Life in the Anthropocene Print
By David Warren   
Sunday, 22 September 2013

It is a conceit of radical environmentalists that the earth has entered a New Epoch. The idea, circulated in the 1980s and before, was popularized by Paul Crutzen at the turn of this century. A Dutch atmospheric scientist, and global warming activist, he is among the twenty-one Nobel laureates who signed the most recent Humanist Manifesto – thereby winning a place on my private Enemies List, which is sort of like Richard Nixon’s, except much longer.

Indeed, in the good old days, before global warming, Prof. Crutzen was warning us about global cooling, via nuclear winter. “Always something,” as Gilda Radner used to say.

According to Crutzen, our planet is being transformed by stunning population growth, sprawling megacities, and burning of fossil fuels. This will cause extinctions on the geological scale. Our agricultural production will collapse and we're all gonna die.

Unless, of course, we carefully follow his directions.

The New Epoch in which we are living, the “Anthropocene,” is like the Holocene with wheels on. Gentle reader will recall from his high school geology that the older term was given to the time since the last Ice Age, when people peopled the earth (thanks to global warming). But now it is new and improved, and the new, New Epoch started yesterday.

It is impossible to know when epochs begin or end until they are well behind us; and even then there is room for debate. A hundred million years from now, I'll give you the consensus on what age we were in.

We turn to ecclesiastical affairs, wherein a New Epoch has also been declared. It is associated with the Aparecida document, generated by an assembly of Latin American bishops, meeting by the great Brazilian Marian shrine in 2007. Archbishop Bergoglio, as he then was, had much to do with the drafting of it, and let me say it is not a bad thing.

In particular, I admire the pastoral flavor of the document, which contrasts with the bureaucratic flavor of most recent episcopal pronouncements. The document proposed to renew evangelical labor, to an unambiguously Christian end. That is to say, it must be centered in our hunger for Christ, the Son of God, who has revealed the mercy of the Father, and the truth about our human condition.

The document proclaims a new period in history, “opening up, with challenges and demands, characterized by pervasive discontent which is spread by new social and political turbulence, by the expansion of a culture distant from or hostile to Christian tradition.” True enough.

              Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Our Lady of Aparecida in July

From statements like this we derive the “New Evangelization” and the “New Epoch” as the new slogans for our new age. I have already muttered against the first in this space, but would like to grunt a little more audibly against the second.

Truth be told, I am sick to the nostrils with new labels for new movements – especially those beginning with the word “New.” The Lord, we believe, makes all things new, but this writer agrees with the old Preacher, that as far as human affairs proceed, there is nothing new under the sun.

In particular, the conception of the Church under siege, from a world that does not want her message, is very old. We have been in that position from the beginning, and always need to evangelize within. Every generation requires conversion, no one is born Catholic. Moreover, the appeal of the apostate life, and the call of competing sects and religions, has always been there. The Prince of This World has been around for a while.

According to le Père Mersenne (1588-1648), there were 50,000 atheists in Paris in the year 1623. So far as I am able to tell, this “father of acoustics” pulled the number out of his ear. He quietly withdrew it from the second edition of his Quaestiones celeberrimae in Genesim, but too late: the number has marched down through the history books, as if the result of a Gallup poll.

According to another estimate, there were actually only five atheists in Paris in 1623, “three of whom are Italian.” But whatever their number, they were there. Nearly a century later, the Princess Palatine was heard to say that, “in all Paris, clerical or lay, there are not more than a hundred people who have the true faith and even believe in our Lord.”

I shall take that as another exaggeration, and hang my point upon it. We are never in a good position to know what is really going on, even in our immediate environs. And while I myself often utter desolate remarks, they must be taken with my occasional reservations. What amazes me is to find the Catholic faith so very much alive, and in the strangest quarters. Who, but God, can know if things are as bad (or good) as they appear?

We should listen for prophets, but not for analysts. It is a mistake, worse, it is a Hegelian mistake, to think we know the course of history. Worse yet, it is a subtle mistake.

To my mind, of course the world is trending badly. Yet it would follow that we need detachment from the trend. We should remind people they are not privileged by the age, for the Church requires the same in all ages. The notion that we have "advanced" into a special situation, even if that situation is exceptionally bad, plays directly into the vanity of the anti-Christian, “progressive” mindset.

The New Epoch could easily become a slogan to replace, The spirit of Vatican II. And we know how the devil played that. By now, we even know what he is going to say: “Because this is a New Epoch, we are empowered to overturn all traditions. After all, they were only valid for the Old Epoch."

Enough of him already. Surely we have had enough “New.” Let us instead methodically rebuild whatever has been wrecked, starting with the Mass and the family.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at:
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.


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