COLUMN: Man’s destructive direction not wise
One of the best books I’ve read, if not one of the weirdest, is Canadian Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage.
It’s a post-modern version of the Great Flood from the Book of Genesis, filled with characters all operating at various levels of dysfunction, mistrust and hatred.
The key character is Noah Noyes, a doctor, whose wife, Mrs. Noyes, is an alcoholic who talks to animals, most notably her 20-year-old blind cat Mottyl.
One day, Yaweh, the God of Israel and Noah’s friend, approaches Noah depressed and ready to take his own life. He’s bummed at the way humanity has treated him – they had already killed him seven times, with each resurrection taking more and more effort, and on his way to see Noah, people threw rotten fruit and feces at his carriage.
To cheer him up, Noah shows Yaweh a magic trick, which includes putting a penny under a glass bottle then filling the bottle with water. Due to the refraction, the penny disappears. Yaweh thinks about that – water can make things disappear.
He tells Noah to build an ark, gather all of the Earth’s animals two-by-two, and get ready for a great cleansing, so Noah does.
God wanted to die, and take humanity with him.
The rains come and it’s time to board the ark. Unfortunately, Noah takes Yaweh’s instructions without compromise, and informs Mrs. Noyes that Mottyl will not be joining them as two perfectly healthy cats have already been selected. Mrs. Noyes objects, and Noah tries to solve the problem by unsuccessfully burning down their barn with Mottyl in it. He fails and Mrs. Noyes is not impressed.
The tone for the voyage is set.
On board with Noah and Mrs. Noyes are their three sons, Shem, Japeth and Ham. Shem is married to Hannah, and Japeth is married to 12-year-old Emma. Ham marries Lucy quickly before the floods arrive and in his haste, fails to realize he wed Lucifer in drag.
Needless to say, the motley crew is off to a rocky start and things get worse as the voyage goes on. Murders, questionable sexual conduct, concerns over food, the slaughter of dolphins who Noah believed to be pirates, all transpire on the boat, with people doing horrendous things to each other.
Eventually, Mrs. Noyes, Lucy, Emma and Ham decide to rebel against the others, and end up getting locked below decks.
Noah draws a line, forcing the rebels to perform all of the daily chores on the boat, while he and his allies live a life of relative luxury above deck.
All the while, the Great Flood is eradicating the rest of humanity and all other living things.
It is an extraordinarily tale told quite simply, and like the biblical story it retells, holds true today more than ever.
As humans we bicker, destroy, murder, betray, pillage and exploit as the natural world observes in silence and without judgment, even as we plunder the very things we claim to hold dear.
We claim to be stewards of the Earth, but evidence continues to pile up that perhaps we are fooling ourselves, even when we know better. The world could be (indeed, some days it feels like it is) falling apart at the seams, and we’d still be doing horrible things to each other, innocent animals and the natural environment we rely on.
With climate change, overpopulation, looming economic and energy crisis, unrest in the Middle East, an increase in devastating earthquakes, mistreatment of animals and a plethora of other challenges we face, it might be wise to, well, wisen up and perhaps set a less destructive course.
Because when Matthew announced the eight beautitudes during his Sermon on the Mount, he claimed the fifth beautitude are the meek, who shall inherit the Earth. He never said the meek were human.