Strike another first off the list for the Meadth family: went to the circus in Blackwater, Queensland.
Cue the lions (very close with ringside seats); here’s the world’s largest hula hoop; a clown gets his pants pulled off on the flying trapeze; here glow-in-the-dark juggling; there a dog on a tightrope. The smell of horse manure and hay and sweat and dust and popcorn evokes something from our own childhood, and probably one day our own three boys will reminisce with their own children. (By that time, Lennon Brothers will have been going for around 145 years… and I hope for his sake that the same poor old man is not still the ringmaster.)
I couldn’t help but ponder this week, while hewing my timber and grinding my steel, just why it is that we all love the circus. Take away the coulrophobia that we all suffer from in varying degrees, and you’ll find us right there with smiles on our faces. The particular circus I remember going to as a child was called Silver’s Grand Magic Circus, and it used to roll up every year on the once-vacant lot that is now home to the Chirnside Park Reading Cinemas. Twenty years later, I realize that magic is actually the very most correct word to use for the circus, and probably a word we should use for the Olympic Games, too. We all love the circus because it is, in a quite literal sense, supernatural.
Let me explain, in a circuitous fashion: Strict scientific naturalism teaches that everything taking place around us does so according only to chemical and physical laws. Quantum physics throws some confusion into the ring, but the basic idea is that even if we don’t currently know all the rules, the rules do exist, and it is only a matter of time before we work them out through experimentation and observation. I agree and understand that most of what goes on around you and I is impersonal and entirely determined, most being the key word. Applying heat to water will cause it to boil, each and every time, in exactly the same way, provided that all environmental conditions are similar. A dropped hammer will always travel as quickly as it can towards the center of the earth, at a rate of approximately 9.81 m/s2
at sea level, and it has no choice in the matter. Even apparently chaotic processes, such as turbulent airflow over an aircraft wing, have a strong degree of predictability as a whole (we could not fly safely if it were not the case), and if you zoom in, each molecule, atom, and subatomic particle feels attraction and acceleration according to set rules.
Laws of attraction and repulsion, impulse and momentum, heat and energy, are not the whole show. They can’t be. If it were so, no house would ever be built, and no song would ever be composed. Houses do not come together because any scientific law states that it must unavoidably be so (in fact, the laws determine that such houses should eventually deteriorate and disappear). The necessary ingredient for increasing order and decreasing entropy in any system is the application of creativity and effort from outside that system. Furthermore, human creativity and effort, all choice and decision, does not result because it has to. The hammer falls because that action is the only possible outcome from the trigger event – the hammer was released. But the song, this particular song, was not composed because it was the only possible outcome from any trigger event. Perhaps one aspect of the beauty of music is its fragility: the song almost didn’t sound like this. What I mean is that human choices and actions are not one link in an infinite chain stretching back to the beginning of time; human choices and actions are always the first link in a new chain of events and consequences.
This idea puts me in opposition to a great many scientists and psychologists, and all who would ask “Nature or Nurture?” In fact, it seems to me that the very question of Nature vs Nurture is completely misleading, if by it you mean, “Which of these more strongly determines a person’s life?” I prefer to ask instead, “Which of these more strongly influences a person’s life?”, leaving room for the most important element: human will. One practical outcome of this type of thinking is in regards to sexuality: I will never accept the theory that a person is homosexual because they are born so. Completely aside from any argument over whether homosexuality is right or wrong, such a deterministic idea puts all responsibility for events squarely in the court of Nature, as though Will were powerless, and Responsibility irrelevant, and it sets a very dangerous precedent for everything that follows (for example, how can pedophiles be held accountable, and how can there be any hope for their redemption, if they were simply born that way? For that matter, I can’t help speeding, officer… it’s in my genes!).
The picture I am clumsily trying to paint here is one of a whole, interlocked universal existence, with stars and trees and waterfalls all unavoidably functioning according to impersonal natural laws, and then billions of points of light scattered all about, shining in from outside the system: humans. We are truly hybrid, with one foot on the Earth and one foot in Heaven, influenced by those natural laws by not bound by them. We are the anti-chaos agents, appointed by a Loving Father, a sliver of His divine power in each and every one of us. The trees raise their arms because they have to, but we worship and build and compose because we want to. By any definition, human will and spirit is most surely supernatural.
So why do we love the circus? Whether we realize it consciously or not, the circus is a very real reminder of the not-of-this-world-ness of human will. The circus is a thing that would never exist in the natural, and it showcases the fact that we truly are the sons of God (Psalm 82.6, John 10.34, Luke 3.38). The carnies exercise their supernatural will on their own natural bodies, and on the dogs and camels and lions. There is real magic happening, with every trick and tumble, and all of it bringing glory to God.
The supernatural human race. Glad to be a part of it.
(P.S. For a much better explanation of these ideas, do yourself a favour and read C. S. Lewis’ Miracles. Really good stuff.)