Catapulted in 22 hours from the soft tans and green-grey-browns of the Oxford damp at just either side of 32F/0C degrees back to Maine, 0F/-18C and bright blue on dazzling white, where your first gulp of morning air is like drinking mercury.  The greater change is from a day focused morning to night on successful teaching to the variegated quilt of life at home.

Pulled off for a random inspection at the boarding gate, the slim Indian woman with her blue black hair swept back over pearl earrings examines my pack.  I have a bumper sticker on my computer that shows a silhouetted progression of the skeletons laid out from fish to man with the legend, “Read the Bones – Darwin was Right

“Are you a Darwin fan?”  she asked in clipped South ‘Efrican’ tones.

“Well, it’s his 200th birthday, and the 150th anniversary of Origin, and his ideas have changed our whole conception of ourselves in that time, so yes I’d guess you’d say I was a fan.”

“Are you an atheist then?”

“No, I’m not.  Darwin was a minister, you know.”

I left it there, though I wondered whether she asks such impertinent and personal questions of all her examinees, but then I remembered that, except in security personnel, I like impertinent.

I know Dawkins’ atheism (The God Delusion) is front and center, but I have always found it odd that people cannot reconcile mechanisms of evolution and the presence of a spirit that moves within and beyond such a fertile playing field.  It is so obvious to me that when God’s face moved upon the waters of the deep, He or She engineered the tides in a predictable way, left a consistency in the miracle of waves, and started a system of bubbling, irrepressible chemistry that is anything but ‘loving’ or ‘fair’ in Sunday School or human legal terms, but makes a terrifying – ‘awesome’ in its original sense of ‘full of awe’ – and magisterial sense.

In the billions of stars and planets, I am aware that this little, obscure sun’s play upon the earth – which is what we all are – ‘doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy old world’ as Rick says in Casablanca.  The magnificence of it for me is not that we are hooked into some personally caring, invisible personality that watches over this tiny planet and us scrambling on it, but that the rules were set up so exactly for this highly original dance on the edge of complexity, hovering always between splitting into irrecoverable chaos and congealing into stultifying stability.

And the rules themselves evolve, a fact not yet recognized by most (economists especially, at the moment), who still think of consistent rules working on changing objects.  My next turn onto the plane reminded me: In the jetway was a shapeless security guard with a dog on a long leash.  Happy is the dog with a job, and this young retriever was so obviously enamoured of his skills and being useful, even in the entirely man-made world of an airport, that I cheerfully swung my pack low  so he could sniff me for cordite or drugs, or whatever it is they have trained him for, even though I usually resent such intrusions into my olfactory space.

Even before we understood evolution, we started acting within it, breeding horses and dogs and a thousand plants, bending their species development to our purposes, and in turn having our species, mostly unnoticed, bend to the environment we have made.  Now, except for a few Thoreauvian souls who really venture into the natural world beyond the farms and the roads, we all live within surfaces and substances altered by the hand of Man.

The person who doesn’t believe in a fair, loving, and caring god is labeled an atheist, as if that were the only way for God to be.  Though we aspire to it, we are not on the whole fair or loving or caring either.  My observation is that much of what is called ‘good’ done by humans in this world is in truth carried on the back of the huge sin of vanity.

None of this makes the world less mysterious, the nature of ‘nature’ less poetic, or the human experiment less adorable.  When you realize we are all shit, mud with upward mobility at best, any rosy and altruistic behaviour we can find is to be celebrated, and our knowledge of evolution, far from denying God, simply makes Her workings more within our grasp, and thus brings us closer to Her.  Darwin may have thrown our origins with apes in our faces and cut us down to our animal selves, but he also pointed the way to being real angels, designing our own evolution in Her image and likeness.


One Response to “Catapult”

  1. neil Says:

    Random selection ? They’ve never stopped looking for hippies, no matter what age they go under.

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