Written in 1999:
For five hundred years after Rome fell, no one built anything of consequence in Western Europe. No one built any stone structures more than two stories high. Metaphorically speaking, no one planted any trees, because no one believed there was a future. Then, with the turn of the millennium, people looked around and saw they had survived the barbarian invasions, the Huns and the Moors, the Vikings, and the threat of the world’s supernatural destruction on the millennium itself. The realisation hit them: “We made it!” And knowing there would be a future, they started building cathedrals.
Similarly, humanity, and most especially Europe, has just survived what may have been the most dangerous century in human history. The twentieth century has been filled with chaos—two world wars, the Great Depression, fascism, communism, the Cold War, and at least one near-miss at nuclear war. In retrospect it seems incredibly fortunate that civilisation muddled through. But it did, and here we are on the brink of a new millennium with institutions being put in place that should preclude another general European war.
In 1959, when the movie On The Beach was made, it was felt to be a realistic projection that humanity would extinguish itself in thermonuclear war—by 1964. We’re past that kind of pessimism now, there’s going to be a future. Unless world events take a drastic unexpected turn for the worse in the next few years, when the millennium turns there is going to be a strongly—and rightly—felt sense that it is time to build cathedrals once again.
What better cathedral, what more profound statement of our faith in the importance of the future could there be than the establishment of mankind’s first outpost on a new world?
[Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization by Robert Zubrin]
Nearly twenty years later, we know what events have happened, but what a shame that no one wants to build cathedrals.
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, is out now. Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz