For some, it’s Christmas season — to celebrate the birth of a Savior. For some, it’s time for families and friends to gather — in person or by phone calls, cards and letters, or email. Often it’s a mixture of things. Depending on the circumstances of life, sometimes it’s not so happy — maybe even sad. Not everyone enjoys pleasant circumstances.
Time waits on no one, that much we know — but not much more. The month of January is named after Janus, the Roman god of doorways. Janus was a god with two faces — one looking ahead at the future, one back at the past. Maybe to learn something to make the future a little better. At least try.
If you hadn’t heard, from Janus comes the word janitor. Maybe not just because he or she fixed leaks, cleaned dirty floors, and flushed pots at the end of the day every day, but hoped that people might behave better. Sometime, anyway. At least a little.
For our human race, a prevailing version of God ( however you define God) is essentially as a dependable janitor we can depend on to clean up our messes. “Our” referring to what Mark Twain called the “damned human race.” That’s me, you, him, her — and those guys and girls over there. Globally, the damned race now numbers 7.7 billion (give or take a million or two). Other species are disappearing – thanks mostly to our own species’ actions and inaction.
Maybe it’s the Heavenly Janitor’s job to deal with stuff being thrown away in this ditch, into that pond, or the dumpster headed to the landfill, or the ocean … or at least somewhere. The consumerist mentality, especially in so-called developed (aka wealthy) countries like our own prevails. But, as Greenpeace director Anne Leonard put it some time ago: “There is no such thing as ‘away.’ When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.”
Better Half brought me a shred of hope the other day. Chile, a South American country of 18 million, has banned the use of plastic bags. Chilean President Sebastián Piñera acknowledged that if our race is to survive, “We can’t continue polluting as if each one of us owned the Earth.” Amen.
But there’s much more to it than plastic bags. It’s a “What-the-hell, better enjoy life. Life’s short. People gotta sell stuff to make money. Any problem? God the janitor will take care of it.” With 7.7 billion humans and a growing consumerist mentality, rapid depletion of vital resources should be another obvious worry for the human race. Abundant clean water a critical one.
Then there’s a consumer connected issue of global warming. A couple of years ago, a friend reported what he had read or been told that the climate is always changing, always has, always will. That’s God the master janitor’s job to control, he figured. The rapid rate of change is no big deal. Should we continue to burn more and more fossil fuels, rather than opting for more environmentally friendly power sources? Or would that require anti-capitalist regulations. And what do all those scientists know, anyway?
Maybe the central problem for unregulated consumerist capitalism is the rejection of an “We’re all in this together” mode. That mentality argues that competition is the answer to all problems. (And not incidentally, that getting rich is what it’s mostly, or all, about.) To those who preach the survival of the fittest, there’s always war, of course. That’s always fulfilling for some. Maybe that’s what’s coming.
But, to survive as a species, I think, will require humans acting not predominantly as individuals, but also as empathetic members of the human race. It makes me think of those sci-fi movies when humans and perhaps the planet are faced with an existential threat from outer-space — resulting in our forming a global team… to survive.
A few weeks ago, in a Sunday School class, the leader asked how we thought the world (earth) might end, maybe thinking of flood or fire. Maybe it wasn’t religious to say, but I feared the end would come from human stupidity. Could be wrong, of course. So what’s coming next? Only the janitor knows.
Maybe He’ll say, “I quit. You made the mess;. Deal with it. ”
Bob Hooper is a fourth generation Western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.