Friday, September 2, 2016

"Let us sit together in the dark until the moment comes"

Today I began reading Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. It's a book I've wanted to read for a few months. What prompted me to check it out from the library today was a review of sorts of Harari's latest book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, by Giles Fraser in The Guardian: "If technology makes humans into gods, old questions return." I want to read the first book before the second.

The approach Harari, who is a historian, takes in Sapiens can fairly be described as naturalistic materialism. However, he is not unsympathetic to the role religion has played in shaping human culture. Reading the early pages of his book, I was struck by this passage, which perhaps the opposite of the author's intended effect on me. His intent, it seems, was to demonstrate that early humans, prior to what he terms "the Cognitive Revolution," had "no more impact on their environment than gorillas, fireflies or jellyfish" (4):
On a hike in East Africa 2 million years ago, you might well have encountered a familiar cast of human characters: anxious mothers cuddling their babies and clutches of carefree children playing in the mud; temperamental youths chafing against the dictates of society and weary elders who just wanted to be left in peace; chest-thumping machos trying to impress the local beauty and wise old matriarchs who had already seen it all. These archaic humans loved, played, formed close friendships and competed for status and power (4)
He goes on to note that virtually every other animal species did and does the exact same things, which leads him to conclude, "There was nothing special about humans" (4). Here's where what he writes has the opposite of his intended effect: "Nobody, least of all humans themselves, had any inkling that their descendants would one day walk on the moon, split the atom, fathom the genetic code and write history books." There is something quite incongruent to me about the paragraph.

It also happens that today in the mail I received the most recent anthology of Luigi Giussani's writings, Christ, God's Companionship with Man, which reads like a title for one of the late Edward Schillebeeckx's books translated into English, particularly Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God.

I also learned today that Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds are releasing a new album on 9 September, Skeleton Tree. I am excited about this. One of the songs off their new album, "Jesus Alone," is our Friday traditio for this first Friday in September, or, if you're Catholic like me, First Friday- a day I try to make it to confession.

"You believe in God, but you get no special dispensation for this belief now."

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