What's Tony Thinking

Notre Dame Is Burning


The destruction of Notre Dame invites a frenzy of interpretation. Symbol? Allegory? Metaphor? Act of God? What does it mean?

But before any of that — how very sad! For Paris and Parisians, for France and the French, for Europe and for us all. A  treasure lost.

France, Paris — we grieve with you. We grieve this loss at the heart of your city, your country.

But Notre Dame in flames on Monday of Holy Week? Well, that does invite all sorts of conjecture, interpretation and speculation. Is there more here than just a fire?

Is this a sign of God’s judgment on the Roman Catholic Church? Ross Douthat explored this possibility in a fine column. Douthat writes,

“And it is impossible, as a Catholic, to be writing about this subject while the Cathedral of Notre-Dame is literally burning on Holy Week and not feel that everyone engaged in Catholicism’s civil wars is being judged, and found wanting, and given a harrowing lesson in what is actually asked of us.”*

Or amid the chaos of Brexit is the destruction of the Cathedral, some sort of sign of European disarray and decline? Of a European death-wish?

London is fiddling while Paris burns?

I appreciated author and journalist Pamela Druckerman’s  interpretation. Druckerman is an American who lives in Paris.

She argued that the present generation haven’t been very good stewards of all that is entrusted to us. Whether that is true of the cathedral specifically, I do not know. It was in the midst of a major restoration. But Druckerman’s theme is more generally applicable.

Here’s Druckerman:

“There’s also a shared sadness and disappointment that, with the extensive damage, we’ve failed, as a civilization, to be the caretakers of something priceless. A hundred years from now, people will still be talking about the fire of 2019.”

“We’ve failed, as a civilization, to be the caretakers of something priceless.”

Trump is only one of many who have come to power of late, riding the theme of “Everything is awful: let’s blow it all up.” Sew chaos, disruption, violence. Alliances, democracy, social norms. Sure, what the hell, light the match, burn it down.

Might we want to rethink that?

That sentiment is too easy, cheap in a way. We’re mostly too well off and pampered to be so incendiary.

We do better to make some effort to understand, appreciate and steward the gifts and treasures passed on to us and won by the sacrifices of countless generations.

“We’ve failed, as a civilization, to be the caretakers of something priceless.”

Like democracy. Like institutions of religion, culture and learning. See Douthat on stewarding the Catholic tradition of synthesis.

There are too few ways today that we are reminded that we aren’t the be-all and end-all but only a link, albeit a precious link, in a great chain of being, and part of something larger than ourselves.

So, for now, this interpretation of the sad inferno of Notre Dame: We are called to be betters stewards of art and governance, of culture and creation.

We are called to be less furious in our complaint, more restrained in our aggrieved and self-serving resentments. And more grateful, more aware that what has taken centuries to build can be destroyed in a single dark night.

*Note: I have updated my piece, to include and reference Douthat.





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