by Mr White
Sunday morning enlightenment as TV entertainment takes a slightly strange turn to weird.
|The studio bathed in a stark illumination, several cross cutting small suns. Air conditioned, the aching heat of the lamps is not supposed to detract from the light of truth and embarrass the face with sweat. This is The Big Debate, going out live.
Perennial host Simon Grimond introduced the new season’s first chosen issue to reflect its purpose of enlightened Sunday morning entertainment.
‘‘So let us begin with the first big debate, is it right that our ‘human rights’ take precedence over all else under Heaven? Can we begin with the Bishop of Plymouth? do you agree, Bishop, that the powerful root of humanist ideals took its cue from the biblical teaching that we, as a unique species, hold dominion over all within Creation?’’
The Bishop unfolded his hands and slowly held them out in a supplicating gesture. ‘‘Well, I’m not so sure you can pin the more extreme political and commercial activities of our species on biblical teaching alone, the Bible is peppered with teachings which could be said to contradict such a view, particular interpretations fitted to specific times are down to the politics of a particular day. It’s true the accepted agrarian model of control and utility of landscape could find antecedents in biblical teaching which that teaching partly reflects, but it is also true humanism rejected Christianity as a model. I’d be more inclined to look to Classical Greece for the ideal of our imperious status as a species, striving conscience free as opposed to in guilt, the idea of Earth as mere material.’’
The show’s host smiled, pleased with this immediate broadening of the topic. ‘‘You heard it John, it’s the early civil antecedents themselves which are the root of what some radical environmentalists see as our almost fanatical self regard, our achievements held aloft, usually at the expense of the biosphere itself, something upon which we so depend.’’
The Neo Con historian sneered his trademark performance of disdain, an early forties Oxbridge postgraduate, he looked distinctly well fed on the finer merits of that particular self-regard. ‘‘So you say Simon, so you say, but really, let’s face it, what exactly is it you’re calling for? Are we supposed to go back to living in mud huts and hunting and gathering in some crazed call for balance with the beast of the field? It’s a fact, our species has tamed and harnessed our planet so that we can, to quote the Bible, ‘go forth and multiply’, and boy have we been successful at it. Would any other species do anything less had they our gifts of intelligence with such remarkable adaptability?’’
A few claps of approval came from the humanist and atheist sections of the auditorium. Also on the small podium was the big name celebrity, a well known feminist of two best selling books who quietly groaned and visibly grimaced waiting her turn. ‘‘Before coming to our third guest, let’s take that across the floor to you Sarah, as a Greenpeace activist, how do you respond to that idea, that come on, let’s face it, it’s far too late, we are where we are, we can’t simply unzip the modern world and return to a natural state of balance and harmony with mother nature, that we simply have to adapt and modify our energy and transport infrastructure, try and mitigate the consequences of a possibly inevitable climate change, minimize it in light of what we know, we cant somehow cut our numbers down to a more sustainable level.’’
‘‘Well, that’s just defeatist talk, of course no one’s advocating a mathematical genocide, but being so remarkable and adaptable, is it not within our wit to utilize what science makes available to us, to harness the power of sunlight, to harness the power of wave, wind and tide, to burn sustainable biomass which can also, when it grows, absorb the carbon it emits - instead of simply sticking our heads in the sand and cowering before the vested interest of the status quo? If we can spend two trillion bailing out a black hole in city institutions only to stimulate a return to conventional growth, we can also spend two trillion converting the global economy to the new low carbon technologies which, lets face it, will come sooner or later whatever anyone in this studio says.’’
This time cheers and applause from her side of the room. ‘‘OK, let’s take it back to the issue at discussion, is our ‘human rights’ a one eyed blinker, is it not our self regard as a species that has got us into this mess in the first place, the startling hubris that we can simply do as we please simply because we can? We’ve taken the quickest route to achieve the greatest power and wealth for our species, the easiest way to make life easier for ourselves without regard for anything but ourselves? June, you’re a columnist who likes to take issue for the rights of women, are we living in a ‘humanist’ bubble, disconnected from the wider world in our obsession with our own humanity, often at the expense of any other consideration?’’
June bristled. ‘‘That’s a little harsh, we’ve achieved remarkable things in the past century, its arguable that it’s the obsession with power and wealth of men which has turned a blind eye to our natural state; women - often ignored - are always far more in tune with nature; after all, its us women who bring the miracle of human life into the world while trying to function in this world mostly men have built around us.’’
Groans and moans from some of the older male members of the audience. ‘‘Oh come on.’’
