The author of Ecclesiastes (1:9) was right, up to a point, when he wrote “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again”. He was, of course, quite wrong, when he added “there is nothing new under the sun”. But we know what he meant, and use the expression ourselves when the evening news brings us vivid pictures of another terrorist attack, another political scandal, another “act of God” in the form of earthquakes, tsunamis and local floods and fires. Déjà vu – all of it. Sometimes however the terrorist horror was even more diabolical than the last, the scandal even more scandalous than the others, the catastrophes even more tragic and devastating. We know that the cosmos and our own planet constantly reveal surprising, totally unprecedented discoveries in nature and in our understanding of it, but we use the expression anyway. When we say it, we know what we mean.
There is, however, in the biblical quotation, a possible insight into extreme religious conservatism. The most obvious example is, of course, Islam and the Koran : nothing can be added to, changed, adapted or reformulated in, the Absolute, Immutable Truth they express. Catholicism long shared the view that no new understanding, no new interpretation of our sacred texts and biblical truth – or of the equally infallible, immutable, Tradition of the Church – could exist under the sun. In recent centuries, fortunately, progress has been made in this thinking, but the expression of different opinions has always been viewed by the Church with suspicion.
There is a certain comfort in knowing with certitude what is right and wrong, what is true and false, and most people prefer it that way. I don’t, and, more important, the world’s greatest thinkers do not either. I wonder how many believers realize that if mankind had not begun to wonder, to question, to experiment, to verify, we would be still not in the Dark Ages but in the caves of pre-history. This blog and my book before it, are predicated on the proposition that everything is open to question, including … atheism. Blind atheism is as bad as blind faith, and both are blind folly. I’m not sure anyone has said it quite like that before, but the idea is far from new. Only the packaging is different. But there are some things that are new under the sun, beyond the packaging, like the fact of heliocentrism four hundred years ago, the proof of evolution one hundred and fifty years ago and the discovery of formerly unknown exoplanets as I write. It is sad that some people prefer myth rather than the truth, darkness rather than the light. “Fiat lux !” “Let the sun shine !”