From our archives: Church leaders hail achievement of man on moon

by
19 July 2019

On 20 July 1969, two people landed on the Moon. The following Friday (25 July 1969), the Church Times published this front-page story and leading article

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Edwin Aldrin on the lunar surface using a core sampler, one of many tools used by the astronauts to collect samples, in 1969

Edwin Aldrin on the lunar surface using a core sampler, one of many tools used by the astronauts to collect samples, in 1969

CHURCH leaders throughout the world have this week joined in the paean of praise which has heralded the achievement of the American astronauts in reaching the moon.

The Archbishop of York told the Church Times on Monday: “We have viewed in these last few days the most spectacular advance ever made by man. Heroism and skill have linked hands.

“It is, perhaps, of little use to conjecture what might have been done with the money used on this feat if it had been devoted to the amelioration of the conditions of men on earth. Things being as they are, that could not have taken place.

“It is better to be thankful for a further step in man’s conquest of the unknown; for a further manifestation of his indomitable spirit of quest and adventure; for a further example of extraordinary courage and tenacity of purpose.

“It remains for us to pray constantly that God will grant us wisdom to use our advancing knowledge not to hurt but to heal, and humility to remember whence that knowledge comes.”

 

‘Unbelievable’

The Bishop of London, a guest at a mixed company present at an Evening Standard “moon breakfast” at the Savoy on Monday, described the astronauts’ feat as “unbelievable and unimaginable.”

“In a way,” he said, “you can’t expect imagination, in emotional terms, from the spacemen. Someone with imagination would be the last person to send. These men have a peculiar detachment. They are demonstrating a scientific experiment.

“After all, if a surgeon were operating and describing what was happening, you would not expect him to pause and say: ‘Look at the extraordinary colour of the pancreas.’

“I agree that it seems unsophisticated to point out that the money could have been better spent. It is based on an unfortunate fallacy. If you gave up cigarettes, you wouldn’t give your money to the under-developed.

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“Yet there must be a way of asking that there now be a pause. There must be a way of saying that we should also spend money on poverty and famine, without detracting in any way from the stupendous achievement. One must hope that the discoveries flowing from this achievement are worth the trouble.”

The Pope told pilgrims outside his summer residence at Castelgandolfo on Sunday that war and hunger around the world should not be forgotten in the race to conquer outer space.

“In the ecstasy of this prophetic day — a real triumph for man-made means, for the dominion of the universe — we must not forget man’s need and duty to dominate himself. . . Hunger still afflicts entire populations. What would be the true progress of man if these misfortunes persist and worsen?”

Scientific progress had reached a historic landmark, said the Pope, but added: “The admiration, the enthusiasm, the passion for instruments, for the products of man’s ingenuity and his hand fascinates us, perhaps even to the point of madness. And here lies the danger — from this possible worship of instruments we must guard ourselves.”

 

Leader: Moon & man

THERE has never been a Sunday quite like it before. While men knelt on earth in familiar adoration of the Most High, other men were hovering just above the moon’s surface, out in the terrible loneliness of space, preparing to do what had often been dreamed of, but never done, and actually set foot on the moon. So ancient imaginings have been translated into modern reality. Man has burst out of his earthly confines. The dreams of the science-fiction writers have suddenly come true.

Some Christians this week may have been feeling uneasy, without exactly knowing why, at the contrast between man-on-his-knees on earth, in humble worship of God, and man-on-the-moon in the sky, in triumphant reliance upon technology’s power. If so, they should on swift reflection see that there is no necessary cause in these amazing events for any weakening of religious faith, but rather indeed the reverse. It is just as true to-day as a week ago that the heavens declare the glory of God, not the glory of man, however ingenious man has proved to be; and it is still God’s handiwork, not the handiwork of the scientists of Houston, Texas, which the firmament chiefly and beyond all comparison shows.

First and foremost Christians will have joined in the worldwide chorus of praise for the sheer courage of the moon-travellers, a courage beyond imagination, and the sheer brilliance of the technological sophistication which sent and sustained them on their mission. In such circumstances praise becomes itself almost an impertinence. But the large questions remain. Will the successful landing on the moon, with all that it implies for future excursions to the moon itself and, perhaps, still further, with the moon used as but a stepping-stone to the stars — will all this do good or harm to mankind?

It is possible that material advantage will be wrested from the moon’s singularly inhospitable surface, though it seems at present unlikely. It is just conceivable that human colonisation of the planets may one day prove practicable, though hardly for any but a tiny handful of specially selected and specially protected human beings. What seems sadly certain is that walking on the moon will in itself contribute precisely nothing to the solutions of terrestrial problems.

It will not help to halt war, or poverty, or racial tension, or crime, or disease. There is some reason to fear that indeed the great space adventure will make those problems worse than they need be. This could happen both by the diversion of vast resources (the cost of one moon rocket would pay for hundreds of hospitals) and, a more terrifying prospect, by what Bertrand Russell has called the extension of “our strident and deadly disputes” to new worlds; he rightly sees no prospect of joy if the follies and hatreds which disfigure terrestrial politics are simply to be transplanted to the planets.

Over and above all this, there is the danger of what Lord Russell (now, in old age, turning at last to the language of the religion which he has long condemned) has termed “impiety”— the danger that man’s conquest of space will make him arrogant, losing respect for the inexpressible majesty of the universe of which he is but a tiny part. It is a real danger, and one with which true religion alone can confidently deal. Only the fool will have been tempted by this week’s events to say that there is no God. Wisdom belongs to the man-on-his-knees, filled with a greater wonder than ever at the marvellous majesty of the Creator. It is he who made man, with all man’s intelligence and courage; and he made the stars also.

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