The Golden Triangle
This page outlines the threats to Jean-Luc's religion posed by 1) Darwin's theory of evolution, and 2) the decipherment of early Mesopotamian texts -- both of which occur in England in the 1850s.
Les Anglais - Threat # 1 - Threat # 2 - The Precambrian Crust
Prior to entering the seminary, Jean-Luc spent four years in London -- that brick counter-weight to the limestone city he called home. He made numerous journeys between London, Oxford and Cambridge, following the best professors and the most challenging courses. He was determined to deepen his grasp of the facts — some so hard and others so beautiful — that England had done so much to unearth.
Trust les anglais to come up with these, he thought to himself, as he delved into the writings of Roger and Francis Bacon, Newton, Hume, Locke, Adam Smith, Sir William Jones, John Stuart Mill, Hincks and Rawlinson, John Smith, Darwin, Francis Crick, etc.
Etcetera… At the end of four years, he wasn't so sure that France had invented the Modern world.
The English and the French had done so much to take the Medieval world to task — and with such playful intensity! Jean-Luc loved the riot of Rabelais and the controlled rebellion of Chaucer; he loved the refined contours of Michel de Montaigne and Thomas Browne -- Time which antiquates Antiquities, and hath an art to make dust of all things -- not to mention the mystical heights and depths of Milton and Pascal. He cherished all the chiseled beauties from La Fontaine to Baudelaire, from Shakespeare to Roethke. But he needed, if he wasn't to live in a fool's paradise, to understand more than poetry and literature, more than stories. He needed to look squarely at the implications of such things as evolution and DNA. He needed to confront the inconveniences of science — the ones that led from Copernicus and Newton to Voltaire, and from Lamarck and Darwin to Sartre.
He needed to understand a vision of history that didn't go from alpha to omega, skipping the letters in between — pi, gamma, delta, and the unholy host of other inconveniences piled into equations that refused to fit into the biblical vision of time and space.
A vision of history that wasn't polished into the tragic beauty of the Pietà.
During his years in England he tried to come to terms with what he called the double threat of England in the 1850s.
Threat # 1
The first threat was of course the apple itself
which slowly took shape
in the forms of astronomy
the methodology of Francis Bacon
Newton and geology
and which took definitive shape in 1859, in Darwin's Origin of Species
with its Pandora's box of evolution.
What the Medieval world had kept covered
was now fully re-born:
the spirit of exploration, come what may;
the spirit of Odysseus and Aristotle, insinuating itself
into past layers of time — the Palaeozoic, Mesozoic,
Cenozoic spirals of our DNA
the modern revolt of science now formulated
in the movement from water to land
from tail to hand.
Instead of myths about clay and blood
Darwin presented humanity with a single explanation
that came from a way of looking at the world
a way that didn't change
and didn't rely on belief;
a perception that transcended the instrument of perception
the human eyesight now magnified by glass
electron or spectrograph
from the depths of mitochondria
to the spiral arm of our Milky Way
the deep Unknown
unveiling the world one way or another
who still wonder at the stars.
Yet where, Jean-Luc wondered, was the soul in this intricate, ever-unfolding schemelessness of things? Where was even the first thing his fellow novices agreed upon: Creation?
Where was the finger that pulsed life into clay?
Without Alpha, what could Omega mean?
Threat # 2
The second threat was the almost simultaneous deciphering — by Hincks, Rawlinson, and Smith — of cuneiform. What Jean-Luc called l'écriture terrible.
Deciphered by the English in the mid 1850s, cuneiform revealed the first human writing on earth. It also revealed a specific story that predated the Bible by thousands of years. It was a story about an angry god, a man who was warned by a god, a deluge that destroyed all life on earth, an ark, a bird, a mountain, and a sacrifice.
Cuneiform revealed legal codes and commandments, numbers — base 10 and base 60 — and phrases such as an eye for an eye. Mythic creatures such as the snake who steals life. Floods, jealous gods, legal codes, and fantastic happenings. These were nothing new.
Cuneiform unveiled the sequence of civilizations out of which much of the Bible emerged. Yet of which the Bible said very little — and almost nothing complimentary.
Jean-Luc's worries about evolution and cuneiform subsided each time he got up from his desk and looked out the stain-glass window onto the green and purple flowers of the garden. He found refuge each time he closed the library door and went into the chapel. Benedictus fructus ventris tui ...
Yet as he recited the ancient words he remembered that beneath them were other words. Words, scripts, layers. However deep the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, however powerful the visions of Dante and Fra Angelico, he couldn't ignore these other words.
What good was the Good News of the gospel if it ignored its roots in astronomy, geology, and history? How could it profess to be a gospel for all time if it ignored time itself? How could we possibly know who we are if we stubbornly refuse to know where we come from?
The Precambrian Crust
He knew, and he couldn't unknow, that beneath all the layers of human civilization lay the layers of geology and the vastness of outer space. The layers that gave rise to the mountain ranges and the volcanos, and the cosmic spaces that formed the molten core and every drop of water.
Beneath these lay the mathematics that kept the giant ellipses of the stars in place
the gravitational constants of Sir Isaac Newton
Fellow of the "Holy and Undivided Trinity"
Cambrian, adj. 1. of or pertaining to Wales
2. of or pertaining to the earliest period of the Palaeozoic era
3. of or pertaining to Cambridge
city of the mind
dedicated to the occult sciences of the microscope and microchip
integral part of the Golden Triangle of universities
one of the world's most prolific centres
for the production of intellectual heroin