Faith & reason / Cosmic time and the millennium dome

A plastic German dome or a fibre-glass American one - was that really the most important decision for our celebration of the coming millennium ?, asks Elaine Storkey.

We are apt to get time out of perspective. It can easily become a commodity, measured out with minute digital precision and for sale at the market price. A psalm in the Bible gives us a very different viewpoint. It tells us that in God's sight a thousand years are like a day that has just gone or like a watch in the night. So a generation passes like a lunch break. Five centuries becomes half a night shift. And we recognise again that beside cosmic time we are very small. We are, in the words of the Psalm of Moses, like grass that springs up new in the morning and withers by evening.

Yet the point of this recognition is not so that we see ourselves as without significance or our time as merely trivial. It is rather that, like the psalmist, we should learn to approach each day with a deeper perspective and gain a heart of wisdom. Without a sober approach to time we are likely to be foolish.

Perhaps it is this sense of time and its implications which was missing this week in Peter Mandelson's outline of the Millennium celebrations. For they seem self-evidently trapped in the values of our present era, and consequently could well be foolish. As these thousand years draw to a close Britain is producing a dome, a tent-like structure which is to be the site of a wonderful end-of-Millennium "experience". We are assured that the construction, which will still be expensive but apparently somehow not so temporary as it was going to be before the election - American fibre-glass rather than German plastic - now has the blessings and support of all the Cabinet.

It is not yet clear what the promised "experience" will turn out to be, but since the capacity of the dome will be well below 60 million, many people will just see it on television. Supporters could of course argue that the Mandelson vision has parallels with the biblical one; a thousand years becoming a day, embodied in the tent-like structure of the pilgrim. But somehow it lacks the scope and depth which God and Moses put together.

I find it odd anyway that we should think we can commercially produce any experience appropriate for the ending of a thousand years. For these have been an amazing thousand years, from before the Norman Conquest. They have even been historically recorded, giving us access in Britain to our own long past. There have been great epochs and movements: the Norman era, the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Reformation, Enlightenment, Victorian and Modern, all bring their own character to the Millennium. Our language and literature spans vast eras: Chaucer, Tyndale, Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, Austen, Dickens, Churchill and thousands of others spill their words into our lives in chronicles, poetry, novels, memoirs and biography. Architecture has its own legacy: Gothic, Classical, Georgian and Victorian buildings shape our towns and cities.

Through the long centuries we see the unfolding of lives, relationships, struggles, wars, politics, law, poverty, wealth, art, music, science, technology. And underlying them all is our attitude to God, our human response to the great biblical narratives in the faith and philosophy of a thousand years. Can this really all be brought to a millennium experience?

Hardly, and that is why we know that Claire Short, now silent but eloquent, was right. We would be far better spending the money on alleviating world poverty and hunger as a more effective celebration. For the real millennial task, as set out by the Jubilee 2000 campaign, is the cancellation of the debt of the poor. These campaigners have heard the Old Testament theme of Jubilee, forgiving debt and offering hope, as one of God's purposes with us. And, since over the last two centuries we have often unfairly benefited from some of those very countries now in debt, it would be a fitting act of remembrance as well as of mercy. Alongside their needs the plans outlined this week seem just a little self-indulgent.

So we have these two perspectives. One puts a thousand years into an experience which has some relationship with a dome. Another involves the God who, to quote the psalmist, has been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Heeding God's call to love mercy, do justice and walk humbly must be the best way to mark the end of this millennium. And it would help us put time more soberly in the context of eternity.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all