Spirituality in Space

Beth was talking recently about how Neil deGrasse Tyson isn’t comfortable with being claimed by atheists, although his argument for it is basically that he doesn’t care for the term. I can understand where he’s coming from to a certain degree, because I think the word “atheist” has come to be associated with people who actively disbelieve in God, and carries a certain connotation of smugness. When you get down to it, though, “atheist” just means you don’t believe in God, and Tyson basically said that this is the case for him. Yes, he’s willing to change his mind if he sees evidence, but any open-minded person could say that about anything. In a way, to say, “I’m not an atheist because I don’t actively disbelieve” is like the people who say they aren’t feminists because they believe in equal rights. By saying, “I’m not an atheist, because atheists all actively promote anti-religious policies,” he’s kind of hurting the perception of those who DO define as atheists and AREN’T like that.

Anyway, that got me thinking about how I think it would be difficult for an astrophysicist, or anyone who studies the cosmos, to be an adherent of one of the Abrahamic religions. I’m not saying it’s impossible, just that these religions seem so centered on one tiny part of the vast universe.

So much of the Bible is about one particular Middle Eastern nation; and even when you get into the more inclusive New Testament, we’re still going with the idea that the most important person who ever lived operated solely in one tiny area for a mere few years.

How can Jerusalem be the center of the universe when the planet it’s on isn’t even the center of the galaxy? Even Jesus’ miracles, while certainly beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, seem rather small-time when compared with what he could have done. I think back to the Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate, and how Ham essentially said that the entire universe outside our own Earth is just there to proclaim the glory of God, even though we can’t even see a significant portion of it.

Now, I’m agnostic on the subject of life on other planets. We just don’t have enough evidence either way.

But even if Earth somehow is the only planet in a seemingly infinite universe that has life, I have a hard time believing that God just put everything else out there for a lark. If there’s no meaning to it beyond “it looks cool,” can we really hold to the idea that our own lives matter so much to the being who created it? Yes, I know God is supposed to be able to concentrate on the minute as well as the grand, watching the fall of sparrows and all that. It’s just that religion often seems so insular to me, when its whole basis has to do with our relationship with the infinite.

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7 Responses to Spirituality in Space

  1. ozaline says:

    “Ham essentially said that the entire universe outside our own Earth is just there to proclaim the glory of God, even though we can’t even see a significant portion of it..”

    I think that would be part of the point of that particular argument, we can’t understand the glory of god, because we can’t fully comprehend his creation… there’s stuff about Earth we don’t know, we don’t know the full bio-diversity of our planet let alone that of the infinite.

    Now I’m very much in the “questioning” category on religion, but that one particular view doesn’t seem quite so silly to me. (Though on the whole Ham made a fool of himself and I’m more in Nye’s camp.)

    As for denying the tag Atheism… I know some people who avoid the label feminist because of the actions of certain RadFems, TERFs or people who still practice a middle class white woman focused feminism while ignoring the plight of women of color, trans women or women of other socioeconomic circumstances. I disagree with abandoning the tag but I can see why it’s done.

  2. Interesting post. I think the universe is a testament to what God intends for the future. Man threw a monkey-wrench into that plan, and God’s contingency for that possibility pushed the original plan back a few thousand years. That sounds like a lot, but as man was created to be eternal, a few thousand years for certain issues to get squared away for all time isn’t so bad.

  3. Bryan Babel says:

    Have you ever read the dialog on The Great Dance near the end of C. S. Lewis “Perelandra”? There are several places on the internet you look at it without having to read the whole book. I’ve always found it an interesting comment on the “Bigger=More Important” idea about the universe.

  4. To you atheists and those religious people who feel religion is all about “The Universe is for the humans in this small part of a small planet,” all I can think is, dang, you people haven’t read enough Madeleine L’Engle. … really, that’s probably my deep-down response to everything, to be honest. People haven’t read enough Madeleine L’Engle. But seriously, it’s such a narrow, limiting use of religion. Why do people think God is that simple? They claim omnipotence and glory and someone beyond all human understanding, and then they try to squeeze Him (and that pronoun itself is part of the squeezing) into something so much smaller. STOP THAT, people. You miss so much of the point.

    Using a literary example that’s NOT Madeleine L’Engle, I always like the bit in the Young Wizards series of how each civilization, each species, when it reaches a certain point in cognitive development, is put to their own species-specific version of the Fruit of The Tree of Knowledge test, and whether or not they pass affects, like, whether or not they need a Messiah, and stuff. So each species has its own unique relationship with the Divine, and other species don’t have Jesus, but they do have some God-made-Flesh of their own type to save them. When I think of the vastness of the Universe, I think of that– that our earthly religions are here to serve our own human needs in connecting to the Divine, but the Divine is something far, far greater in Whole.

    tl;dr: For an example of appreciating the vastness of the Universe and the miracles of science while believing firmly in God– MADELEINE L’ENGLE.


    • I’m intrigued. If there was two Madeleine L’Engle books you’d recommend to someone whose never read her before, which two would you recommend?

      • Well the number one most famous/my favorite book (and the one I was specifically thinking of with this cosmic talk) is A Wrinkle In Time. Most of her novels, particularly her children’s/YA novels, have a depth to them which I’ve always thought of as “It’s like she harnesses the whole universe in each sentence.” But that’s the one with a space theme. Her other best novel in my opinion is A Ring of Endless Light, but that’s much more realism-based although there is some serious dolphin communication. Oh, and all the companion books to A Wrinkle In Time ARE all science fantasy, and A Wind In the Door deals a lot with the theme of, sure, the Universe is vast, but every molecule is important to God– there’s a big theme about Naming. With that one you just have to remember that it was written before people knew much about mitochondria so it takes some extra disbelief-suspending. Then she’s got lots of essay collections– Walking on Water and The Rock That Is Higher have a particular bent about writing and storytelling from a spiritual perspective, and in this discussion for some reason Bright Evening Star, a book of meditations on the incarnation of Christ, is sticking out, maybe because it says “Star” and there are stars on the cover.

        I also recommend Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series for a surprisingly deep mix of science and religion/spirituality– less specifically Christian (more… everything. Unitarian). But Nathan’s recced those before too, so you probably already know about them!

      • I must have had brain-freeze because I read A Wrinkle in Time when I was a kid, and also two sequels to it. Yeah, I loved those books but I’d have to re-read them to remember the details. Tesseract (?) comes to mind. And there was a great Devil-like entity too. A Ring of Endless Night I hadn’t heard of, but the name is intriguing (true also for her WiT books too). I recall there’s a fourth WiT book, but that it wasn’t well received.

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