It was Christmas Eve 1968 when the message of Genesis chapter 1 streamed from Apollo 8, in orbit around the moon, into our small black and white TV set. Each of the three astronauts in turn read a short passage. I was a science-obsessed agnostic at the time but
for a video on the astounding story behind this photograph.
it stirred me deep down because it said that God was a real presence and power in the Universe, albeit a transcendental one, even though most of the time I either half acknowledged our Creator’s existence or was unaware of it entirely. It also revealed vividly to the world that humankind was one species on one precious planet in a vast universe.
Madalyn O’Hair, it appears, was also stirred; but in her case it was to anger and hatred. She brought a lawsuit against NASA for promoting religion. From thenceforth astronauts and NASA as an organisation would be forbidden from associating themselves with Christianity. She had already succeeded in getting prayer banned in US state schools, after which crime levels by young people rapidly escalated. Her speech showed deep phobia against Christianity and was sometimes vitriolic, peppered with four letter words.
The lawsuit, based on the separation of church and state, forbade future astronauts from religious rituals during missions. They saw this as an infringement of their rights under the First Amendment and various subterfuges took place. The following is based on an excellent article in Spaceflight (Dec 2011), On the Wings of Apollo by Dwight Williams:
- Aldrin wanted to take Holy Communion on the Moon during the 1969 Apollo 11 mission and so smuggled aboard a ‘communion kit’ in a pouch, part of his Personal Preference Kit. He took Communion shortly after landing on 20 July and read out John 5:15 from a card: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit....’
- The Apollo 11 crew left a silicon disc on the Moon with the voices of world leaders, including Psalms read by Pope Paul VI.
- The Rev John Stout, inspired by the devout Ed White who died in the Apollo 1 fire of 1967, started the Apollo Prayer League with 40,000 members and resolved to have bibles placed on the Moon. 300 microfilm bibles were indeed smuggled aboard Apollo 14 by Ed Mitchell.
- Ed Mitchell of Apollo 14 announced at a business conference that the Apollo 13 mission had been saved from disaster by public prayers after its oxygen tank had exploded. Mitchell, I understand, had an IQ of 180 (mine is closer to 80!) and proposed theories concerning the nature of awareness, quantum physics and the interconnectedness of life.
To me it is heartening to note that her son William J Murray is now the leader of a Christian church and author of My Life Without God.
Western critics of Christianity, who are usually comfortably off, should take a hard look at the world and ask themselves whether there are any nations without a Christian heritage where they would rather live. The West can be criticized for its past and it repeatedly rebukes itself; but by what standards, if not those of Christ?
Author, 2077: Knights of Peace