Matthew 10:29

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them
will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.

The central concern of the book "The Sparrow," by Mary Russell Doria, is not so much the existence or non-existence of a maker, but the make-up of the maker as far as we can understand the planning and purpose (or lack thereof) involved. When the sparrow falls, what is its relationship to the overall scheme of things? Was the development of something else dependent on its demise or is destiny no more than bad luck, timing, or the simple running down of the finite molecular machine?
The Bible assures us that The Maker witnesses such population changes but I, for one, find no consolation in that spin. I don't mind a relaxed deity; what unsettles me is the possibility that there is no goal; no direction in which all sentient beings, finally illuminated, must point themselves. If indeed, there is no "mind" behind all this bustling activity, or worse, the "mind" doesn't have a plan or give a damn, then people like Emilio Sandoz (the protagonist Jesuit Sparrow of this book), and me on certain days, have a problem.
Look, we all auto-hypnotize ourselves to get through life. We cling to beliefs and precepts as a way of soothing basic anxiety; trick is not to have the ideological ivy cling so desperately to the tree that when the tree falls, the ivy is bereft of options in terms of future supports. Padre Sandoz was shocked into despair by events that eventually transpired on the extraterrestrial terrain he and his crew and surrogate family had adopted as second home. What he found on the new planet was a social system brutally similar to the one he had left behind. The aliens were no better or worse than earthlings. Theirs was a world wherein, just as on the planet Earth, shit happens and bad things happen to good people. Nothing new under the sun (or in the case of this particular planet, three suns).
He had, as people often do when in the grip of a strong idea or faith, interpreted circumstances and coincidences in the context of God's will. The mission into space was based on the conviction that they were among the special people selected by divine will to carry forth the human race to new realms. The trigger event, as construed by the architect of the Jesuit mission, was the celestial music so extraordinarily beautiful that it must be a sign--a beckoning nudge from God to follow.

We perceive according to who we are, which leaves reality as reality in pretty bad shape. Nevertheless, history shows that we are capable of some pretty astounding thinking, and I don't suppose it matters in whose name we do it, God, The Queen, Science, The Force, The Fuhrer, The Son, etc.
The ivy needs something upon which to build; it gropes until this condition is met. Be it foundation, rock, wall, the other, or anything else configured to fit the bill, this is essentially how it works. The veracity of the built upon is irrelevant to the discourse; it's the mechanism we're interested in. We differ from the other animals in that we have an amazing ability to cling to configurations and we'll go to the "ends of the earth" to prove it.
It's also called progress and it's a beautiful thing, of course. Far from looking a gift horse in the mouth, I'm only playing with the suspicion that this progress is mechanical and not metaphorically meaningful. Along with the universe that seems to be expanding so are we, but that does nothing to suggest some kind of monitoring from the outside.
We build in these monitoring introjects early on in our lives. First it's mother and later on it focuses on the motivating power of the mentor and so forth. We all need to refer to judicious checkpoints to see how we're doing. We can't bear to think we're alone. We can't bear to think we're not special.
We can't bear period.


Copyright 1998 The Courage of Our Confusion. All Rights Reserved. Comments? E-mail
Check out The Courage of Our Confusion Bookstore!

to table of contents Back to Table of Contents