et tu, Neal?

Cosmos 2.0 has begun, and like the Olympiad, it heralds a new dawn of entertainment.  Whether it also ushers in understanding is another question.  On this day that we celebrate and respect religious worship, does it seem odd that Neal deGrasse Tyson should appear just before the altar?

Now that 34 years have passed, Dr. Tyson is taking up the mantle of Carl Sagan and teaching us about the wonders of the cosmos.  In so doing, he’s touching upon some significant events in our intellectual history.

A tragic character chosen in Episode One is a priest named Giordano Bruno.  Now poor Mr. Bruno didn’t do well as a priest, ostensibly because he had a great revelation about the infinite cosmos.  He tried to tell others, but the Catholic church took offense.  Somewhat unwisely he returned to Rome where the church gave him a warm welcome – and goodbye.  They burned him at the stake.

It’s not quite true, unfortunately.  The stake part is, but let’s say that the show took poetic license in telling the story.  You can read the details here.

The details aren’t quite important for today’s post, because my question is this; why do you think the Church felt threatened by Bruno’s crazy ideas?  That they were crazy is beyond doubt, because any idea that isn’t shared by more than “a lot” of people has to be crazy.  That’s the whole definition of crazy.  The fact that he would eventually be proven right, centuries later, isn’t important.

There’s a good chance that you, too, have a deeply held model of the universe.  It might have a god, or a GOD, or a whole pantheon of gods.  For all I know it may center around a black hole.  However, I ask you, why is it that (for most people!) it’s such a sensitive topic?  If someone comes along and says “Your view is wrong!” what does it matter?  Why do you care?

Why DO you care?



Sacrifice to Celebrity

There are certain trends that we can watch over centuries, even millennia.  We can see them more clearly than others because they occupy such a central place in our ancestor’s lives.

Then, as we look over the relatively small span of our own brief existence, we can put our observation in this much larger context.

For instance, our culture loves to idolize actors.  The bigger the actor, the more successful the movie, and the more publicity they get.  The more publicity, the more we talk about them, and the larger they loom in our lives.  Eventually they start selling things like coffee makers or exercise machines.

As a youngster, I didn’t see this as much.  The idols back then were astronauts, or men who’d fought the enemy in the great war.  There were even a few scientists who were considered cutting edge, representing the future of our world.

Quick Quiz; name a famous scientist of today.  Or an astronaut.  How about a humanitarian working in a poor country who has no money?  Did you get three out of three?  It’s even hard for me, and I pay attention to these things.

As our nation gets dumber, our idols become idiots.  We want to associate them with ourselves, and it’s so much easier to follow the antics of a beautiful spoiled brat than the brainy mind-benders of some old geezer.

And so it was many many years ago.  The gods started out as highly regarded for their strength and abilities, and this was the Golden Age of Greece.  A few hundred years later, Rome had embraced the love-making nature of Venus and the partying nature of Bacchus.

Who are your gods?  If they hail from Hollywood, then you do indeed sacrifice something to them.  You sacrifice your time and attention.  For every moment you spend with them you lose to the rest of the universe.  If your gods are noble and great, then the moments you spend with them will make you a better person, improving the lives of all those who love you.

So, to paraphrase a popular credit card commercial;

Who’s on YOUR altar?