Many years back in my elementary school days, I remember a project our teacher gave us. For our current events class, we were to script a newscast and film it.
This was back before the Internet. We had to read the newspaper, watch the local TV newscast, and call the national weather service to learn which news items we wanted to portray on our news program. It may not have been efficient, but it certainly gave us opportunity to interact with others, to learn what they thought was important, and to get advice from our parents about which news items were affecting their lives. The lesson: automation has a downside, it severs the human connections that are the reason our lives have meaning.
Back to the story…this childhood newscast taught me a few things: how to speak clearly and communicate before a camera, and how to find resources of information about what is happening in the world around me. It taught me to sift, sort, and discern the news both at face value, and for what dynamics might be at work underneath. I learned the nascent art of spotting “fake news” long before that catch-phrase was news, and to question my first reaction to a story. That emotional reaction is frequently self-deceiving, a reaction to how a news story is presented or written, rather than to the actual facts of the situation.
Gauging fact vs. reaction
Which brings us down to a recent news event, an actuality, which is the French word for a current event. Let’s look at the burning of Notre-Dame de Paris on April 15, 2019. Situated on the Île de la Cité in the River Seine, it has been at the heart of Paris for 856 years from the day the first stone was set in 1163.
It is not the spiritual center of historical France, that was the cathedral of Reims where many French kings were coronated, but it has become a symbolic center of historical France and Paris. Thanks in part to the story by Victor Hugo that was, after many interpretations, turned into a Disney cartoon film, “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.”
*For an off-site article recommendation to learn more about Notre-Dame, please see link following this post.
Rather momentously, it (mostly) survived the brutality of the 1790’s, during the philosophically atheistic Reign of Terror of the French Revolution. A few statues lost their heads, and it was turned into a secular-religious church of the cult of the Supreme Being. Alas, the neglect it suffered in the ensuing decades led to a restoration in the 1840’s directed by Eugene Viollet-le-Duc. The very spire, the tower that went up so dramatically in flames on April 15, dates from this period.
And ironically, it was in the midst of restoration once again when it caught fire. Which brings me back to the news. How it sometimes pays to reserve our judgment on the cause of events.
It is tempting to think that the fire was the result of a malfunction of restoration equipment and computer systems, which, of this writing, it appears has become the official cause. On the other hand, we may be tempted to ponder the proximity to the traditional Christian religious festival of Easter, and the occurrence of other fires and defacements of cathedrals and churches around France, and indeed, Europe. It is logical to wonder if there is religious conflict at the heart of the conflagration. And this is where patience is the best perspective because, ultimately, time will tell.
Rapidly raising funds
But what I find more interesting, and illuminating (pardon the pun), is the speed with which over 1 billion Euros were raised to support reconstruction of Notre-Dame. Roughly, two days.
Much has been made of the secularization of the religious world, and specifically of Christianity, and precisely, the Catholic Church. Scandals, a Pope with sometimes seemingly mixed messages, has led many to assume that this ancient religious movement is defunct. I think it is unwise to make that assumption, and the rapidity with which funds were raised is just a slight rumble of a still active entity.
As tensions increase, and national identities, and identities of all kinds are debated, people will begin to move back to what is familiar. Atheism as a belief system (and it is one) has little hope to offer, but religions, of various definitions, do (however much we may debate whose belief system is truth).
This of course, as any student of Biblical prophecy knows, means increased conflict among religions, which is, unfortunately, the human experience. But it’s also history-in-the-making.
So when you read the news, take time to look behind the headlines. Consider the possible conclusions, have patience because the truth will eventually become clear. Guard your initial reaction to a news event, be ready to discern between how a story is presented and what the actual facts are. And most importantly, look at the news with an eye for what we can learn, just as the fund raising for restoring Notre-Dame was unexpectedly rapid, look closer, and consider further implications.
Keep thinking history!
– Amanda Stiver
*For an excellent article from Nation Geographic about the history and construction of Notre-Dame de Paris, with many images of the cathedral: CLICK HERE
Hey there, History Gal. Haven’t heard from you in a while. Keep up the good work!