Four years ago, during the period of the great calendar change, there was a contest to determine the greatest invention of the concluding millenium. Guttenberg's movable-type press won.
I thought the choice ill-considered but kept my mouth shut. At the time way too many people were wrapped up in the euphoria of millenarianism and it was no time to challenge the importance of Guttenberg, the man who printed the Bible.
I bring this up now because of a scene in the most recent end-of-the-world flick, "The Day After Tomorrow." (It is interesting to note humanity's continuing obsession with eschatology, a branch of theology concerned with the end of the world, and in various Christian doctrines, "The Second Coming." In order to sell a majority of movie tickets one must first appreciate the needs of the majority.)
In the scene referred to above it is freezing outside and those attempting to survive burn all the books in the New York Public Library to stay warm. One of the individuals refuses to sacrifice a Guttenberg Bible, pointing to the work's historical significance.
I probably wouldn't have burned it either for I too appreciate the significance of incunabula books printed prior to 1501. I just don't think Guttenberg's movable-type press is the most important invention of the millenium.
Let me explain. I admit prior to Guttenberg's invention literature was the labor intensive, hand-written medium of the privileged. I further concede his printing press led to the dissemination of knowledge and thereby, the elevation of European culture. It was a pivotal moment in history.
Nevertheless, to truly appreciate the intrinsic worth of books and by reverse extension, Guttenberg's printing press they must be viewed in context.
Imagine yourself leaning back in your Elizabethan Barka Lounger happily reading, learning, growing when suddenly your back itches. Baby's nowhere to be found and the spot demanding attention is in the middle of your upper back.
You're beside yourself, at wits end.
Suddenly the fruit of the allegedly most important invention of a thousand years becomes irrelevant. You put the book down because it has been rendered insignificant by something of infinitely greater import.
Then, and only then, does my candidate for the most important invention of the millenium, the Chinese bamboo back scratcher, reveal its eminence, its significance, its overarching consequence.
Ask yourself, have you ever responded to a book, even the Bible, with the unalloyed pleasure you derive from a Chinese bamboo back scratcher? "Nay!" say I.
I rest my case.
If religious conservatives think me unduly glib (if not sacrilegious) when mentioning the Bible in this context you may soon change you opinion. Not only do I intend to offer a revelatory connection between the Bible and the Chinese bamboo back scratcher, I am presenting a hitherto undiscovered and irrefutable argument that shall forevermore render Darwin's theory of evolution a sham.
Suddenly I, R.H. Joseph, have become the religious conservative's best friend.
Consider the giraffe. According to Darwin's theory the creature's neck grows to preposterous lengths so it can avail itself of food sources no other animal can reach.
Makes sense, right?
Now consider the Chinese bamboo back scratcher. If Darwin's theory of natural adaptation is correct why, during the course of human evolution, didn't our arms grow in such a way as to reach any location on our backs in order to scratch unbearable itches?
If we've learned to lie, to flatter, and to charm in service to satisfying other itches why didn't we evolve in a manner formulated to alleviate nature's most irrepressible demand? Of these various itches, which is the only one that cannot be denied?
Conversely, the situation appears to support the notion of the Grand Watchmaker championed by religious conservatives. Surely Mr. Big Stuff created the itchy back so as to compel humans to mate. (Dare we assume the Chinese bamboo back scratcher is a tool of the devil?)
Consider the alternative: fifty or sixty or seventy years spent alone with no one to quickly satisfy that singular occasion demanding immediate attention.
We have learned to accept "Not tonight honey, I have a headache." But can you imagine the dire consequences of ignoring a beloved's request to "Scratch my back. A little higher. A little to the left.
R.H. Joseph is a longtime employee of the News Daily. His column appears on Wednesdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 252, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.