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Angel-bats and “The Great Moon Hoax”: Must we always be so serious?

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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A large telescope sits in front of a much larger moon.
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On this day in 1835, the New York Sun posted the first of six articles detailing fantastical stories about the discovery of intelligent life on the moon.

They were supposedly written by Dr. Andrew Grant, a fictional character who claimed to be a colleague of well-known astronomer Sir John Herschel.

The articles claimed that Herschel discovered the new beings after setting up a powerful telescope at a new observatory in Capetown, South Africa.

The observatory, it turns out, was the only true part of the story.

The articles depicted a lunar geography replete with thriving vegetation, rivers, and massive gemstones. The surface was inhabited by unicorns, two-legged beavers, and furry, winged humans that looked like a cross between angels and bats.

And while the Sun would eventually admit that the articles were intended as satire designed to show the absurdity of other popular theories on extraterrestrial life, they only did so after a solid month of sales helped them become one of the most popular newspapers in the world.

Interestingly, the general public didn’t seem to mind, as sales remained strong even after admitting the articles were a hoax.

Perhaps people were simply grateful for the entertainment and chance to dream regardless of whether or not the impetus for those dreams was real.

And if there were any embarrassment or anger, which there surely was among some, it seems to have dissipated amidst people’s ability to laugh at themselves and appreciate the absurd.

The best at laughing at ourselves

In reading about this story, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if a newspaper tried to do the same thing today.

If a publication found a way to convince the public that intelligent life existed in fantastical colonies on Jupiter, for example, what would be the reaction if they later said it was all made up?

I ask the question because I believe our culture, both inside and outside the church, often takes itself too seriously.

So many of us, myself included at times, have lost the ability to laugh at ourselves when we make a mistake. And we’re a lot worse off as a result.

That’s not to minimize the dangers of legitimate conspiracy theories or undermine the importance of telling the truth, but we can’t treat every issue like it’s a matter of life or death.

As Christians, we should be among the best at laughing at ourselves. A core principle of our faith is the realization that we’re far from perfect and, by the grace of God, don’t have to be.

Yes, we should try to grow in our faith and as people every day.

And yes, there are certain subjects that need to be taken seriously.

But, generally speaking, we’d all be a lot happier and a lot better at helping others see the joy of Christ in our lives if we could learn to take ourselves a bit less seriously.

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