‘‘No John, you’ll get your turn, if I may June, try and keep it to the central issue, in your own concentration on woman’s rights, are you not in yourself merely compartmentalizing the humanist ideal for its female half and distracted forgetting the bigger picture?’’
‘‘Perhaps you have a point - women have become too blinded by trying to compete with men in a man’s world. But...’’
With this there came a loud bang as somewhere in the architecture beyond the studio something dramatic caused the lights to dim and flicker. ‘‘You’ll have to bear with us viewers, here in Plymouth we’re in the midst of a tremendous Atlantic storm, it seems we’re not invulnerable even here in this great hall to the wrath of the elements. Outside there's something of a tempest.’’
The forum and audience were rippling an excitable murmur of discussion. One of the studio lights flared and flashed out catching June and the guest panel in a blinding dazzle, but June in particular appeared most affected, she rubbed her eyes with her middle-fingers and began to look significantly flushed by the experience. Her eyes flared wide and shut a few times but an unexpected smile slowly dawned to disturb the set of her full lips, her famously enormous green eyes became a tad harrowing to hold, there was a slight reddish glint to their ebony discs. With her fullest face, long black flowing hair, she looked positively charged by the whole experience.
‘‘OK, let’s settle down, I’m told we’re safe to proceed so let’s get back to the debate. If I can bring in Bryson Kelly, you sir are a born again evangelist preacher, what do you make of the charge that it’s as much the Christian Church as the Secular Enlightenment which is behind the narrowly focused ideals of the humanist age we now live in?’’
‘‘Well that’s an interesting hypothesis, but I think it’s quite clear that once the Enlightenment divorced itself from any notion of the sacred and notions of humility and mankind’s fallibility, it became a distinctly atheist dogma and fundamentally materialist in orientation. Once we lose sight of the spiritual we loose sight of our own fallibility without as well as perfectibility within as part of God’s grace. That’s my view.’’
A large section of the studio audience groaned aloud in protest. One gave voice, ‘‘I must interrupt, that’s simply ridiculous to put human folly at the door of atheism. Look what science has achieved without the grace of some imaginary super being, put a man on the moon, discovered the origin of the universe; discovered the scale and extent of the cosmos as well as the fundamental particles which weave the entire fabric of existence. Had we heeded the church we’d still be wearing sackcloth and tilling the fields while Earls and Lords held lavish banquets at our expense. It is of course humanism and secularism which has achieved the liberation of mankind from our own stupidity. And it is humanist science which has discovered what we’re doing to the environment and told us the means by which we can address it should we heed its science and not those who ignore its ideals in the name of greed.’’
The red faced speaker’s head was nodding uncontrollably with an apparently inflamed indignation, not unlike a Churchill dog in the back of a car window. ‘‘Yes Bob, as a lecturer in physics at Plymouth University, you’re well placed to discuss the merits of science in all of this, but what about the arrogance and conceit which thought we could act as we please only ever considering the rights of human kind, and not giving a second thought to the natural balance of the world which we now discover we’re severely decimating?’’
‘‘Well you can’t pin that at the door of science, you have to look at the powerful pressure groups and politicians who make all the decisions supposedly on all of our behalf.’’
‘‘Newton believed in God!’’ ‘‘Yes madam, that’s not part of our discussion, if I may return to June, he makes a valid point, it’s not humankind itself which is at fault here, its greed and possibly the corruption of wealth which has influenced our politicians and leaders over the past few centuries which is at fault, but likewise you can’t simply blame men, some men are good, some are bad, be they Christian, atheist, humanist or men of business. Human Rights as well as Woman’s Rights are still valid, everything else is a separate issue to all this.’’
June’s smile grew. ‘‘Of course Simon, it’s a simple answer to a much older and far bigger question. A very old question. With the depth of contemplation of our inner truth comes a timeless outer vision. Behind Christian/atheist, behind man/woman, behind humanist/environmentalist, we're each a vital and unique biotic code flowing through matter as an exquisitely intricate and vital part of Earth’s form. All this plastic talk is most insensitive noise. Out of our fundamental atavistic truth comes a reawakening, wise, a vital energy too long missed and a penetrating sensitivity to all. The once profoundly placed human has simply had a fever, a time of distracting artifice and its abstract artificial excitements. Soon enough its true, deeper, innate health shall re-emerge. Already your paltry and falsely self-isolated goldfish bowls show signs of terminal fracture, our thoughts will reenter the biosphere.’’
