Back to the Garden

We are stardust,
We are golden.
And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.

When Joni Mitchell wrote those words for Woodstock, she had a glimpse of a truth that I think was larger than she knew. All of human history, it seems to me, has been a misguided attempt to get ourselves back to the Garden—misguided because we’re trying to do it on our own steam.

Going back at least to Plato, philosophers have speculated about how to achieve the ideal society. Visionaries both political and religious have attempted to create it. The communists tried it, and nearly destroyed a quarter of the world in the process. The Nazis tried it, killing millions and leaving a legacy of destruction and hate. The Muslims would like to do it by conquering the world (with or without bloodshed) and establishing sharia law.

We’re making our own attempt in America now—our country was founded on the Utopian dream, and we’re still stubbornly floundering our way toward it, despite the fact that few could dispute that our two-hundred-year history has taken us farther from, rather than closer to, fulfilling it. You’d think humans would have figured out by now that Utopia is not achievable by human effort. (The word does, after all, come from the Latin for “nowhere.”) But no, we’re convinced it’s just a matter of technique, of finding that magic key that will open the secret door to Paradise.

Artists of all kinds have jumped on the Paradise bandwagon in droves. What is the whole genre of speculative fiction if not a collection of visions of various forms of Paradise? Fantasy writers get there through magic doors, or just transport the reader to a preinvented world through their prose; science fiction writers get there through time travel, space travel, or extrapolations of what technology might achieve within our own world. But ultimately the destination is the same: we’re trying to get ourselves back to the Garden.

Instead of reforming society as a whole, technology—real and fictional—often focuses on giving individuals back the powers that naturally pertain to our unfallen—or deified—selves. Teleportation? Walking through walls? The resurrected Jesus did that, and so did Philip the Apostle and St. John Maximovitch. Flying? St. Mary of Egypt hovered a foot or two off the ground in prayer; St. Joseph Cupertino flew all over the place because he was too joyful to remain earthbound. Instant mass communication? Telepathy? Many of the saints were clairvoyant in their lifetimes. Those who have passed on can hear us whispering in our prayer closets, or even calling out to them without speech. Enhancement of human intelligence through computers? St. Paul promises that, in the next life, we will see clearly everything there is to be seen.

We all know instinctively that we were meant to be gods. God promised that to His followers, and the devil makes the same promise to those who heed his lies. What separates humanity into two distinct camps is how we choose to pursue that goal—either artificially, trying to get ourselves back to the Garden, or authentically, by surrendering ourselves to God and allowing Him to lead us there by paths that cannot be seen. The latter is a difficult way, to be sure, and gets a lot of bad press; but it is the only way that will actually reach the goal.

As the old farmer giving directions said to the baffled traveler, “You can’t get there from here.” There is no yellow brick road that leads back to the Garden, no time warp, no hyperdrive spaceship that will take us there. There is only the straight and narrow path that we walk toward our salvation.

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