“If we all want to be one of the conformist cool kids, then nothing will ever get done because it is the uncool kids who do all the world’s innovative work,” writes seminarian N.C. Harrison.
One of my favorite pastimes, especially during those miserable August days when there’s nothing better to do than melt, is to watch an unending parade of documentaries on the History Channel. These range from the sublime (if, for example, something by Ken Burns is on that week, especially The Civil War) to the utterly ridiculous (you know… a show like Down South Gator Wrestling Dwarfs, or something like the lunacy that my sister would dream up to pitch to the network). My recent favorite has been the always intriguing (by which I mean crazy) Ancient Aliens. This mélange of out of the box scientists (including a physicist from the University of California at Irvine), cheerful misfits, unhappy cranks who believe that the aliens and/or government and/or aliens working for the government are coming for them, and eldritch abominations from another dimension—like Giorgio Tsoukalos’ hair—all come together for the purpose of seeking what they consider the truth about the deep antiquity of this world we all share. Or, in the case of Mr. Tsoukalos’ coiffure, the world it has migrated to and made its own.
The ancient world has always been of great interest to me. I got my first book about the subject—a big volume with a white cover, long since read off on endless trips to elementary school—when I was eight years old. I soon discovered that the Greeks did not wear clothing when engaged in athletic activities, or whenever else they could avoid it for that matter, but also how little I knew about that world lost in the mists of time. I resolved to know more and, after minoring in history at college and then earning a Master of Divinity at a major evangelical seminary—which involved intensive study of the sacred texts and supporting materials in their original languages—I have learned at least one thing: I am still as ignorant about that dim epoch as I was when I first learned about the Hellenic tendency towards naturism. It is a well-informed ignorance, at least, as I know much regarding theories about the form and meaning of life for those people, but gaps still remain and I am not confident that anything short of the acquisition of a TARDIS unit will provide those answers.
This is why anyone who questions that accepted narrative, even if their questions seem a little bit on the barmy side, stands as an almost heroic figure in my mind. The city of Troy (or Ilos, which seems both more wonderful and exotic to me for some reason, perhaps because I have played through Mass Effect half a dozen times) was considered to be a legendary place, dreamed up by Homer (if he himself was not but a dream) from late antiquity until it was rediscovered in 1870 by Heinrich Schliemann, at the behest of Frank Calvert. Because these fellows were not willing to go along with the accepted knowledge they, through hard work and more than a little daring, were able to redefine a conception of reality which had been in place for over one thousand years. How fantastic! How deeply, deeply cool.
This is why the efforts of men like Erich van Daniken and Zecharia Sitchen excite and interest me so very much. They are unwilling to accept the word of those who “know better” and went forth in search of their own answers about what had gone before. They are, in the cases of Sitchen and van Daniken especially, and in an even more absolute sense than the most aggressive Christian fundamentalist exegetes I have ever known, textual literalists of the highest order. This leads them to some bizarre conclusions—that the merkebah which conveyed the prophets were spaceships and that the Sumerian Annunaki were alien beings from the planet Nibiru—but their very willingness to tread this ground comes from some very interesting roots. One is the radical notion of taking the words of our ancestors seriously. To van Daniken and Sitchen, these people were not ignorant primitives, living in a hazy world where everything they did not understand was expressed as a “ceremony” or “ritual,” but instead clever and hard-minded sharp observers who could accurately, if poetically, report the things they had seen. Or, y’know, the kind of guys who would have built the pyramids and ziggurats. Secondly, and perhaps even more radically given our natural human desire for acceptance, these fellows have been willing to go out on a limb with what they believe, what they have discovered through scholarship fair or foul, and open themselves to the slings and arrows of mockery and criticism.
This is a rare quality in the world today, I find. It is easy, so easy, to engage in intellectual laziness and ugly cynicism under the twin guises of “skepticism” and “irony.” To those who suffer from this disease, everyone and everything is offered up to the altar of the ridiculous and nothing is taken seriously. If nothing is taken seriously, then nothing can be done about either ignorance, in a general sense, or the problems which plague the world. If we all want to be one of the cool kids (and take that how you will… if we all want to be uncritically accepted by the mainstream of our communities), then nothing will ever get done because it is the uncool kids who do all the world’s great, innovative work.
What I say here must be taken with a grain of salt, at least in one capacity, because I am speaking in strident defense of men that I by and large do not even agree with. I think that the conception of God, the gods and other spirits as Extraterrestrial Biological Entities is as profoundly absurd as any other attempt to quantify the ineffable. My own conception of divinity is much more complex than that, drawn from a variety of sources and my own interaction with the numinous. I must say, however, that these attempts to explain, in sincere earnest, how the archaeological evidence of a physical past and the more fantastic exposition found in the texts of our world’s great faiths fit together is a noble enterprise, much more exciting than those who can’t imagine a cosmos more interesting and complicated than Socrates’ City of the Pigs. These attempts are only possible because the men making them are willing to dare to be wrong—and my God are they wrong—but being wrong is not a tragedy. The real tragedy would be someone whose crazy idea, and I don’t know what this idea is nor can even conceive of it, was right… and was never disseminated because the man who had it was afraid of being mocked, insulted, attacked and expelled from the tribe. That would be a misery of epic proportions, and we would unfortunately deserve it.