Take that, organized religion!
The right wing has decided to land on the fire at Notre Dame cathedral as a symbol of the decline of Christianity in the west and is spouting all kinds of nonsense about the French and their somewhat cool connection to Roman Catholicism. That was predictable, but it puts a lot of weight on the belief that God actually punishes people for their behavior here on earth.
I don’t believe that and neither should you.
I am heartbroken for the people of Paris, of course, because of the damage to such an important symbol. I have watched that building from the riverbank and thought about its importance. A thousand years of history right in your face, good and bad. How would we feel if we lost something like that? That would hurt, if a 1,000 year old important thing was destroyed on this side of the ocean.
But we don’t have many thousand year old things on this side of the ocean, at least not things we built on our own.
We ruined the Native American culture and thought nothing of it at the time. We ruined tens of millions of acres of pristine forestland and thought nothing of that, too. It didn’t happen all at once so I guess we just never noticed it. We have poisoned our rivers with chemicals and agricultural runoff, and that bothers only a relatively small collection of activists.
But I never associated any of that with God’s condemnation because I dont’ go to mass much at all (actually, at all.) It’s quite arrogant to think that our behavior can have any impact on how things play out, except for the wrecking of nature and ruination of just about everything we touch.
But that’s not God at work. That’s just us.
We should look at the fire in Paris in the same context. Who decided back in the 12th century it was okay to have oak and chestnut beams up there sealed in a lead covered roof? Didn’t anyone think about fire at that point. Apparently not.
The modern French are a lot smarter than that. They have a fire crew in the cathedral at all times. They regularly visited the attic with its forest of ancient timbers to make certain nothing was going on. They even had fire alarms installed, but not sprinklers. They were watching, we are told. But once fire gets going in those conditions, it doesn’t stop, no matter how hard you try.
This is a terrible loss for all of us who visited that magnificent building and were swept away by the scale of the place. But don’t think of it as being about God. It’s nice to think you have a snippet of the Crown of Thorns in your collection, but I don’t believe that, just like I don’t believe there is a vial of milk of the Virgin Mary someplace. Notre Dame, way back then and even now, is a symbol of what we want to believe. But, thats a very thousand year old way of thinking of God and what it represents in modern life. It God, we are told, is everywhere, why even bother rebuilding?
Just honor the spot!
Well, a nation can’t do that.
If the Washington monument or the dome of Congress collapsed tomorrow, there would be a period of mourning and then we would rebuild. Because that’s what people do, try to save important symbolic things. Take a look at Lower Manhattan. We have a monument and we have new buildings. That’s what people do. And 911 was a much more tragic event than the burning of a beautiful cathedral. We lost 3,000 people in a vicious assault. Then we rebuilt.
That should happen to Notre Dame cathedral, too. Just because it was so beautiful and so important to the idea of a French culture. But don’t make the mistake of thinking it was God punishing the French for their misbehaviors.
I went to mass one Sunday (yes, I confess) in a church nearby and was delighted to find out two important things: 1. No pews, just wicker chairs, much softer on the butt, and 2. Your spirituality is inside of you and can come out whenever you really need it.
Doing anything because you think you should is nonsense. But doing something because you believe is precious. I wish I still had that kind of faith. Like the burning cathedral in Paris, perhaps I can rebuild if only I can find the right kind of wood.