Are we going anywhere? Are we nearly there yet? The fun thing about blogging is that you can attempt subjects in which you are completely and entirely out of your depth.
This has all happened because I was listening to a set of lectures on St Augustine’s City of God, as I have written elsewhere.
The question is easy enough to pose: are we (as a species, or even as an entire created order) going anywhere?
- First let’s congratulate ourselves. No other beasts or plants are asking this question. Even our brother apes appear not to worry much about the tides of history; they are happy knowing where the next banana might come from.
- One possibility is that history isn’t going anywhere: it’s just random, pointless noise.
- A second, more popular I think, is that it is in some sense cyclic: the rivers pour into the sea, but the sea is never full; what comes around, goes around; no-one can ever say, ‘this is new’; that kind of thing.
- A third, beloved of Christians, Muslims, rationalists, communists and many cosmologists among others is that history has a direction, it’s going somewhere. Some science fiction too: ‘Space,’ said James T Kirk, ‘The final frontier’: the universe is a giant unploughed prairie, just awaiting the covered waggons, and that is our story and destiny. The idea of ‘Progress’ and ‘Progressive policies’ still resonate, and when we see the decline of poverty and the advance of medicine worldwide, we can sort-of believe it.
- It’s possible to argue that this idea of history having a direction, a start and an end, originated somewhere in the Judeo-Christian scheme.
Augustine saw history this way. For him, history had a direction and the big clue was the incarnation of Christ, when the beyond-time God hitched himself to the time-bounded creation. There was a time before this happened; there is a time afterward; there is a direction for the future.
It must be very bad form among proper historians, I imagine, to believe this. But I think it is Christian orthodoxy. History is about conception, resurrection, consummation, all around Christ, all about the timeless God involving himself with his creation and eventually filling it out with love and making it whole.
Surely this idea can be criticised all over the place. But it does give a point to each of our individual lives. The point: everything we are and do now that anticipates, outlines, foreshadows or even hastens that consummation has point and value. Everything that doesn’t, doesn’t. Not only does history have meaning and direction, our each individual moments have too–and they revolve around love.