Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Power Houses

I recently visited Sizewell ‘A’ power station (seen above). Whenever I visit this power station the same memory is invoked. I remember seeing it as child in the mid-sixties when it had not long been built. Its corrugated aluminum façade was still an un-oxidized metallic silver sheen, sparkling in the sun. Metallic silver, in those days, was the colour of the future and above all, of progress; one saw it everywhere in connection with high tech or science fiction: spacesuits, aircraft, rockets, concept cars and concept fashions. As a child I was excited by that 'the future is here' feeling as I viewed the glistening power station. I readily tuned into to the hopes of modernism and aspirations of technological and scientific progress.

It was very appropriate that the moon was hanging over the station when I took this photograph – another half a decade after my first visit to Sizewell ‘A’ and that other science based project, man on the moon, would be fulfilled. Atomic power and space travel, those great projects of heroic science, went hand in hand into a hopeful future. Atomic power was going to provide electricity that was going to be too cheap to meter. Moreover, fusion power, a cleaner enhancement of atomic power, was just round the corner. Space flight would look like 2001 Space Odyssey by the end of the millennium and AI machines of great intelligence would soon be a reality, perhaps in a lifetime. None of these hopes, of course have been matched by the story on the ground, or in space.

The gray oxidized hull of the now decommissioning power station was forbidding in the half-light when I photographed it. The inflated expectations of the sixties about the possibilities of space flight and atomic power, like the somber discolored bulk of Sizewell ‘A’, have lost their sheen of optimism.

Sizewell ‘A’ is a gentle 25-minute walk down the beach from the Christian conference center where I was staying and here is a picture of that conference center:

The contrast with Sizewell ‘A’ is breathtaking: Built in 1922 Sizewell Hall is reminiscent of Lutyens, the garden city builders, and the periodic return to the arts and crafts of the romantics as they react against the cold functional complexity of modernism. The romantics seek a return to rusticity, an age when things were simpler, warmer, and more human - days when heartfelt yearnings and intuitions were chief oracle, and not the dispassionate and incomprehensible scientific expert. It is appropriate then that Sizewell Hall is a conference center for a movement that so often displays a sharp reaction against scholarship and learning in favour of simple ‘heart knowledge’. The view of creationism that some Christians promulgate typifies it: They draw a line round the first passages of Genesis confidently stating that this boundary clearly and unambiguously delimits all one need know about creation, completely ignoring the textual hints of dark tunnels leading way out beyond their limiting artifice, tunnels suggestive of a much bigger, perplexing and less comfortable world out there. The Southern Baptist fundamentalist is apt to trace all ills back to man’s fall, and thereby is less troubled by the mystery of suffering and evil. His 6000-year-old creation is easy to accommodate mentally and in a sentimental Kincaidian way it is as cozy as his living room.

Temperamentally I gravitate toward science, its pristine logic and its hopes of progress. But the somber discolored bulk of the now redundant power station as it decommissions, conjures up a sad nostalgia as I recall naive childish hopes. I have also had to cope with the dashed hopes of the evangelical movement as it recovers from a period of inflated religious expectations. When I first visited Sizewell Hall with my current church in 1994 it was the year of the emerging Toronto Blessing. There followed a short period of optimism whilst the picture, for a while, remained unclear. But now in 2008 we look back on a trail of false prophecies, half-baked and bizarre blessings, disgraced evangelists, failed promises of revival, polarization, and crowd control by spiritual spin and spiritual bullying. How could a group of people who make so much of 'Holy Spirit discernment' be so easily fooled? The frank, candid and challenging question has to be posed: Is Christianity real or is it just a product of crowd dynamics?

Evangelical Christianity, like scientific triumphalism, has had to adjust to a more sober assessment of its expectations. The spiritual lessons here for both atheist and evangelical are priceless: On the one hand, the epistemic arrogance of the Godless as they believe that they have found self–sufficiency in a scientific tree of knowledge, has been challenged. On the other hand with the discomfiture of evangelicalism, there is a mellowing and an embracing amongst evangelicals of a more open concept of the Gospel. At least I hope so.

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