The Crypt of Civilization

Sealed deep within Oglethorpe University is a door that acts as a barrier between a current community with a past population. The concept was conceived by Dr. Thornwell Jacobs who was frustrated by how difficult it was to find substantive information about past civilizations. His goal was to provide information about the current culture to future societies by sealing up a room with records, inventions, tools, and toys. Hoping to provide a more robust picture of life as it was during that time, Dr. Jacobs assembled a large collection of items and after placing them in a room, sealed it off on May 28, 1940 with instructions that it not be opened until May 28, 8113. This became the crypt of civilization.
Out of this, the modern concept of a time capsule was born. In many ways this is a fascinating concept and one must consider it a valuable concept when we recognize how it can aid in piecing together information from the past. At the same time one can’t help but ask if such a concept is also derived from arrogance. Consider the idea of a time capsule in itself and we must ask, “Are we really so important that we have to leave behind information about ourselves?” Furthermore, we look at the timeframe that Dr. Thornwell placed upon the door: 6173 years! Such an extraordinary amount of time suggests that he (and presumably those with him) considered men to be indestructible and immortal in that they would continue to exist for the next 6000 years in order to open the crypt of civilization.
The reality is that man’s intrigue with time capsules is telling about our pride and arrogance in our own existence. That arrogance is manifested across three aspects of time:
  • Arrogance of a Past Existence: The first is our reflections upon the past. While certainly it is fascinating to know more about past and that knowledge can be helpful in interpreting past events and planning for the future, the concept behind the Crypt of Civilization displays man’s insatiable desire for complete knowledge and understanding. Am I saying we should not be curious Christians who desire to understand? Absolutely not. In fact, we should always be searching out the truth and desirous of learning. However, we must balance that with a contentment in what we do know because that contentment is grounded in God’s revelation. It comes with a recognition that we humans are limited and thus our knowledge is only subject to what God chooses to reveal.
  • Arrogance of a Present Existence: The mantra of today is all about self-esteem and building people up. We organize ourselves in social media to present ourselves as more important than we really are. Times of gathering turn into times of comparison and bragging to see who is more important. When we consider eternity, our lives are but a speck, and considering that, one person’s impact upon society is really minimal. The time capsule is yet another way to convey our importance, both because it indicates that the life we live now must be considered by the future, but also we can dictate what goes into it, thus presenting ourselves as more important than we really are.
  • Arrogance of a Future Existence:  Finally, man has an insatiable desire for immortality. We seek to leave a legacy that last beyond our years of physical life in hopes that people will remember who we are. The time capsule concept feeds into that desire and gives a perceived opportunity at perpetuity even after physical death.
And so, while the time capsule is a unique concept, we see how it feeds into the arrogance of man.
Are the concepts of time capsules wrong? No. Rightly done, they can be of great value to future generations. They can even be lots of fun, offering families or friends a unique way to bond and look back upon their own lives. So certainly we shouldn’t say time capsules are to be done away with. However, we must also recognize that generally speaking, their conception and use is revealing about who we are as people. Our fascination with them is an indication what what we value, or don’t value, in life.
To learn more about the time capsule at Oglethorpe University, click here.

Photo “Westinghouse Time Capsule” courtesy of user nsub1 and Flickr.