It was a nice piece of history, that planet earth

Notre Dame Fire, Paris, France - 13 Apr 2019

When I was very young, my parents’ business flooded.
Queensland’s 1992 summer rains swelled the banks of the Noosa River to breaking point and beyond at Hilton Terrace where they owned the Noosa Veterinary Surgery.
Dad was the veterinarian and Mum was practice manager, and it was our livelihood as they raised my brother and I, five and two-and-a-half-years-old at the time.

It was devastating for the young parents and first time business owners who had invested so much financially, physically and emotionally into the practice. But, they were able to rescue the animals convalescing in the cages and from the mess salvage the remains of the business, and rebuild.

Of course it was not the damage to the building itself that wrought the devastation, but the building itself was a symbol of what they had built and were building together. It contained memories and mementos of their aspirations and dreams and the faith they had in themselves and each other, and in the span of a few hours it was all but destroyed.

On a larger scale, the fire at Notre Dame represents many of the same things to a great many people.
As a lover of history, architecture and Disney films I can see the Notre Dame is an objectively important cultural icon.
And as a curious observer of Christianity (and religion in general) the symbolism of not only the building, but the relics and artefacts contained within those hallowed walls is wholly apparent. Watching that spire collapse as an atheist was as much an indication that the end of days are nigh as I could possibly invent, so I can only imagine how it looked to the devout.

I am not going to try and say the grief is misplaced, or that there are things of greater concern to concentrate our collective energies upon. We are a capable lot, humans.
We have been known to multitask and we can gather to grieve the destruction of a cultural icon, while also despairing a great many global injustices.

Whether or not you feel a part of the culture it represents does not make it any less significant.
But, by the same token we cannot be fooled into thinking this is a unifying cause for greater humanity – this is very much a white, Christian grief.
That does nothing to minimise the grief, aside from make me personally a little less sympathetic.

But I am cynical as to whether there would be such an outpouring of support and sympathy if something of significance to a less mainstream culture were to be destroyed. Would it continue to be Australian front page news days after the fact if part of Mecca was destroyed?
Would we be so concerned if companies wanted to put a pipeline through sacred native American land?
Would a billionaire offer a great fortune to protect 800 year old trees which are held sacred by the oldest continually surviving culture in the world?

We would not, and we are not.

There are things to which we should ascribe a similar level of concern.
Climate change is destroying our ability, and the ability of many other species, to exist on earth.
To an extent I can appreciate the ability to mourn the Notre Dame, to gather and sing Ave Maria, to share photos of visits to Paris in years gone by and feel somewhat connected.
Climate change is still an abstract concept to many; too nebulous in its presentation for its impacts to be felt.
But that is not to say the earth has not had its burning spire moment over, and over again in recent years.

Maybe if hymns had been written to the breathtaking beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, we would have been more inclined to protect it from bleaching.
If the polar ice caps had been a reference point for gothic architecture we may have tried to stop them from melting.
If we took the story of the Garden of Eden literally, we may have wanted to save this world from ourselves.

But I do not believe the believers of those stories anymore, and I have not for a long time. Because we do not act upon their lessons.
That is why we grieve harder for the destruction of a building than we do for our natural environment.
Because the world is not man made.
We can’t take credit for it, so we will not mourn it.
We aren’t actually mourning the Notre Dame, but the vestiges of our vanity.
We’re mourning a monument we built to ourselves but claimed was for the glory of a god. And as we do, we’re ignoring the ravages we wreak upon the world and failing to see the irony in our belief that a god created this world for us.
But we know how that story ends; we have eaten the apple, and our tenancy in this wondrous Eden has been revoked.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s