Old Wine, New Bottle

The New Yorker‘s essayist Adam Gopnik — whom I have always considered to be quite lavishly talented, despite his dainty and epicene style — beclowned himself one minute into this New Year with a stupendously mawkish item on gun control. It is so bad, in fact — so completely barren of fact, rational argument, or indeed any serious intellectual effort whatsoever — that I was startled, and frankly saddened, to see it in print. It is the cognitive equivalent, if one can imagine such a thing hoisted into Mr. Gopnik’s rarefied belletrist milieu, of yelling “BOSTON SUCKS” at a Yankees-Red Sox game, at a time when Boston leads the division by eleven games.

I had begun to prepare a thorough dissection of the thing when I saw that both Charles C. W. Cooke and John Hinderaker had already done the job. You can read the Gopnik piece here, and the Cooke and Hinderaker responses here and here, respectively.

It was not the day’s only glimpse of the cultural Great Divide; the first of the year also found me embroiled in a conversational dust-up about global warming. The subject had come up at a friend’s house here in Wellfleet, where the lovely Nina and I had spent a thoroughly delightful New Year’s Eve. As my friend and I were clearing up after a sumptuous midnight feast, he asked if I had received, as he had, a phone call from a local “green-energy” outfit offering to mount a solar panel on his roof, the cost of which would largely be offset by government subsidies. I said that I had not, and went on to express some curiosity about whether this was really an appropriate use of public funds in the first place. My friend found my lack of faith disturbing: it seemed inconceivable to him that something as obviously well-intentioned as this could have any downside whatsoever. I, on the other hand, couldn’t really see why some working stiff in Worcester ought to have a chunk of his family’s rent money confiscated in order to plant a soon-to-be-obsolete solar panel on my friend’s second home.

At this point we were joined by another guest who immediately, and correctly, suspected that I was harboring dark and dangerous misgivings about The Global Warming Crisis itself. A lively conversation ensued, the general flow of which I am sure you can imagine. I generally give as good as I get on this topic, though, and I refused to be strapped to the ducking stool. In fact, my interlocutor being, despite his unreflective liberalism, a capital fellow of high intelligence and genuine open-mindedness, I think that by the end I had planted a little seed of doubt in his mind. (May the light of Truth and Reason nourish and water it in the months and years ahead.)

I was struck once again by the clarity with which global-warmism reveals itself as a secular repurposing of the religious impulse — a deep and universal human yearning that, in the corroded cultural aftermath of the Enlightenment’s skeptical acid-bath, has lost a transcendent God as its referent, and now wants very badly something else to plug into.

The mythos, from Genesis to Redemption, has been transplanted almost entirely without alteration:

In the beginning, there was only God.

From God arose Man.

Before his Fall, Man lived simply, and in perfect harmony with God. It was a Paradise on Earth.

Then a disaster happened. Man acquired a new kind of Knowledge: knowledge that he did not need, but that conferred upon him enormous temptation. In his unwisdom, and against God’s wishes, Man succumbed. His new Knowledge gave him great power, but at a terrible cost: he had turned his back on God, and his Paradise was lost. In his exile, he would wield his ill-gained power in prideful suffering and woe.

But then came a Messenger, offering the possibility of Redemption: if Man were to renounce his awful Knowledge, and learn once again to surrender himself to the love of God, he would be forgiven, and could find his way back to Paradise. It would not be easy — it would require that he make terrible sacrifices, atone for his many sins, and give up his worldly comforts and much that he had come to love — but if his faith was strong, his Salvation could become a reality, and he could once again live in Paradise, in sweet communion with God.

In order to move from the old religion to the new one, we need only substitute “Nature” for “God” in the passages above. That the two conceptions are almost perfectly isomorphic, and that both are manifestations of the same underlying impulse, should be plainly evident. But perhaps one must be a heretic oneself to notice it.

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  1. Nice! Must add “belletrist” to my vocabulary.

    A minor quibble — perhaps a better substitution for God would be Obama.

    Posted January 3, 2015 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  2. JK says

    That Gopnik feller ought stick to writing about climate.

    Posted January 3, 2015 at 1:16 pm | Permalink