Immediately after the tragic fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame I asked folks on Facebook to tell how it affected them emotionally, especially in comparison to the very similar visual experience of seeing the twin towers fall. Most people disregarded the twin towers parallel and went right to the heart of their feelings about the event itself and our collective response to the loss. I encourage you to find the Facebook feed if you want to see the many cogent responses. But this morning I wrote a response to those responses which I thought I would share. Here it is:
Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on the fire at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. The answers seemed to separate themselves into four main points of view:
1. It is unseemly that people should be feeling such horror and outrage at the burning of an old European pile of wood and stones while we express no concern about the children dying in droughts across Africa, and black churches in the American south are burnt down with impunity.
2. The universe is making a statement, or, at least, offering us a metaphor about either the Catholic church, patriarchal religion in general, or the old order of human affairs. Somehow this was a message of retribution or about the necessity of change.
3. Great tears are shed for the destruction of a Euro-Christian sacred space, yet none are shed for the destruction and despoliation of the sacred land and spaces of indigenous people.
4. This is a tragic blow to the heart of the human impulse toward beauty and imaginative vision. There are moments when civilization coalesces into a physical form that stands as a monument to who we are and what we can achieve, and when these are lost we all are the poorer.
What fascinated me is how many more responses looked at the event through an ecological or sociological lens than through an aesthetic lens. This is understandable, and perhaps a legitimate corrective, given the way our world is operating these days. But there are some dark drumbeats in the distance when, for any reason, we fail to honor the beauty of our most visionary human creations because we do not like what they represent.