Moon Communion And Religion In Space

One might assume that conquering space would undermine belief in God, but faithful fervor seems, if anything, to strengthen in space, albeit in mutated forms. Via the Atlantic:

Before the launch this weekend of three human beings into the ether of space around the Earth, before they boarded their Soyuz spacecraft, and before the rockets were fired, precautions were taken. Not the humdrum checklists and redundancies of space exploration — assessing the weather, the equipment, the math — but a preparation with a more mystical dimension: the blessing, by a Russian Orthodox priest, of the spacecraft, as it sat on the launchpad on the Kazakh steppe.

The discordance is obvious: Here we are, on the brink of a new expedition to space, a frontier of human exploration and research that is the capstone of our scientific achievement. “The idea of traveling to other celestial bodies reflects to the highest degree the independence and agility of the human mind. It lends ultimate dignity to man’s technical and scientific endeavors,” the rocket scientist Krafft Arnold Ehricke once said. And yet here is a priest, outfitted in the finery of a centuries-old church, shaking holy water over the engines, invoking God’s protection for a journey to near-earth orbit.

This ultimate scientific endeavor does not answer the questions religion seeks to answer; it brings humans into a close encounter with their own smallness, the Earth’s beauty, and the vastness of the cosmos. Faced with these truths, is it any wonder that some astronauts turn to religion? Some surely find comfort in the words of secular philosopher-scientists like Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson. But others will find that the ancient religions of Earth have some greater power, some deeper resonance, when they have traveled safely so far from their homes. Astronaut James Irwin put it this way: “As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God.”

This is in part the sentiment Buzz Aldrin relays in his 2009 memoir as he recounts how he took communion in the minutes between when he and Neil Armstrong became the first humans on the moon’s surface, and when Armstrong set his foot down on the dust. Aldrin says he had planned the ceremony as “an expression of gratitude and hope.” The ceremony was kept quiet (un-aired) because NASA was proceeding cautiously following a lawsuit over the Apollo 8 Genesis reading, but it proceeded with a tiny vial of wine and a wafer Aldrin had transported to the moon in anticipation of the moment (personal items were strictly restricted by weight, so everything had to be small). He writes:

Perhaps, if I had it to do over again, I would not choose to celebrate communion. Although it was a deeply meaningful experience for me, it was a Christian sacrament, and we had come to the moon in the name of all mankind — be they Christians, Jews, Muslims, animists, agnostics, or atheists. But at the time I could think of no better way to acknowledge the enormity of the Apollo 11 experience than by giving thanks to God. It was my hope that people would keep the whole event in their minds and see, beyond minor details and technical achievements, a deeper meaning — a challenge, and the human need to explore whatever is above us, below us, or out there.

16 Comments on "Moon Communion And Religion In Space"

  1. Do you accept the God-Emperor of Mankind as your personal savior and reject all other false space religions? yes/yes?

    • charlieprimero | Jul 25, 2012 at 10:33 am |

      You only need “saving” if you worship the war demon Yahweh as the Muslims and Jews do.

      There a lots better gods out there.

      • kurisushiro | Jul 29, 2012 at 2:57 pm |

         You apparently missed his Warhammer 40K reference.

        And yes there are, many of which don’t threaten eternal damnation if you don’t worship them.

  2. Anarchy Pony | Jul 25, 2012 at 12:31 pm |

    Well who would’ve thunk that strapping yourself to several hundred tons of rocket fuel could cause a crisis of faith in a person? Also, Lolwut?  “Reflects to the highest degree the independence-” Is he serious? Space exploration is the most interdependent endeavor imaginable.

    • Calypso_1 | Jul 25, 2012 at 1:34 pm |

      My first ride on a helo skid certainly brought up some quick conversations with the universe (leading me to believe the seat of the soul may indeed be located beneath the navel)…I hate to imagine a rocket trip.  

  3. “One might assume that conquering space would undermine belief in God”
    I don’t know who this One is, I’m guessing the OP, I think you’re making the classic mistake of confusing God with religion though.

    The search for clearer contact with God continues into space and far beyond. There are even Gods above God, unfathomable at this level of existence, don’t try to fathom it. There need be no shame placed on those who do not care to seek God within and without, many are raised in unfriendly conditions towards such actions, but let it be known our growing into space, our imminent contact with other species, and our ever continuing evolution, will only bring us closer and closer to God.

    Those that drift further away from communion with God are in fact going in the wrong direction; as is the case with many religious fanatics that seclude and separate their own people, force dogma onto others, and continue to generally regurgitate stuff that was initially forced upon them in the first place.

  4. Communion? or CoMoonion?

  5. The only thing to get is money | Jul 25, 2012 at 9:24 pm |

    Fuck gods and fuck the weak and filthy human race. God is for suckers, losers, wimps, and the fearful. Mankind is THE ONLY power there is. Thought has given birth to “gods” and thought can also destroy the concepts of gods it originated. Man is the sole power of thought. 

    •  You sound like an angry driver yelling at the rain.

      • The only thing to get is money | Jul 27, 2012 at 10:00 pm |

        I am not yelling, I am typing, and obviously my comment irked you.Your metaphor equating religion with rain is stupid. The rain is natural and necessary for the survival of organisms on earth. Religion is human invention and mental concept that is detrimental to all life on earth including the ones who invented it (humans). The thought of human supremacy is rampant, and a distinct feature of ALL religions.

        EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. It is no wonder why we have destroyed ecosystems and extinguished species as a result of our activities. Religion has been a detrimental force on earth. It must not be allowed to infect space.

        • kurisushiro | Jul 29, 2012 at 2:57 pm |

           You did a lot of assuming about his comment. He could have just literally meant rain, as in water falling from the sky.

  6. Because of how similar the ‘Communion’ of Christianity is to the ‘Housle’, I found a particularly beautiful moment in that article thinking about it being performed in space. I think it’s a shame that Aldrin’s experience of it was interfered with by the notions of it being specifically a ‘Christian’ ceremony, and that it can’t apply to everyone therefore. Isn’t it the thought that counts?

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