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The Masks of Prague


My family and I recently took a trip to Europe, and one of the places we visited was Prague, in the Czech Republic. A truly beautiful city, with buildings going back to the medieval period, it is full of history, a good deal of it sad. 

This sadness struck me from the very beginning. I remembered the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rapid spread of independence in Central Europe in 1989. We had been in Poland and Austria. In those places the Google maps showed all the tourist sites, but also famous landmarks, museums, and churches, right from the beginning. 

But when I Googled Prague, I saw just hotels, landmarks, museums about Communism, and even a Sex Machines Museum.  There were only two churches, one connected with Jan Hus, who is a figure revered by many Czechs, and the other a huge landmark that dominates the skyline, and two synagogues of great historic importance. Yet I knew the city was full of churches and synagogues. It was only when I went one or two levels deeper that all the historic churches and synagogues appeared on the map. The roots of the nation and its history began to appear, and its actual physical layout, not just the highlights carefully selected somewhere else.


Deeper Roots Below

Sometimes the language we hear on TV or in the movies, on the Internet, in chat rooms, sweeps aside our sense of self, of reality. We begin to think that what we see on TV is the reality and we are the faded copies, out of touch. We can imbibe the message and not even notice how it coats us now in its own colors. We become like that surface layer of the map, forgetting there are much deeper roots below.

We are told we are nothing but matter and energy, our brains a collection of neurochemicals responding to sensory inputs according to our genes and our upbringing. Is that the way it is? Dig deeper. That surface veneer of materialism is not who we are.

That was the topic of last week’s Science Uprising episode, which explains that, “No, You’re Not a Robot Made Out of Meat.” 

Darwin Understood

Now where does this idea that we are nothing but meat machines come from? You guessed it. It wouldn’t be possible without some sort of world-view that got rid of the need for a creator or designer to explain it all. Darwin knew what he was doing. He was removing the necessity for a creator to account for life.


The theory Darwin left behind has grown and elaborated itself manyfold, and left behind bleakness. Even in his day he had intimations of the emptiness that follows in its wake. He recognized that the theory called into question the very capacity for reason upon which all theories rest. As he wrote in a letter to William Graham:

But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?

How sad. He complained of a loss of pleasure in music and poetry and art, thinking it was perhaps through lack of practice, but that would not explain why he had such joy when he was young, but not as years went on. To read about him is to be struck by how weighed down by his own theory he was.

Still Weighed Down

Prague, after the ravages of the many religious and political wars followed by Communist rule, though its walls are largely rebuilt, is still weighed down by its history of conflict. The people are nearly 75 percent agnostic or atheist. So said several Czech tour guides proudly, and Now This World confirms it. They have taken on the masks of their former taskmasters and let their heritage stand empty, though thankfully not yet in ruins. Fortunately, masks can be removed. The Czech people are resilient. If they realize the emptiness of the masks and start to fill in the blank spaces on their maps with reality, they can return.

So what’s next for us? Let’s break out of this particular error, that we are nothing but meat puppets, and take a look at one of the wonders of biology. Watch the third episode of Science Uprising, which asks, “DNA Is Code: Who Coded It?” Yet another mask to remove!

Photos by Ann Gauger, from top to bottom: statue of Jan Hus in the Old Town Square. Church of Mother of God Before Tyn is in the background. St. Vitus Cathedral, exterior and interior. The cathedral has been under construction for over six hundred years, still not complete.