Monday, December 18, 2006

The Death of Homo Sapiens

Cindy Mercer Photography

“A maximum of six people are usually invited to watch, but from a carefully judged distance so as not to fret or disturb the mother. And afterwards, if all goes well, there is a celebratory meal, often with champagne.” This new birth, this celebration of life, soon to be followed by a ritual christening with family and close friends, takes place in Oxford, England in 2021. The “child” is a kitten, yes, a kitten.

On December 25, Children of Men, a movie based on P.D. James’ 1992 novel, The Children of Men, will be released across the nation. James takes her title from Psalm 90, which is contained in a burial rite in The Book of Common Prayer:

Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were born,
Or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world,
Even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God.

Thou dost turn man back into dust,
And dost say, "Return, O children of men."
For a thousand years in Thy sight
Are like yesterday when it passes by,
Or as a watch in the night.

James, a committed Christian, points her readers to a future world (2027 in the film version) in which all human beings are infertile. The cause of this malady eludes the lords of science. Soon, like other forgotten animal species, homo sapiens will be extinct. In this context, even the birth of an animal evokes wonder and celebration.

How do people attempt to come to terms with this bleak future? They seek “protection, comfort, pleasure”—at any price. If this means submission to an all-powerful “Warden” because he promises to keep the lights on and provide hot water, so be it. If compulsory reproductive examinations, state-sponsored porn shops, prison camps, and the practice of euthanasia and slavery are necessary to pacify the majority, why not?

What happens to watered down Western Christianity as this crisis intensifies? It evaporates. It is empty, meaningless. It reveals itself for what it is, “chaff which the wind drives away.” James’ portrayal of humankind in its last desparate days is unnerving. Reading through this book provoked in me a repeated response: “That’s true—now.”

Don’t be misled. This is not another lamentable contribution to that forgettable genre, “Christian fiction.” Although The Children of Men is not an overt apologetic for Christianity, its unsettling vision of narcissism and its complex, imaginative depiction of sin, death, redemption, life, sacrifice, and love may just change the way you see the world—on the spot. The book is replete with biblical themes. I have not seen the movie, but let us hope it is true to the book (I have my doubts). Read the book; consider the movie.


Anonymous said...

P.D. James writes in the same vein as our own Flannery O'Connor. She often draws large grotesque figures for the almost blind and shouts to those of our current generation who are deaf to moral discourse. They both owe much to Aldous Huxley whose Brave New World, published 75 years ago, is proving to be perhaps the most prophetic novel of the last century. These writers should be read by all Christians although a stout heart is required.

Bradford Mercer said...

Good stuff Sam.

James' heroines are Dorothy Sayers and Jane Austen. She doesn't live up to that standard, but you're right, she "should be read." We appreciate your ministry to so many people in this community!