For a moment Simon seemed a little nonplussed. ‘‘Er, yes, if we can bring in John again, yeah, what do you say to June, humanity’s simply had a fever?’’
John's sneer stretched his slightly pudgy features to their tightest extremity. ‘‘I don’t know that the hell June's on but I wouldn’t mind getting some.’’ This brought a spattering of laughter though a few uncertain giggles from the room. ‘‘No, seriously, of course our physics Professor hit the nail on the head, of course there are good people and there are bad people, but that shouldn’t detract from the welcome ideals of humanity. I don’t entirely subscribe to the full package of ‘human rights’ myself, but the human species is a remarkable thing. It’s simply not our place to sacrifice our own interests in the name of cute, furry animals who just run around killing each other anyway. And as for June’s elliptic, cryptic comments, that’s just 6th form pretentiousness, really she should grow up.’’
With this Simon walked towards a woman in black, a member of a local pagan council dressed in full Gothic attire. But John was caught by a strange glance from June, June’s narrowed eye seemed to burn with subtle coals of a vast knowing, then its fire seemed to simply putter out, her face becoming relaxed, back to her usual, open expression, again she rubbed her eyes with her middle fingers. But now John’s eyes were narrowing; he peered with a slightly manic intensity at his shoes, his smile less a sneer than the guilt dressing of a new inner guile about exposed, foxy, as if newly jagged teeth. The pagan woman held forth about the loss of the landscape as a sacred stage on which the human race knew its place. ‘‘...so it’s clear unless we return to the Goddess, unless we embrace her wholeheartedly, the consort will be lost and we’ll be punished as she suffers the sacrilege of a disconnected materialism.’’
Again there came a loud bang, creaking somewhere beyond the structure of the hall. This time the lights went out completely and the hall erupted in a few muffled shrieks and once again rumbled with excitable chatter. But the lights soon came back on, the cameras had continued to roll. ‘‘OK, again, I’m told it’s safe to carry on, there might be an intermission to the live broadcast, but it appears we’re to proceed. Settle down everyone, settle down, there’s no reason to be alarmed, it was just a circuit breaker. Let’s come back to the Bishop. What do you make of our pagan friend’s assertion that it’s our intellectual disconnection from mother Earth, from Gaia shall we say, that’s behind a lot of what’s wrong with the human story as it’s now unfolding?’’
‘‘Well I wholeheartedly sympathize with the notion of Gaia as expressed by the remarkable mind of James Lovelock, but the idea that a return to paganism is the answer is manifestly absurd. We’re now experiencing the ravages of a freak summer storm. Were we still pagan as the lady suggests, one remedy had the crops subsequently failed might well have been human sacrifice..’’
‘‘But what about Jesus! what did it say in the Bible?’’ She clearly had support in her crowd, ‘‘That’s not true, that’s simply not true, that’s just what the Roman’s said. What about the native Americans, what about the Aborigines, they didn’t sacrifice anyone and look what the Church did to them!’’
‘‘Notwithstanding my dear lady, it was true of Britain and Northern Europe in the Neolithic, if not in the more romantic notion of our own Celtic heritage, the archaeological evidence is irrefutable, but I do sympathize with the pagan sensitivity to the environment, and your point that terrible mistakes have been made with indigenous populations the world over. But again, I maintain that was the influence of politics.’’
‘‘John, lets bring you into this, you happily describe yourself as a neo conservative, in fact you were very critical of David Cameron’s vote blue go green campaign, but unlike your American counterparts, you’re not a Christian, you’re an agnostic, do you accept that atheism can be seen to be just as culpable as the Church when it comes to being blinded by humanity’s progress at the expense of the natural world?’’
John lifted his gaze from his shoe, his smile seemingly fixed, immovable. ‘‘Actually, if I’m deeply honest, I totally do. If we settle down, let the cerebrum cool a second, we all know deep down our true place in the scheme of things. It’s not power, nor wealth. The world is infinitely less interesting without consideration and contemplation of what underpins, inter-connects and transcends a naive identification. Without the acute kinship to our part in the universe we’re an orphaned child oblivious to the necessity of parenthood.’’
Again Simon looked a little off track. And again there came a bang, but this time accompanied by a heavy groan, windows somewhere had been put through and the gale of rain and hail could be heard even through the thick walls and oak paneled doors. The audience again murmured excitably, as the lights began to flicker and flash. John peered at a red light in the corner which signified they were still ‘Live’, ‘On Air’. For a second it seemed to glow brighter, then as the lights gave out completely the hall was left in complete darkness.