I went to my mom’s house unannounced, as I am wont to do, and found that she was out, as she is wont to be.
No matter. Being English, like my mom, I put the kettle on for a cup of tea and went in search of a book to read while I waited for her to come home.
I picked up Helen Fielding’s 1996 novel, Bridget Jones’s Diary. Not the sort of thing I’d normally be interested in, but at the time I figured it was better than nothing.
I enjoyed Bridget’s New Year’s Resolutions and Chapter One enough to bring the book home and add it to my stack o’ books, teetering alongside the other books I was reading at the time, including P.D. James’s Children of Men (1992).
As I read on, it occurred to me that these two books, even though they differ widely in genre, style, and intended audience, actually have quite a lot in common.
Each book chronicles about one year of elapsed time: Bridget’s fictional diary begins on January 1 and ends the day after Christmas, and P.D. James also begins her book with a January 1st journal entry by the main character, Theo Faron. Both contain first person point-of-view elements (Bridget Jones more than Children of Men) Both are intensely personal, providing the reader with access to the innermost and secret thoughts of the main character.
Some major differences, of course: Fielding’s main character, Bridget, is feckless, stupid and hilariously funny. James’s main character, Theo, is thoughtful, intelligent and serious.
Bridget Jones’s Diary is a romantic comedy that ends with Bridget in a relationship with a good man instead of the insufferable twit she’d been after for the past 11 months.
Children of Men is a dystopian novel about the end of humanity…and its new beginning…amid murder, mayhem, mass euthanasia, betrayal, and hopelessness.
As I read Bridget Jones’s Diary, I laughed out loud at Bridget’s antics and at Fielding’s inimitable turn of phrase. Bridget is a comic masterpiece who describes her misadventures with hilarious honesty. She drinks too much, smokes too much, and eats too much, and constantly obsesses about how much she drinks, smokes, and eats, continually makes resolutions to improve herself, but never, ever does. She berates herself for sleeping with her boss, vows not to do it again, but does it again many times over. She vows to stop being late for work, but that very morning doesn’t get out of the house until 10:30. She is so lacking in self-knowledge that she turns a sensible meal of shepherd’s pie for a few friends into a gourmet meal for 16 that was to have concluded with Grand Marnier soufflés, but ten minutes before her guests were due to arrive she had stepped in the dinner and she still hadn’t dried her hair.
Details may vary, but is this not a description of just about everyone’s life? Including mine? The struggle with vice, bad habits, laziness, inconstancy, habitual sin. The waffling back and forth from an exalted view of ourselves that bites off more than anyone could possibly chew to wallowing in self-pity as we watch stupid YouTube videos or doom-scroll on our smartphones.
Bridget has little to live for except for those few dropped pounds on the scale, that evening at the pub with her friends, the momentary excitement and comfort of sex with someone new.
Bridget is fictional, but, I wonder: how could the Gospel of Jesus Christ reach someone like her in the real world? She knows that her life is meaningless and pathetic and she longs for something noble and sublime. Yet, I have a feeling that if she ever met a real Christian who tried to share the Gospel with her, she would smile politely while inwardly cringing, and try to extricate herself from the encounter as quickly as possible.
In Children of Men, the entire human race has become sterile. No babies have been born for 25 years. The people of this world know that they are the last of their kind and they believe that without the future promised by the presence of children in the world, life is meaningless. P.D. James constructs a terrifying dystopia around this idea and answers the question of how a society without God would contemplate its own demise. Life in such a society is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Leviathan i. xiii. 9 by Thomas Hobbes). The aged demonstrate their hopelessness by mass suicide. The young demonstrate theirs by acting out in anger and in reckless, indiscriminate violence.
If the fertility crisis James creates in her fictional future were ever to come true in the real world, I have no doubt that secular human society would deteriorate in much the way it does in her book, because in some ways her dystopia is already here. Euthanasia of the aged is practiced regularly in the Netherlands and they are contemplating it in rapidly aging Japan. In some countries the number of abortions exceeds the number of live births. The terminally-ill and severely brain-damaged are put to death every day in this country, although mostly without the furor surrounding the 2005 death-by-starvation of Terry Schiavo. In many parts of the world, violent lawlessness is commonplace and on the rise.
I think—I hope–people of faith would handle news of the end of the world differently, just as I hope people of faith are able to find meaning in everyday life the way Bridget Jones is not.
My pastor is fond of saying, “Live every day as if it were your last, because one of these days you’re going to be right.” One of the reasons I’m profoundly un-interested in “end-times” predictions, doomsdays, reported appearances of the anti-Christ, and so on, is because the timing of the world’s ending doesn’t really matter: each one of us is already hurtling toward our own personal apocalypse (from the Greek word meaning “to reveal,” “to unveil”). True, we must always be ready, for we “know not the day nor the hour,” and we must learn to read “the signs of the times.” But fretting about the end of the world does little more than distract us from the real work of living well now.
We can take nothing with us, yet…
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