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The Scale of Political Supernovae

Friday, March 22, 2019

Perhaps, one day, I will get back to my love of Astronomy. There is a great deal of beauty in studying the Universe beyond our little planet and way beyond our little Sun. At every scale, there is something worth studying. We can look at moons and meteors, comets and coronae, planets individually and in context with the others. We have just started to pick up on planets orbiting distant stars. Each time, we can increase the scale from the astronomically parochial Earth-Moon system to galactic, intergalactic and even further beyond. I’ve long been interested in the shape of the entire Universe my own mathematical journey once gave me the language to discuss large-scale structures.

One occurrence that always makes me rather wistful is the supernova – the death of a largish star. When a supernova occurs, it spells the death, not only of the star itself but also the deaths of the planets that surround it. A star ages when it runs out of hydrogen to use as fuel and subsequently begins to create heavier and heavier elements as it tries to keep its core running. It’s like a nuclear reactor but runs on smashing atoms together rather than tearing them apart. As you smash atoms together, you begin to create heavier elements: helium, lithium, carbon, oxygen, and iron. This means that the star can start to collapse in on itself because it is so heavy. This will heat the core up to an extent that it will puff off any remaining gases and lighter particles at an alarming rate. This is the supernova. It is bright, brilliant and, in the scale of the universe very short-lived. What remains can be a dwarf star, neutron star or even the famous black hole.

To put it into perspective, our little Sun will probably not go supernova but rather form a less spectacular event called a nova. It’s like a supernova but on a smaller scale.

But it’s all a question of scale.

On the small scale, our Sun going nova will destroy all life on Earth. It will boil the gas giants of Jupiter and Saturn, evaporate Mercury and Venus, and leave the Earth a cinder floating in space. That’s the small scale. On the scale of the Universe? It will be like a tiny bubble in your lemonade appear and disappear barely noticed.

All of this is way beyond the scale of human beings. In the scale of the Universe, we come and go from irrelevance into irrelevance. Nothing that we do matters to this vast expanse of space.

But it does to God.

And God works on all scales.

I look at our politics of the last few years and I see what I can only understand as the beginnings of a supernova. Political activity and unrest are getting more fervent, social structures are colliding, breaking apart and reforming. In the UK we are heading out into the unknown as Brexit seems to be changing all that we understand about Parliament and challenging our understanding of democracy. It’s frightening, exhilarating, disturbing and the cause of much stress. An end is coming, but also a beginning. A Reformation.

Even when a star dies, its component parts blown into space have the potential to create new structures. The same is true here.

For example, the Established Church is in decline and will soon go supernova. It cannot hold onto integrities which cannot be reconciled because, for all its good intentions and prayers, one integrity has roots that are not of God. It will fall, and what will be left will be component parts which will need to regroup in order to survive. Pope Benedict is right; the Church of the Future will be smaller, less grand but much more faithful.

All this is happening on scales beyond the individual.

Brexit will, in all probability happen. If it does not, then there will be a political crisis and loss of faith in democracy the like of which this country has not seen. Brexiteers will not take a rescinding of Article 50 lightly. If Brexit does happen, then there will be a scale of resentment from the pro-Europeans that will poison political relationships for years to come. It seems that we are in between a rock and a hard place.

We can go absolutely potty and focus in on our little bubble, or little piece of politics. We can become monomaniacally pro-Brexit or con-Brexit and bleat and swear and threaten and bewail when the worst happens. The monomaniac is so sure of his understanding, so at home in his echo chamber, and so utterly convinced of the worst, that he has become a Kripkean Dogmatist. The monomaniac of either party faces his own supernova as that single issue becomes so concentrated that a single event will cause an explosion of personal energy to the extent that life will never be the same again.

Monomaniacs need to change scale for their own health. We need to make our prayers to God and look up.

A time will come when Brexit will be a dim memory, an obscure word in the dictionary which people no longer see as significant in their lives. We need to learn to see ourselves beyond our political upheavals. What politics do we want? How can we live with those of an opposite political ideology? God is on every scale and it is in every scale that we need to make our prayer, not just in the narrow focus of our own monomania. Indeed, if we’re not “monomaniacal” about God, then perhaps we are worshipping an idol of our own making.

Brexit will come and Brexit will go and, until then, we must be courageous and deny our monomaniacal pursuit of doom by remembering that there is always hope. We must be courageous to enjoy the life that God gives us, even in the face of turmoil. The supernova will happen, and there will always be a remnant left behind as the wind blows the lightweight material away. God will not forget us. He is here on our scale, whatever that will be!

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