolution applies to biological species, and that is all. Even common sense teaches that culture is not evolving. Which composer has surpassed Mozart or Bach? Which poet has surpassed Homer, Chaucer, or Milton? Which playwright has surpassed Shakespeare? Who is the Rembrandt or Van Gogh of the present period?
As far as science and technology are concerned, yes, I am fascinated by scientific and technological achievements, but have they brought about a better world in general? This past week's headlines include the startling and ridiculous proposal, made by a pre-eminent, Cambridge University physicist, that humankind must set about the business of colonizing the moon, so that we might have enough time to colonize Mars. And why is it that we must escape from Earth? Because our scientific and technological achievements, it is said, have nearly wrecked our planet. Setting aside for a moment the ruinous (and it must be said, indisputable) warming of our planet, who has not personally witnessed the annihilation of God's sacred creation everywhere human civilization has been given free rein? Being an old man, I have personally seen a benign lifeworld made of wood and steel and cotton and wool, where I swam in pristine oceans, enjoyed crystal-clear clean air, could drink from mountain streams, spent whole days and weeks under a sun that did not burn my skin, did not worry about acid rain or radioactive fallout. And everywhere I went, no matter where I went, I was inspired by the beauty of God's handiwork everywhere I went. What changed all that? Why it's the triumph of human reason, which has sought to supplant God and His peerless gifts to us of Creation.
The Cornell physicist, Carl Sagan, who was the great popularizer of astrophysics of the twentieth century, said many times that the motivation for the space program was to discover intelligent life. And I have heard NASA spokemen continue to make this statement. I cannot say how many dollars have gone into space explorations or into the program SETI, the "Search for Extra-terrestial Intelligence." but I suppose the phrase thousands of millions is beggared by the true number, which I probably cannot pronounce. On his deathbed, Dr. Sagan said, "I expected that we would have found some signs of intelligent life long before now." But we have not. In fact, we might say that we have looked nearly everywhere, spanning over cosmic distances, but have found nothing anywhere. All that we have seen as we have journeyed off toward the stars are dead stones spinning in an empty void, and we discovered these early on in our space explorations. The further out we go ...., more dead stones.
You know, when I was a boy I was taught that it was the height of egotism to believe that humans were the only intelligent life in the universe, that we were an insignificant speck of dust in an infinite universe. But I wonder now if we did not have that backwards. Perhaps the towering egos were those who believed that there was nothing special about us, who were driven to commune with higher or better lifeforms ... rather than give thanks for the wonder of our creation and the marvel that is woman and man. The message we heard was that there was nothing special about our planet; certainly, there were plenty more just like her, bigger and better.
May I pose a question through the humble reason of my faith? For only faith brings men and women to their knees, filling the heart with chaste wonder. And from our knees let us consider this: that our sovereign God hovered over the void of our universe and imparted the miracle of life, a world of unspeakable beauty, causing a dead stone to be transformed into a living organism which we call Earth; that we alone in the vast reaches of space have been endowed with this holy stirring, this seeing and hearing and feeling and knowing, this life ..... which we do not understand, nor could ever create. Consider that our little, island home, hurtling through empty space, is precious and sacred and delicate and, like the love God, irreplaceable .... and must be revered and protected. Would that the incomprehensible sums of money that have been blasted into outer space been rather used to care for our children and their planet. But, of course, that would have meant cooperation and mutual caring. Surely, a culture that has evolved so far as ours might be capable of that!
My own belief is that we shall never encounter intelligent life in space and surely no living, breathing world like Earth. Our powers of reason and science and technology, which have got us in so far over our heads, could never replace it nor ever find another like it. Our present situation, indeed, is proof that human reason is not up to the job even of understanding the one living planet we have discovered, no thanks to ourselves.
The great marvel of the universe turns out to be that little, blue dot, a mere 7,917 miles in diameter, orbiting a sun 4.37 light years from Alpha Centauri. It is unique in all the universe. And the only other world that is anything like it is the Heaven which created it and which points it and ourselves to God. Let us reverence our sacred world; let us give thanks for powers of reason that far surpass our own; and let us always call to mind the love that our Earth signifies, for Who else or What else could possibly have brought about such a creation as our planet home, teeming with the miracle of life? He numbers the hairs on her heads, and His eye is on the sparrow.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Ghost. Amen.