I am sad to learn that two giants in the moral and intellectual leadership of our era passed away on the same day, Sunday, December 26, 2021. Thankful for their lives and their work, I can delight in imagining what it might be like for the two of them to meet as they await their next adventure after this life.
E. O. Wilson was a devoted scientist, but not an atheist. Agnostic on most matters of faith, he described himself as a “provisional deist” on the question of God. However, I can only imagine Wilson being somewhat confused waiting in line at the gates of Heaven–perhaps wondering where he was or if he were in the wrong line. And where were all the animals; surely they too are ensouled with a life-force as are homo sapiens.
Desmund Tutu was a deep thinking theologian and a modern prophet for social justice. His canopy of collaboration was wide, as it included all kinds of Christians, people of other religions, agnostics and even atheists. Indeed he embraced modern science, he even donated his genome to science for wider study. I can imagine Tutu wondering why the heavenly line takes so long–as God’s love is wide, but he would take delight in meeting everyone around him.
Then the two of would meet face to face in my fantasy–with glimmers of recognition, one saying “Bishop Tutu?”, the other “Professor Wilson?” How they would laugh at their current circumstance, and share condolences for those they left behind. They might tell life stories, including nicknames like “Mpilo”–or “life”–given to Tutu as a boy in Klerksdorp, South Africa, or “Snake” given to Wilson by his high school classmates in Brewton, Alabama. (My own mother, who went to school with Wilson, told me the name was fitting because he had cages and cages of reptiles in his backyard). How they would laugh at such stories, and cry together at others.
As the line stalls before the Pearly Gates, I can imagine Tutu exploring the father of sociobiology’s mind for his predictions of the fate of the planet, and the lessons humans could learn from the social interaction of ants, which Wilson studied at length. Perhaps Tutu would even explore the philosophy of Wilsons’ “Consilience” which proposed a path for the natural and human sciences to be united. And Wilson, who held deep ethical concerns for the planet and for human co-existence, he might explore Tutu’s own vision of racial justice and harmony, and the spiritual fortitude which made him a champion of both anti-apartheid resistance and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after apartheid’s demise.
Perhaps they would argue over the necessity of God to explain things… perhaps not.
As they reach the Gates, I imagine Wilson asking St. Peter if he ever studied closely the fish he caught before and after meeting Jesus. “Some fish are predators, others feed cooperatively, which did you catch?… and which kind did Jesus talk about the most?” As Wilson and Peter are conversing, I imagine Tutu picks up two children near him and whisks on through the gates, waving back with confidence that E.O. would soon pass through, given the breadth of God’s love. What Wilson would decide to do at the offer is an open question.
Our condolences to the families of these two great men. Our thanks to God for their lives and contributions to bettering the planet and the human race. Just imagine, what would these two great souls ask us to do in 2022?