Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), written according to tradition by Solomon, exclaims, “There is nothing new beneath the sun” (1:9). True that. Ultimately, what goes around comes around—as it did this past week.
Yes, technology races forward. Solomon could not have dreamed of the printing press and steam engine let alone the high-energy particle telescope, smart phone, Internet and Higgs boson—or “God”—particle that may finally have been detected. Politics and economics also evolve. But human nature remains unchanged. We exhibit concerns and passions no different from our ancestors’ thousands of years ago.
Thus the more things change the more they remain the same. Start with the new pope, Francis I. Once, all popes were Italian. Francis, 76, formerly Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, is the third consecutive non-Italian pope (although the son of Italian immigrants). He’s also the first from Latin America. But what’s really changed for the Church?
Sexual predators and dubious financial dealings have cast a pall over the Vatican. Nothing new there. Francis declared his intention to transform the Church while maintaining its traditions. He faces a major challenge. Many in the Church hierarchy prefer the status quo. They have their own interests. There’s nothing new about that, either.
Of course, an Argentine pope doesn’t represent the first big change witnessed by many millions of people living today. In August 1945, nuclear energy leaped from the blackboard to Air Force bombers and brought Japan to its knees. In 1960, a Catholic, John F. Kennedy, was elected president of the United States. In July 1969, we literally saw the first moonwalk—on TV.
As the years rolled on, computers came home. The stock market soared and crashed and soared and crashed. Yesterday’s close set a record for the Dow—14,539. A woman, Madeleine Albright, became secretary of state in 1997. And in 2008, a black man—with an Arabic name yet—was elected president.
Progress? Yes and no. Our A-bombs hastened the end of the war but killed over 100,000 Japanese. They also created a frightening arms race, because weapons change but not the traits of fear and aggression. The race continues. Witness North Korea and Iran.
And while nuclear energy created cheaper electricity, it also engendered disasters at Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island and Fukushima. History repeated itself when America’s Catholic president was assassinated. Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley had preceded him. Manned flights to the moon were abandoned. But other nations and groups developed rocketry to assault neighbors or deliver nuclear weapons across the globe.
We know as well that the Internet brings porn into millions of homes and offices along with cyber bullying and ignorant rants inciting hatred. The human mind, capable of nobility and compassion, still works in perverse ways.
So it comes as no surprise that we’re on the cusp of time travel. Banana Republic has introduced its Mad Men collection so we can retreat to the good old days of 1963. Which the show clearly demonstrates were not terribly good at all.
And which offers the validity of another pearl of wisdom: everything old is new again.
Please note that my next post will appear on Monday, March 25.
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