MANILA, Philippines – The late novelist E.K. Tiempo liked to tell his students at Silliman the story of how, newly arrived in Dumaguete from the US with a PhD in English and fellowships from Rockefeller and Guggenheim, he was invited to speak at a church service by a smallish fundamentalist congregation (so I assume but it may have been actually a large one) and, at the end of his talk, heard this comment from the pastor: “Let us pray that our guest speaker will be forgiven for the irreverent thing that he has said to us this morning.” It may have been more strongly worded and memory won’t be held back – …for the blasphemy that he has said to us this morning.
Dr. Tiempo said the story of Adam and Eve was myth not history.
This was in the late Fifties – over half a century ago. It was the time of Sputnik, the beginning of the awesome thing called space exploration. Dr. Tiempo’s anecdote seems to be a homespun, hometown echo, of a Hollywood movie hit: Inherit the Wind, a frankly theatrical popularization of the debate, continuing to this day, between Evolution and Creationism.
Ah! but the problem with fundamentalists and literalists and historicists on both sides is that they don’t give revelation a chance. Or even just imagination. Imagine there’s a heaven! Yes, why not ‘there’s a heaven’ instead? I thought the Beatles were saying yea not nay.
A talking serpent. That’s got to be myth. Metaphor, poetry, dream, right brain, intuition, vision, revelation, Faculty X. And anyway anyone can see a serpent is a serpent is a serpent.
Take another example, the Tower of Babel. One instantly feels this too is parable, open text. Did Thomas Pynchon see his rocket in the tower of Babel and vice-versa? I seem to remember something to that effect, though I read Gravity’s Rainbow twice and still didn’t understand a rocketload of it.
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For one thing, the thrust of both rocket and tower is skyward, at once suggesting, whispering to the subconscious if not waking mind the idea of flight and, yeah, space exploration. Obviously the idea of the tower being built in order to literally reach heaven would have been idiot technology even to Nebuchadnezzar himself or was it Nimrod. It’s got to be parable country, not any more Kanlaon or Kansas.
There it appears that the super beings do not – the Supreme Being does not – look at such hubristic or proud enterprises from man with approbation. Man is taught a lesson. Case in point was Prometheus whom the gods punished for stealing fire from heaven to give to mankind.
But he, Mr. Homo Sapiens, was allowed, in Fr. Eleuterio Tropa’s ‘glorious days’ of 1969 (Gloria Diaz won the Miss Universe title in synchronicity and Fr. Tropa, he punned) to take a small step for man that was also a giant leap for mankind, if not strictly on account of the Moon’s lesser gravity.
According to Pynchon’s Nguarorerue the Rocket will eventually take over. “Proud man… How do you presume to compare a number you have only derived on paper with a number that is the Rocket’s own?”
Was Pynchon, an engineer, talking of AI? Had he, along with fellow American genius Bobby Fischer and former world chess champion Mikhail Botvinnik, also anticipated Garri Kasparov’s 1997 defeat at the hands, though it hadn’t any, of the computer Deep Blue 2?
Theology, if one understood right, had warned man off from opening certain doors that better remained unopened.
The prime instance then was the creation of the atomic bomb.
The word ‘epochal’ is inadequate. One for the ages is more like it. Its gravitas reaches forward to the space age and backward to that of the dinosaurs. Maybe it was what killed the dinosaurs! But that’s sci-fi cum conscience, not science. Albert Einstein, we are told, was conscience-stricken. His famous equation led to the opening of a door. And of course the letter to President Roosevelt.
The Tower of Babel once more looms. In which metafiction God, speaking in the plural of majesty, decides to thwart man’s titanic project by creating the languages of the world whereas there had been originally only one and thus sowing confusion that made further progress impossible.
Nothing even remotely similar obtained in the case of the Bomb so now man holds in his hands a nightmare thing. Last I read of it, a 1980s book, one megaton bomb exploded 100 miles above the earth’s surface will set all of Europe on fire (The Darkness of God: Theology After Hiroshima, by Jim Garrison). God didn’t do anything to stop J. Robert Oppenheimer and company, certainly not the Babel of tongues trick. According to the novelist James Thackara, American girls had one word with which to describe Robert’s eyes: beautiful.
Dr. Cesar Ruiz Aquino is a chess player, poet and retired literature professor at Silliman University, Dumaguete City. He is a SEA Write awardee, and his studies include Robert Graves’ ‘The White Goddess’ and the philosophy of science.