Divine Abstraction: The Celestine Prophesy and Galapagos, a comparative review
CJ Stone has a message for you. Read on to discover more...
It is one of the worst books I ever read. Something called The Celestine Prophecy . I forget the author. I forget most things about it. It was a profoundly forgettable book.
Something I do remember is that at some point the author has the entire Mayan race "disappearing": that is, he seems to say that they all evolved into higher dimensional beings overnight, and vanished from the Earth. Well yes. Except that any visitor to the Chiapas region of Mexico would soon realise that the Mayans are still very much with us, and making a great deal of noise down there as one of the tribal groups involved with the armed Zapatista movement, fighting for indigenous people's rights.
I guess they must have taken a temporary holiday from the higher dimensional regions in order to return to Earth to take up their posts as revolutionary fighters. Maybe that's what evolution has taught them: how to handle a Kalashnikov rifle.
Actually, as revolutionaries go, this lot do seem to have a sense of humour. I remember reading about the Zapatista air force, and puzzling how such poor indigenous peoples could afford to buy planes, let alone build air fields. Until I discovered what it was all made of, that is. It was made of paper. The Zapatista air force consists entirely of paper planes thrown into the barracks of the Mexican army, with revolutionary messages, urging them to desert.
But that was the kind of absurdity that The Celestine Prophecy was full of: whole peoples evolving into higher spiritual beings, pre-Columbian Latin American books written in Aramaic, stilted conversations between stilted characters in a high, stilted, philosophical style, and people wandering around happily handing deeply meaningful messages to each other before themselves evolving into higher spiritual beings. I only read it because a friend of mine passed it on to me. It was like Mills & Boon on Prozac. It probably took about ten days to write.
It was, however, hugely popular at the time. I remember being in a pub in Bath a few weeks after reading it. I was introduced to someone who immediately asked me what my message was.
"I think you have a message for me."
I had no idea what the guy was talking about. It was later that I saw the copy of The Celestine Prophecy sticking out of his jacket pocket and figured it out.
"You know you said I might have a message for you," I said.
"Well it's this: don't believe a single word in that book."
My own reading of the book was happily seasoned by finding a copy of Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut Jnr. in a second hand bookshop the day after finishing it. You could say that this was "synchronicity" (which is what The Celestine Prophecy is all about, after all - meaningful coincidence): and, in fact, Galapagos does have a similar theme to that other, more spiritual book, being about the evolution of the human race. But whereas The Celestine Prophecy has us all evolving "upwards", into higher beings, Galapagos has us evolving "downwards" instead, into little, furry seal-like creatures, living off raw fish from the Ocean. And whereas The Celestine Prophecy is full of deep and meaningful coincidence to guide us into our higher state, Galapagos is full of bleakly absurd and heart-rendingly inane coincidences, that have us almost wiping ourselves off the planet, before, finally, finding happiness as simple creatures with flippers instead of hands, a million years in the future.
The Celestine Prophesy is optimistic, whereas Galapagos is not. The Celestine Prophecy is confident that our life on this planet has purpose and direction, whereas Galapagos can only point to the sheer absurdity of us thinking that the Earth gives a flying Iguana about any of us. The Celestine Prophecy is spiritual, whereas Galapagos is ironical.
Galapagos also has the advantage of being very, very funny and beautifully crafted, with simple grace and style; two things I can say with confidence that The Celestine Prophecy does not have. It probably took about five years to write.
I'm trying to remember what it was that started me on this train of thought. Oh yes: it was a burning sensation on the back of my neck on the day that Venus transited the Sun. It was, if you remember, a fiercely hot day that day. So I felt the Sun's heat as soon as I walked out of my door in the morning. I wanted to observe the transit but knew that it would blind me. That's when it struck me: how unutterably awesome the Sun is, that it can throw off such heat and such light through the immense vacuum of empty space, all those distances, for us.
I think it was Voltaire (that great eighteenth century sceptic) who said, "God is the Sun". How can we doubt it? Indeed: why do we need to posit any other kind of God - something abstract and unknowable, invisible and inhumanly judgemental - when we feel our own Sun's fierce nuclear presence every day of our lives, offering us joy and delight and quickening our bodies into sensual life?
We seem to be addicted to abstraction, to vagaries and systems, preferring to limit our lives with moral strictures and arbitrary rules, seeking "meaning" in everything, as if meaning was something inherent in the Universe, rather than just in us.
That's what so annoyed me about The Celestine Prophecy , that it was full of vagary and abstraction: vague characters wandering around an abstract South America having vague conversations about abstract philosophies in an vague Universe.
That's what annoys me about God too, His tendency to vagueness.
If God had meant me to believe in Him, He'd've let me know by now.
Prediction August 2004
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Stories and opinions from the North Kent Coast. An on-line column by Whitstable writer CJ Stone.
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