On a lump of coal

The most beautiful coal mine in the world is, by general consensus, shaft 12 of the Zollverein works in Essen, Germany. Alas, it is no longer in production — the do-gooders closed it in 1993 — but now even Unesco counts it among “World Heritage Sites.” In 1932, near the end of the Weimar Republic, the architects Schupp and Kremmer achieved a glorious vindication of the “objective functional” design ethic, in poured concrete and tiles, red steel and trusses; the unforgettable façade of the Boiler House, and the sublime Winding Tower which became an international symbol of German engineering.

Gentle reader could, were he interested, dig out of the Internet (with some help from Google Translate if necessary) the whole history of industrial production along the Ruhr, going back deep into the Middle Ages; and centuries later, of the coal, coking, and steel-making enterprise “Zollverein,” named to celebrate the German customs union of 1834. (It helps if you were the son of an industrial designer, raised in appreciation of such things; and your mother was from the coalfields of Cape Breton. More still, if your first love was for a girl from Essen.)

Coal is a metal, and it is not a metal; both points can be decisively proved. Because it has been used almost exclusively as a fuel, through the centuries, becoming a cheap commodity associated with dismal work conditions and pollution, it is not held in much esteem. Too, since the strength and skills required to mine, refine, distribute and use this substance are unambiguously masculine, it is disparaged in our toxically feminist culture. It is considered “unclean” not only physically but new-age spiritually. The many millions of unambiguous males who still work in the coal-centred industries — for instance “stoking” a form of electricity generation that provides several hundred times more power than the output of our bird-slaughtering windmills — are themselves trolled by all progressive politicians, who gloat at every prospect of putting them and their families out of their livelihoods.

I love coal, as a material in itself, and long treasured a lustrous black nugget of nearly pure carbon polished anthracite, that came to me in a Christmas stocking — hung by a fireplace nearly sixty years ago. It was a lasting reminder to me that coal is an extremely precious thing; a divine gift. In chemical and physical analysis we are only beginning to understand its remarkable properties, and its potential for use far beyond building water heat to spin turbines. Notwithstanding, sans sulphur and the more immediate volatiles, slow-burned at high temperatures, it can indeed spin those turbines smokelessly; and can itself be spun in extraordinary carbon-fibrous ways.

The greatest disaster in education today, is the loss of that explicitly Christian conception of a God-created universe and planet. It enhanced the merely empirical reason, directing our attention to the very miracles that the modern, post-humanized world denies, and mocks. It provided a vision of the bottomlessly precious, from the smallest atomic scale to the farthest we can see, and was unquestionably the reason Christian, Western man took his commanding place in the world’s transformation. This had nothing whatever to do with geography or race. It had everything to do with a way of looking upon Creation — in Plato’s transcendental terms of the good, the true, and the beautiful; in Aristotle’s glimmering of a prime mover over-pinning logic; in the ancient Hebrew meeting-place of God and Man.

Let it be understood that coal is precious; that the ancient bio-matter compacted into coal was, and actually remains, precious; that all matter and much beyond matter, all life, is precious here below — under the titanic furnace of the sun. Then can we begin to see how precious is that Special Creation, beyond miracle, of every human soul.