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The End of the World Again

We have stopped thinking about the brevity of this life, and in the process have also stopped thinking about the breadth of eternity.

A graveyard in London. (Tom Wheatley | Unsplash.com)

We used to keep death close, even stare it in the face: the skull on the desk beside the book, the graveyard right next to the church, crypts under the floors where we knelt. We kept death close to remind us that we must die. There was a fear of death, but it was a very healthy fear. It made us live better lives. By watching the dead we watched ourselves. By contemplating the mystery of the next life, we took an active interest in the mystery of this life.

“For some strange reason,” says G.K. Chesterton, “man must always plant his fruit trees in a graveyard. Man can only find life among the dead.”

But he saw us losing our fruitful fear of the morbid. Now we have hidden away our cemeteries, and, what’s more, as Chesterton predicted, we have returned to the pagan habit of cremation. We have scattered our ashes, and the wind has blown away the memory of the dead. We have stopped thinking about the brevity of this life, and in the process have also stopped thinking about the breadth of eternity. And a strange loss of balance has occurred, even a loss of sanity, which is what happens when there is a loss of mental and spiritual balance. We used to fear death. Now we fear life instead. We used to fear abnormal things, like sexual perversion and slaughtering babies in the womb. Now we fear normal things, like the weather.

We no longer throw the meaningful shovelful of dirt on the coffin because now the dirt has become more sacred than the dead. We mutilate our bodies in the most unnatural ways, yet we wring our hands about using too much air or too much water or too much bread. We do not worry that we are destroying our individual homes with adultery and divorce and contraception and abortion, but we are obsessively worried that we are destroying our shared home the earth by turning on lights, growing corn, eating meat, driving cars. We have grown afraid of the primal and primary tools of civilization – fire and farming and the wheel – because they might interfere with the earth and sky. We are afraid of the normal, human things because we have forgotten the dead. We don’t read them, we don’t remember them, and we have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten that we are civilized. Civilization has always interfered with the forest. As soon as the plow breaks the soil, man declares his supremacy over nature. But now we cower before the climate.

We can predict the stars, Chesterton says, but we cannot predict the clouds. Amazing how he continues to be right about that one. In spite of our sophisticated meteorological equipment, we still can’t predict the clouds. We still cannot infallibly forecast sunshine or rain tomorrow. That of course that won’t stop us from checking the weather report. It is harmless when planning for a picnic. But it is a grave matter (ha!) when we have chosen to follow into the wilderness the most consistently wrong prophet in all of history: the weatherman.

Here is Chesterton talking about the weather:

On the bright blue day my spirits go slightly down; there seems something pitiless about perfect weather. On the clear cool day, my spirits are normal. In the fog, my spirits go up; it feels like the end of the world, or better still, a detective story.

Paradoxical and profound as expected. Good weather brings him down, bad weather lifts him up. And he sees the end of the world in the weather. He also sees a mystery. The fog is full of riddles. But the finality at a certain point is certain.

Now we have the weatherman telling us it’s the end of the world. He is not the first prophet to make this prediction. Chesterton says, “It is very natural but rather misleading, for supposing that this epoch must be the end of the world because it will be the end of us.”

And yet, one of these times it really be the end of the world, even if a wobbly prophet says so.

For the Christian, the final revelation is a good thing, the apocalypse, the unveiling, the solution to the mystery, the explanation not only of all things, but of that most mysterious thing: ourselves. Chesterton cannot help but anticipate what, in truth, we have all been waiting for: “No men will ever know each other till the end of the world.”

But here’s a thought. What if the climate change alarmists are absolutely right? And what if we do not heed their warnings? What if we proceed on this path to destruction? What if there is nothing they can do to stop us? What if we are all going to burn up, if not quickly, then slowly and surely?

Will those who will have lost their hope about saving the earth have any concern to save their souls? Will they consider Jonah and Nahum and Nineveh? Will anyone ever repent?

Instead of the thundering hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, perhaps the Judge will come riding in at a plodding pace, maybe even on a donkey, but without fanfare, without trumpets. Perhaps he will quietly dismount and silently switch off the lights. The heat will be eternal, but the stars will all go out. Just a thought.


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About Dale Ahlquist 36 Articles
Dale Ahlquist is president of the American Chesterton Society, creator and host of the EWTN series "G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense," and publisher of Gilbert Magazine. He is the author and editor of several books on Chesterton, including The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton.

3 Comments

  1. We can’t forecast the clouds or the weather, says G.K. Chesterton, but (serving here as devil’s advocate) might it be as much about backcasting as it is about forecasting?

    Which is to say: The dry-run Dustbowl happened—something about the weather…combined with man-induced soil exhaustion. Oh, well, what the hell, that’s all secondary-school history book stuff. They didn’t have “the Cloud” and smartphones back then!

    Years before the anti-pope Al Gore ever predicted the loss of the ice caps within a few decades (Oops!), Pope St. John Paul II—meditating on human solidarity (part of the Catholic Social Teaching)—had words to say about thinking inter-generationally, words about not fouling the nest for our grandchildren…

    Wrote he: “Clearly, an adequate solution cannot be found merely in better management or a more rational use of the earth’s resources, as important as these may be. Rather, we must also go to the source of the problem and face in its entirely that profound moral crisis of which the destruction of the environment is only one troubling aspect” (“And God Saw that it was Good,” Dec. 8, 1989; repeated at the 1990 World Day of Peace).

    http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/messages/peace/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_19891208_xxiii-world-day-for-peace.html

    The ecology elevated as a “moral” issue from the sweaty hands of trendy eco-freaks on marijuana! And even scientific, though such science is complex and conflicted and, for some, fascinating and perhaps even a vocation.

    In Centessimus Annus (1991) JP II then addressed both the “natural ecology” and the analogous (but categorically different) “human ecology”, and how these two realms overlap. But he was not so overreaching as to conflate the two—as (I believe) with an “integral ecology” as set forth in the recently released group-think Amazonia working paper for October 2019. Rainforest ecology = a married priesthood? Looks to some like German “ideological colonization.”

    But I digress. As for “the judge” quietly turning out the lights, perhaps it is we ourselves who have our unwitting opposable thumbs on the switch. Are we the “Hollow People” lamented by Anglo-Catholic (he almost swam the Tiber!) T.S. Eliot: “This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper”?

  2. “But he saw us losing our fruitful fear of the morbid” (Ahlquist). A great line from a saged Chestertonian, A philosphical Tour de Force, Enough commendation for striking the nail. It’s exactly where we’re at mindlessly avoiding the reality of death and Judgment knowing inside our heart there is more to our existence than saving the Planet.

    • Would I be correct in supposing that: if in our our many lifetimes we’d lived as we aught, there wouldn’t be a planet needing to be saved?

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. The End of the World Again -
  2. “Facing the Final Confrontation” – Fr. Regis Scanlon
  3. VivaChile.org » Religión Sociedad » De nuevo el fin del mundo

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