The New York Times recently featured an article that seized my attention. It read: “Elon Musk’s Plan: Get Humans to Mars, and Beyond.” The headline seemed more appropriate for the entertainment section than for a featured piece in the Daily Science Segment.
The article covered last month’s 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico, where SpaceX unveiled plans for interplanetary space travel for humans in less than a decade. Elon Musk said that the first passengers to Mars could take off as soon as 2024! It won’t be long before a mars candy bar becomes the snack of choice and “The Martian” becomes passengers’ favorite in-flight movie.
When science fiction transcends fantasy and begins to flirt with reality, it can really awaken people’s imaginations. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis notes that “reason is the natural organ of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.”
The truth is that our culture’s desperate search for meaning points to a haunting in all of us that is almost primeval. It is simply instinctive for us to seek meaning outside ourselves, because we know for certain that we’re living in a story we did not write. G.K. Chesterton once put it this way: “I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story, there is a story-teller.”
This is exactly the reason our culture is so captivated by the metaphysical. We are obsessed with any other world besides our own. It is an obsession that goes from the Marvel Universe to documentaries on ancient aliens building the pyramids, and continues on to a fascination with NASA’s Hubble Telescope discovering a gargantuan ocean named Europa on one of Juniper’s moons.
Imagination is scratching an itch that reason cannot, and in a subtle way, Star Wars, the X-Files, and Battlestar Galactica do not seem so far-fetched.
I believe there are two ways we can all grow in our evangelism to serve a culture desperately searching for meaning and purpose in the paranormal.
First, St. Augustine named this deep angst we all feel a “Holy Haunting.” If we use this beautiful theological reality as our primary evangelistic lens, we’ll begin to recognize that the culture is actually giving us the key to its heart. It is the very key we need to unlock the buried treasure within the human soul.
In the past, we were (and still sometimes are) haunted by the transcendence of sex. As G.K Chesterton once posited, “Every man knocking on a brothel is looking for God.” Similarly, everyone looking for aliens and UFOs is also looking for God. The scenery has changed, but not the desire.
This presents us with an amazing opportunity to share the gospel. How? We must recognize the culture’s obsession with the paranormal as a holy haunting rather than whacked-out conspiracy theories. We can only open the hearts of others to the gospel when we begin to value and respect their journeys.
Second, we must revisit and repaint our creation narrative. In Genesis 1:1 it is written, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” We skim over cosmology and move too quickly to anthropology in our theology. Scientists calculate that there are at least 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, each one overflowing with stars. There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all of Earth’s beaches combined. In that sense, we’re a minuscule part of the story compared to the heavenly bodies surrounding us.
Perhaps ancient alien and UFO conspiracy theories capture the imagination of our culture because our communication of the metaphysical is too sterile. Astrophysicists have discovered our sun is one of at least 100 billion stars, and that’s just in the Milky Way!
If our narrative of creation cannot transcend that of SpaceX and Marvel, interplanetary space travel and Star Wars will seem like better alternatives than the God of Abraham.
My friend Darrell Johnson, long-time Professor at Regent College in Vancouver and Bono’s former pastor at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, was studying to become an astrophysicist before he was seized by the beauty of God’s transcendence. He notes in his book Trinity: “At the center of the universe is a relationship, for this, we were created, and for this, we were redeemed.”
It is all in how we tell it. Interest in the paranormal will increase with astonishing velocity as interplanetary space travel becomes a reality; new and more creative conspiracy theories will dominate the headlines and in turn capture the hearts of a generation.
More than ever before, we are in desperate need of artists, scholars, and theologians in the Church who can repaint the transcendence of God in a way that can recapture the imagination of the culture. I call them “Theonomists,” that is, believers who can bring theology and astronomy to a confluence in the public sphere, because, as Jim Kirk says in Star Trek, “Space is our final frontier.”