Sergeant Pluck and the Apocalypse

Jun 13th, 2007 | By | Category: Spirituality

Flann O’Brien’s Sergeant Pluck from The Third Policeman throws interesting light on conventional scientific wisdom:

“The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycles”.

All of which sounds complete nonsense, and is, if you accept the rules of conventional scientific wisdom, but if you don’t accept that scientists know everything there is to be known, and that there are things that scientific method will never explain, then there is sense in the point that he makes when he writes to a friend:

“When you get to the end of this book you realize that my hero or main character (he’s a heel and a killer) has been dead throughout the book and that all the queer ghastly things which have been happening to him are happening in a sort of hell which he earned for the killing … It is made clear that this sort of thing goes on for ever … When you are writing about the world of the dead – and the damned – where none of the rules and laws (not even the law of gravity) holds good, there is any amount of scope for back-chat and funny cracks”.

Who says the rules and laws of science are infallible? Scientists now have put themselves in the place the Church occupied in medieval times, infallible authorities on the nature of the world.

Perhaps Christians are called to be more like the absurd Flann O’Brien than the rational Richard Dawkins. Writing about the Book of Revelation, the final book in the Bible, David de Silva says the book “sets forth definitions of reality for Christians in general that run counter to those of the dominant political, economic and religious society in which they live”. The church is to provide a “plausibility structure for the counter-definitions of reality revealed by God.”

Our definitions of reality might be far from the atomic theory of Sergeant Pluck, but they will be just as far from a world which says that reality is what you can buy and life is what you can get.

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