My great-aunts Daisy and Clara were convinced that humans never went to the moon.
I asked them about the television broadcast we all watched; they claimed it was filmed by Hollywood actors on sand dunes in Arizona. I asked them about the testimony of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin that they had been to the moon; they said the astronauts had been paid to lie. I asked them about the moon rocks they brought back; they asked me, “How do you know they’re from the moon?”
My great-aunts were not alone in their skepticism.
A poll taken a year after Apollo 11 found that 30 percent of Americans believed the moon landing to be fake. Even today, as many as 10 percent of Americans (and 60 percent of Russians and 25 percent of Brits) believe the lunar landing was staged. Ten percent of Americans equates to thirty-two million people. That’s more than the population of our fifteen largest cities, combined.
Even though scientists have repeatedly debunked such conspiracy theories, they persist. And they tell us something important about faith in our culture.
Communion in space and atheism on earth
Buzz Aldrin celebrated communion aboard Eagle after he and Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. (See Steve Yount’s excellent article on our website for more.) However, NASA officials decided not to broadcast his communion service back to earth, reportedly fearing a lawsuit from atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair.
This tension between communion in space and atheism on earth is a metaphor for American culture today.
Trust in government peaked at 77 percent in October 1964, a year after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The year before the moon landing, average trust in government had fallen to 62 percent. The year after the landing, when 30 percent of Americans believed Apollo 11 to have been staged by the government, it had fallen further to 54 percent.
Public trust in government today stands at 17 percent.
Trust in the church and organized religion has fallen as well. From 1973 to 1985, American confidence in organized religion was at 60 percent, higher than confidence in any other institution. Today, only 38 percent of Americans say they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the church or organized religion.
“He reaches for infinity to vaunt his own glory”
In a day when thirty-two million people believe their government would lie to them about landing on the moon and 62 percent of Americans have little confidence in religion, it’s not surprising that many have made scientists their priests and materialism their religion.
But reaching the moon doesn’t mean we can reach heaven. Or find true meaning on earth.
In October 1958, Christianity Today asked twenty-five noted Christian scholars for their thoughts about the prospect of humans landing on the moon. Frank Gaebelein warned: “Exploration of space should lead man closer to the only true God, who created not only this planet but also the whole universe. But it cannot do this unless man remains humble before the living God. If man, who brought ruin to the earth through the rebellion of sin, makes such achievements as lunar exploration and space travel an occasion for self-exaltation, he will inevitably be subject to God’s greater judgment upon his pride.”
Carl F. H. Henry shared Gaebelein’s concern: “To bend the universe to God’s purpose is man’s divinely-given task. As sinner he exploits the universe instead; he reaches for infinity to vaunt his own glory.”
“You can do nothing without me”
Buzz Aldrin is one of only four people still living who walked on the moon.
He graduated third in his class at West Point, then earned a PhD from MIT, the first astronaut to receive such a degree. His grandfather was a military chaplain; the Christian faith is an important part of his personal story. That’s why Aldrin arranged to take communion on the moon.
As he did so, he read from John 15:5 (TEV), where Jesus stated, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.”
Jesus did not mean that we can do nothing at all without him. Humans can walk on the moon and send spaceships beyond the solar system. Our Lord meant that we can do nothing eternal without him. Ten thousand millennia after Apollo 11 is forgotten and the moon and earth are no more, every person reading this Daily Article will have only begun eternity, either with God in heaven or separated from him in hell.
That’s why experiencing and sharing a personal relationship with our Father is the most urgent priority of life.
“More future for our common home”
Apollo 15 astronaut James Irwin walked on the moon in 1971 and became an evangelical Christian after his return to earth. He later founded a ministry called the High Flight Foundation. “Jesus walking on the earth is more important than man walking on the moon,” he explained.
Now our Lord calls us to continue the work he began here.
Pope Francis told the public in St. Peter’s Square yesterday that the Apollo 11 lunar landing achieved an “extraordinary dream.” Then he expressed hope that the memory of that “great step for humanity” would motivate us to seek progress on other fronts: “more dignity for the weak, more justice among people, more future for our common home.”
You will likely never set foot on the moon. But before you set foot in heaven, what would your Father have you do on earth?