Thoughts on a problem in the loft
God, many of us are inclined to agree – theist and pantheist alike – is Love. Starting from this premise, and as far a possible ridding ourselves of all slanted thinking, the mouse poses an unkind dilemma not only to us but to all thinking life at all times in every corner of the cosmos.
We know well enough that the physics of the cosmos has to be inexorable. If we build our innocent house on the slopes of an active volcano we will reap the consequences, whether or no God be Love. We know, too, that – for the present at least – life must feed on life; we have no means of carrying a chlorophyll factory with us on our daily round. We think we know something even about the place of evil in the scheme of things; that it is the heat which keeps the pot of life on the boil, preventing it seizing up into some immovable gel from which there could be no more change.
Despite knowing of all these shady aspects of the mechanics of being, God, we repeat, is Love. All things are One Thing. It is not for nothing that we feel it in the sunset and the silence; or that the Einsteins can glimpse it as they reach out for that Grand Universal Theory which is the mathematical expression of this feeling built into every atom of our corporeal life.
God being Love, and all things being the matter of God, we will respect all things. We will not wilfully crush a beetle; we will not flinch in obediently eating up our bacon, or at the very least our muesli; deep in our hearts we will understand the nature of evil, although to keep our own order intact we will resist it in every way; if we are attacked we will defend ourselves, because to do otherwise would be to opt out.
A mouse, though, does not attack us in person. It is small and furry and – well – sweet, its distant ancestors were our distant ancestors, it is intelligent and devoted to its children (even if it may when hard pressed eat them), it is timorous, it is one of the countless miracles of being, it may perhaps (in due course) inherit the earth.
A mouse, however, inconveniences us, insistently wishing to muscle in on our marked-out living space and our treasured if transient possessions, whatever and irrespective. Although fastidious, its manners are not too refined, and it creates problems for itself and its environment both by its failure to engage in family planning and its failure to reciprocate any forbearance we may extend. It cheerfully creates difficulties for us which we feel to be out of proportion to any benefits to itself.
God being Love, what then do we do about a mouse in our living space?
We naturally attempt to catch it painlessly and persuade it to operate elsewhere, as remotely as possible from human-kind. With a little application this can be done. What, though, if the mouse – coming from an intelligent stock – proves to have resident relatives who learn from the apparent misfortune of he who was caught?
Peering through the mists we see the image of ourselves some fifty million or so years before our own times. We, too, built our knowledge on the misfortunes of our fellows; we, too, were self supportive and enterprising; we, too, were not particular about the interests of anything or anyone outwith our immediate circle.
It was not, is not, a matter of being evil, more a matter of putting Number One adequately far first in order that Number One may at the very least survive in the jungle of countless other Number Ones. This was an easier task when we were not consciously aware of what we were doing, like the vegetation striving to obtain its personally adequate share of sunlight.
Fifty million or so years ago we were probably unable to formulate the concept that God is Love; goodness knows about what our domestic tabby may be ruminating, but at least the vegetation and the mouse seem too busy to appreciate the concept even today, likewise many of our fellows appear to be poorly informed on the topic. We, though, have grown our mental link into the Godhead. With part of ourselves we are part of the Godhead. In inconveniencing us the mouse is in a sense playing fast and loose with something altogether special.
Does God say, ‘Suffer the little mouses to come to Me’ or does he swat them?
Since He is Love the answer has to be the former, but then – pacé various adventures of which we are regularly reminded – is He physically involved in a survival situation?
Today it is wholly and crucially inadequate for us to live as hermits in a cave and attempt to remain alive whilst sharing a laboriously gathered crop of wild corn with as many families of mice as it can nourish. Just as long as he can hide enough for himself the hermit may well feel the presence of the God of the sunset and the silence, and of the freshly opened eyes of the baby mice. Fortunate man. Good foe him. But that is that. He goes nowhere from here.
All spiritual knowledge has to start from some empirical position, however crude. The special contribution of the Western tradition to this Oneness of Love is that it is able to start from an empirical position of greatly improved credibility.
Our hermit has no means of building a radio telescope which can study the mechanics of a pulsar or peer ten billion years into the past of the cosmos; he has no means of unravelling the structure of DNA or the wanderings of the continents. He can be overwhelmed by the presence of God, but his experiences – profound as they may be – are confined to the spiritual.
We must, conveniently perhaps, conclude that our duty permits our altruism to join hands with our convenience. Rado telescopes and electron microscopes require a profoundly sophisticated social back-up despite the jungle roots upon which our society is of necessity constructed. We are inevitably far from perfect; there is that little matter of evil with which we have to cope; we have a weakness for two slices of bacon when one would suffice; we are torn by a thousand conflicting loyalties and urges sprouting from the jungle roots.
Like our Bronze Age forebears we still need – if we are to do our thing – a strong palisade round our temple on the hilltop, defended in the last resort not only with prayers but with spears. Not only against the sabre toothed tiger who would have us for his lunch but against the mouse who would undermine the basis of our lifestyle, the essential feature of our technological link into the godhead, the very foundations of our Western temple.
As, therefore, our two pounds and thirteen pence for the mouse poison are rung up on the till (X% being for the shareholders of the manufacturers – may it choke them) we will do our best to persuade ourselves that this transaction – like the extermination of the sabre tooth – is necessary wholly in the interests of Love.
But at the same time we know that we the survivors will be forever nailed to the cross of our own consciences.
It would appear that, having somehow managed to spawn ourselves into this Oneness of Love, our crucifixion is a necessary part of the necessary scheme of things. We will, however, take ourselves firmly in hand and insist that is an overreaction to go along with the proposition of Bradley that ‘this is the best of all possible worlds and everything in it is a necessary evil’.
All the same, was there anything to be gained by self-pity we might feel that it seems like bad luck really, and not only for the mouse.