The men on the moon

FORTY years after the first man in space, we have lost interest in that final frontier, but some of the modernist assumptions still hold. It used to be asserted explicitly, and is now accepted implicitly, that we will one day find evidence of another civilized life form in the universe. One day we shall know that we are not alone, and this truth will shatter our geocentric assumptions. Most emphatically, the new evangelists assure us, the claims of the Christian Gospel will be undermined, as the uniqueness of Christ is finally proved to be false.

Perhaps because I grew up when this threat/promise/prediction was at its most popular, it still lingers like a half-remembered nightmare. Suppose just as we are preparing for Holy Week and Easter, the momentous discovery were made and corroborated from numerous sources: we have a meaningful communication from a non-human intelligence outside the solar system. And suddenly, the depleted pews deplete still further, as the metaphorical writing covers every wall.

There is no arguing against a modern presumption. Hence the value of the wisdom of the past. I am greatly cheered, and humbled by the adventure story of an Anglican divine – The Man in the Moone, an extraordinary work of imagination by Francis Godwin, who wrote it while Bishop of Hereford some time before his death in 1633.

It contains impressive scientific discussions on such subjects as gravity, from before the birth of Newton, and clever (if wrong) speculation on the probability of an intelligent but different life form on the moon. When our hero arrives there, by means of his ingenious machine, he is shown the many aspects of their puzzling but impressive civilization.

In the end he is unable to meet the man who ‘commandeth all things concerning matters of Religion, as absolutely as our holy Father the Pope’, but from all he does discover he takes no offence, nor finds his own faith undermined. The men in the moon may be wiser and better and have much to teach us, but he does not lose his faith by his encounter.

That does not prove anything, but it is strangely reassuring: to see a modern fear tested a few centuries earlier and not even noticed. NT

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