You will need to wear your Indiana Jones fedora and stick with it, but I can promise you the big, Imaginative Conservative ending–with Russell Kirk on horseback, Christopher Dawson commanding the landing craft and Chesterton parachuting down from above as Elgar conducts the beachfront orchestra. Or something like that. Really.
Our tale begins in a lost temple, brought to my attention by a fellow contributor, showing how a vast, Neolithic complex complete with elaborately carved art, recently discovered in Anatolia, seems to prove Dawson’s assertion that religion precedes all civilisations, while the cities and inventions and whatnot follow later. For imaginative conservatives especially, it is the most exciting archaeological discovery of all–better than the Altamira caves or the Rosetta Stone because it is man’s earliest unequivocal example of religion, and it preceded agriculture and any civilisation within our grasp. Read about it here, here and here and you will be dazzled.
The discovery at Gobekli Tepe is controversial, of course–half because all the jealous archaeologists, who missed discovering it due to staff meetings, need something to whine about; and because it does unpleasant things to materialist ideologues who spent the last century genuflecting to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs–that Man first craved food and then shelter and companionship, while religion counted only as a diversion until Hollywood replaced it with better entertainment. Had Dawson concocted a hierarchy it would have begun with spiritual nourishment (and damn the pizza). As if to prove it, here stands this massive complex with no role apart from worship, ostensibly built by hunter-gatherers long before they could plant wheat seeds for the crust, much less open a jar of Ragu or give up and phone Dominos.
Most materialist objections are flimsy, because the poor dears are not quite fully human. So they find it mysterious that the desert location was so far from water. Not being religious, they cannot understand that no man chose the spot–it was selected by God or gods or dead ancestors or dreams, for no reason clear to us or to the people who built the temple.
The Smithsonian magazine puzzles that the excavators, “found none of the telltale signs of a settlement: no cooking hearths, houses or trash pits, and none of the clay fertility figurines that litter nearby sites of about the same age. The archaeologists did find evidence of tool use, including stone hammers and blades.” It is just what they would have found had they excavated an Office Depot outlet–maybe people ate, raised their families, erected household shrines and dumped their rubbish elsewhere. Maybe an intentionally remote and vast stone temple complex was deemed inappropriate for Neolithic retirement homes, fast-food joints and souvenir stands, odd as that may seem. Maybe all they left behind was the workmen’s odd Phillips-head screwdriver and Black-and-Decker drill.
Critics demand to know where are the corpses if the site was funereal as some think–but people can haul bones back home so that, after the distant ceremony, the dead can dwell close to the living. Would not it be nicer to have grandma, and the other ancestors, buried at the edge of town or even under the hearth? How could they look after us otherwise? The last pagans of Central Asia, the Kalash among whom I once lived, know on which mountaintop their ancestors dwell, but the much-loved spirits come annually to each village graveyard and their wooden effigies, to check up on their progeny and so as not to miss the boozy party with the living. It makes sense.
Inevitably, this brings us to Giant Spiders from Outer Space. They cannot exist because as size grows arithmetically, mass expands geometrically–hence by the time that one became forty feet tall, its weight would be greater than even titanium or carbon fibre could support. It would collapse into a puddle, thanks to simple physics.
These physical laws evolved across vast solar systems over billions of years in order to protect us from giant spiders—as only a random and unthinking universe can ensure, unless God had something to do with it. It makes you wonder from what other monsters we may be rescued by a wholly accidental universe that , while incapable of the simplest thought nevertheless is very well-meaning indeed—possibly saving us from a clutch of grumpy archaeological materialists that waddle into a vast religious complex and miss the whole point like blind and deaf people at a Metallica concert.
To imagine this we must understand that physics works incrementally and not all at once. Your Giant Spiders from Outer Space (or mine, come to think of it) were not born so big for the simple reason that they were never born at all. Presumably they got bigger until their size and weight became a deterrent, whereupon they stopped reproducing and did something else instead. The same may happen to grumpy archaeologists, and even to the whole materialist world which seems to be their breeding ground. The physical limitations may all be part of the Master Plan of a Universe that is, um, incapable of planning—or God of course.
Maybe the plan to stop giant spiders is to grant them their wish to grow larger, until they achieve extinction before doing any real damage. Maybe materialists are allowed to become more and more materialistic until their essential spiritual parts atrophy and they collapse into puddles of mere material. Maybe even America—that left God out of the equation when it celebrated “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”—gets as much of those three as it ever wanted, until it chokes.
If America is the Giant Spider of Materialism, maybe it has already grown too big to survive. Its size cannot be reduced, perchance; its economy too complex to permit small-scale invention and entrepreneurship; its corporate agriculture too mechanized and its food too cheap for its citizens to return to farms; its diversions too exquisite to ever be traded back for self-disciplined faith; its freedoms too attractive to be swopped for yesteryear’s restricting benefits of community, family and friends who live and make demands rather than who only exist on Facebook. Maybe we tried the mind-altering drugs of materialism and can only long for the next hit.
Maybe even America’s sales appeal abroad—it inspired such envy—recedes as foreigners see the negatives; the leagues of bastard children, chips on the shoulders of noisy homosexuals, the bad manners and greedy litigiousness, the migraines born of maxed-out credit cards, etc. Maybe that helps to explain the nasty, nationalistic socialism afoot once more in Europe, and why moderate Muslim families still cannot quite bring themselves to oppose their radical neighbours. But meanwhile, too successful and too big, the arachnid collapses into a materialistic puddle.
Maybe our clever, unthinking universe—or God—cannot resist sharing the joke and hinting at the punchline. Gobekli Tepe’s hunter-gatherers may have left because their food grew scarce under a little Ice Age, as we are predicted to succumb to warming. Whether either is true, the connoisseur’s jest is that nothing mortal lasts, warm or cold, no matter how cocky you get after building a temple or a whole civilization from material.
Never assume that the hunter-gatherers were much different than we. Both civilizations arose thanks to the religious catalyst that Dawson described. While you long for a computerized watch they may have wanted a goat, but we share longing. Mothers-in-law never changed since the Neolithic. All civilizations wither and die.
Maybe it is not the operatic tragedy that we think. Maybe the inevitable death of civilisations—like you losing your wallet or little Cousin Maude struck down by a hod of falling bricks—is partly a lesson in the Vanity of Human Wishes and partly God’s jest, rescued from cruelty because He also designed a Heavenly Reward to be seen in the next movie. Thus we are not meant to mourn Ozymandias—we can observe his “vast and trunkless legs of stone” while we lay out the picnic, uncork the wine and say Grace.
The lesson and the joke do not instruct us to only relax in God’s movie and munch popcorn; we have jobs to do, if only because we were made to replicate Our Maker’s handiwork as we can, while remembering Him as we ought. But this should spare us, now and again, from distracting ourselves in materialism or in mere politics. That lesson is partly why we were given Kirk and Dawson, Chesterton and Elgar, lost temples waiting to be discovered and even the physical laws protecting us from Giant Spiders from Outer Space.
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