04 April 2013

Book Review: Destiny of the Species

“We all know the same truth, and our lives consist of how we choose to distort it.”1

Lemme get the criticism out of the way: don't judge the book by its cover. Okay, moving on.

I don’t know Jason as a colleague. But I do know him as a friend, the sort that won’t always tell you what you want to hear but one that is primarily concerned with what’s true, the sort that will follow his convictions wherever they lead, even to his own detriment. That has to count for something in this seemingly God-forsaken short life.

It is to this life as “water spilled on the ground, which can’t be gathered again” (2 Sam 14:14), and its nagging absurdity before the face of . . . nothing—Deus absconditus, if you will—that Jason confronts in his new book, The Destiny of the Species: Man and the Future That Pulls Him. The title of it behooves me to attempt immediately to alleviate any fears that while Darwin and the question of the origin of our species sometimes serves as the foil throughout the following pages, this book is decidedly not another pathetic battle for the beginning. It is, in brief, to turn the heads of every reader toward last things first. No doubt, the question of human origins is important. But the destiny of our species—now, that’s something upon which to fix our gaze.

Even if we were to grant the neo-Darwinian synthesis its basic veracity (as I do), the point is still the same: Are we humans going to live down to our natural instincts? Or are we going to live up to the creator God’s goal, bearing his image, reflecting his glory? Saint Gregory of Nyssa frames it as follows: In discussing the creation of man, he starts with the premise that the cosmos depends upon the sustaining Word of God and that all things came into existence by this power. He’s quick, however, to maintain a Creator/creature distinction: the act of creation was no necessity. Rather, creation sprung out of the “abundant love” of God; his desire was to fashion a humanity with the express purpose to share in his divine goodness. This, for Gregory, remains part and parcel of what it means to be created in the image of God.2

The theme of a longing that “pulls” us toward our destiny (to use Jason’s language √† la Peter Kreeft √† la Aquinas) is not unique. Many others in times past have thought similar thoughts. But Jason does so for a generation in desperate need to hear them again, and he does so in such a way that this generation will hear them.

Starting with this theme of humanity being drawn toward its future, rather than driven by its past, Stellman confronts us with the challenge to live deliberately in light of this truth. And the only way to consistently live in such a way is to embrace, wholeheartedly, the destiny of the species as homo adorans—worshiping man. Otherwise, life as l’√©tranger in the face of the absurd is all that’s left. More than anybody else, those who say they already follow this way must resist storing up treasures that "moth and rust destroy." But damn that flesh, that old man—sin—ever seeking to throttle us from its grave. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The age to come dawns upon us; all that was accomplished and applied through the faithful life, the ignominy of the cross, the surprising resurrection, and the glorious ascension and rule of God’s messiah, has invaded our lives. Nothing can ever be the same. And the world—its people, plants, and animals—are aching and groaning toward that promised hope for the future, when the creator God, through his son Christ Jesus, by the power of his Spirit, will turn everything right-side up again (the felix culpa, as it turns out).

However, in the meantime, per Woody Allen, we do all know the same truth (that death comes for us all), and, indeed, how we live our lives—our thoughts, words, actions—the stuff that fills them up, is our way of coping with (distorting even) that reality. Which distortion, then, will you let have the final word? Death? Or eternal life on a renewed earth in renewed, resurrected bodies?

1 Woody Allen: A Documentary, directed by Robert B. Weide (2011; New York, NY: New Video, 2012), DVD.

2 From his Address on Religious Instruction, reprinted in Edward R. Hardy, ed., Christology of the Later Fathers (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 275–77.

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