Thursday, January 9, 2014

Minecraft and the Last Things

                I’ve been meaning to blog about Minecraft for a while now. The part-fantasy-adventure, part-creativity tool just lends itself to analogy and interpretation.

For better and for worse

                As I work to build my giant tower of ominousness, it occurs to me to reflect how much the landscape and world of Minecraft changes as you work it. Where once was a small field on a peninsula is now an enormous quarry leading straight down to bedrock, in the process of making which an entire subterranean river of lava has been scooped out and filled in. Before I’m done, I shall have a massive tower stretching to the sky, way above the clouds. And beyond that I’ll probably be making great roads, railroads, and goodness knows what else.
                The point is, the world of Minecraft is the raw material that you can make pretty much anything you like out of. Some people build giant statues or mosaics. Others vast palaces or cities. Still others recreate movie sets and so forth. The world is what you make of it.
                And it seems to me the real world is much like that; it is what we make out of it. I don’t mean just cities or art or the like; I mean our whole lives, our personalities. We’re given raw material that follows certain laws and we set to work making something unique and beautiful out of it. Creation, you see, is still going on. We are, this moment, participating in the act of creation. We are creating ourselves.
                We can think of our lives as our participation in our own creation, of which our lives in Heaven will be the completed model. A Saint can be defined as a completed person; Earth is the factory floor in which new Saints are manufactured.
                Or think of it this way: remember the parable of the talents, in which a nobleman entrusted certain property to his servants to see what they made of them. The property (talents in Matthew’s version) could be said to represent our being: our bodies, psychology, temperament, likes, dislikes, and all that was provided to us via heredity and psychology. Our ‘being’ is entrusted to our ‘selves’ to make what we can of. Some of us are gifted with more being, others with less (as the one man was entrusted with five talents, another with two, and the third with one), meaning stronger bodies, more amiable temperaments, and so on. But the point is what each self makes of what he was given. This core ‘self’ (which I like to imagine as a kind of string connecting all the rest) is charged with rendering back a better being than it was given; of turning a man into a Saint. The blessed are the ones who succeeded; who multiplied whatever being they were given into something more like Christ. Then the self is given the being permanently, but now stripped of all the imperfections and elevated beyond imagination, though not beyond recognition. In Heaven St. Thomas is still taciturn and thoughtful and St. Francis is still energetic and joyful, though they would now appear more like gods themselves to us. They have the beings they built for themselves on Earth out of the materials they were given. They are now completed; finished works of art.
                This also means that those who talk about God creating such a cruel world full of horrible people are a little like those who would go into a half-constructed building and complain about the mess and noise. It’s not that it’s a bad building; it’s that it’s not done yet. Most of what they see will be taken out or filled in before the end, and some of it will be torn down completely. When it’s complete, it’ll be a palace.
                You can even think of bodily necessities; food, sleep, toilet, and so on as something analogous to the mould or struts holding up your sculpture as you carve it out. They’re necessary for your work, but you know that when the work is done you’ll throw them away. Food is for the belly, but God will do away with both. In Heaven we neither marry nor are given in marriage. Eating and reproduction were earthly necessities; props to hold up the walls while we worked on them, but in Heaven we will be complete and these purely practical supports will fall away to reveal the final work in all its glory. The Great Pyramid wouldn’t be half as impressive if it still had the giant ramp they used to haul the stones up to make the thing.
                But marriage itself – the two becoming one flesh, as opposed to the act of marrying or having sex – that will be part of the finished being in Heaven. Indeed, it will be manifest in a way more clear and intimate than any mere sexual experience. A married saint will be noticeably different than a celibate saint, though in a way we cannot now picture. Suffice to say, the fact that he was married, with all the effects that had on his soul, will be apparent. Every action he made, every moral choice, even every sin (forgiven) will be a part of the overall ‘effect,’ just as every tiny tile in a mosaic or every line and shade of a painting is part of the overall image.
                And the damned? The damned are ruined people; the ones who have mishandled their creation so badly that they are beyond repair. They are the people who, having done nothing or worse with their beings, are stripped of them and thrown out “into the outer darkness.” While the Saints are glorious creations, with their selves and beings united into a complete creature, the damned are nothing but remains; the debris of what might have been a man if it hadn’t been spoiled by bad handling.
 Lewis suggests that Hell means a person becomes trapped within himself; that all society and distractions removed, he finds himself alone with himself and must ‘make the best of what he finds there.’ A damned person is not really a person at all; it is the remains of what was once a person. A small, tightly bound string of self growing more compacted in upon itself forever.
The Earth itself is not just our home, but our project; our art. She undergoes creation from our hands; sometimes made better, more often made worse, but in the last days she will be presented perfect, with all her blemishes and scars etched out and all her improvements in place. The completed Earth will be presented to us as our eternal home. I like to think that all the places we loved – I mean really loved – will be presented to us. The childhood home that was torn down to make a parking lot? That special forest we would go to be alone? The cathedrals, palaces, and buildings that seem almost to have souls? They will all be there as part of the finished Earth. Here, during construction, some things have to be torn down to make room for others, but when the Earth is finished it will not be so; the Old and the New St. Peter’s Basilica will both stand in all their glory. Anything that made men better or the Earth more beautiful will be there. Anything that made men worse or the Earth uglier – prisons, gulags, parking structures, and so on – will be thrown aside and forgotten, just as the struts that made it possible to build the Empire State Building are long forgotten
God gave us free will so that we could join Him in creation. We join Him in the process of making ourselves with every move we make and every choice we take. It all adds up to either a glorious completed creature – a Saint; something we would be tempted to call a god – or to the ruined debris of a soul, depending on what we craft ourselves to be.

Vivat Christus Rex!

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