“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them,
A shattered visage lies…”
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem on the failed glory of an ancient empire illustrates two truths, one of irony, and one of human nature.
It is ironic that the inscription on the statue says “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings. Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!” This statue has since keeled over onto the desert sands, all traces of Ozymandias’ city, monuments and temples have been swallowed by time. We are to infer that the proud ambition of man to be feared and remembered after death is futile.
Secondly, there is also the human desire to be eternal, to fly beyond the bounds of the temporal and live forever. This is the very ache of our immortal nature, surrounded by mortality.
Without Faith, without knowledge of God’s plan for our world, the best we have done is to lavish money and labor in building vast burial complexes, great temples and cities, giant commemorative statues and megalithic mysteries. Granted, it doesn’t cut it, but makes us feel a little better.
And there’s the rub.
We don’t do that any more.
No More Megaliths
It used to be that every culture created great works of art, from pyramids to cathedrals out of the hardest material available – granite – so that it would withstand the tests of time. The vision was to stamp a testament of cultural values and timeless truths into the bones of the world for future generations.
Setting aside the Ozymandias Complex, we used to have a healthy pride in the goodness of our works, fed from the springs of Truth, Catechism and culture. This is true for all cultures, and not just Christian culture, because it is human.
And yet today, we’ve dumped the Ozymandias Complex for a degenerated Present Moment Complex.
God’s life in eternity is an eternal Present Moment, and we are all invited to share in this paradigm, as EWTN’s Mother Angelica refers to the ‘Sacrament of the Present Moment’.
But there’s a difference between the Sacrament and the Complex. The Sacrament involves a conscious placement in the here and now, seeking to be aware of the graces God is offering for each of our situations. The Complex involves an ignorance, nay, a dislike of the past, and blinkering of the future, so that we are 100% focused on satisfying our cravings and urges here and now.
And this has translated into our culture. We have none of the high-minded nobility of the Greeks, Indians and Japanese, who reveled in the building of monuments, castles and temples. That was how a living culture bore fruit – an incarnation of values.
Instead, everything we build stems from planned obsolence. Our skyscrapers are made from glass and steel, which might last a century, perhaps three, and then rust through and fall. While we do build all kinds of things, none of them express cultural values and ambitions – or the wrong ones. Our daily lives are founded on the cheapest and quickest products, that deteriorate during our very lifetime.
Perhaps its fair to make a caveat – up to the ’50s, we had more of that vision; we carved a mountain to look like our leaders on Rushmore. But since that, for all of our technology, where are our testaments?
Yes, we have broken through barriers in science and medicine, the speed of sound and microbiology, space exploration and cartography. But we are always ever a decade away from returning to the dark ages, and then all these advancements will be inaccessible, and over time, become part of a mythical Golden Age (until we can rediscover them). For all these breakthroughs, we have no monuments.
“Oh, well we are too humble to build them.” Nope. We’re definitely not humble. It’s something else.
Can it actually be… that we are too selfish to be proud?
Header art CC Gaellery