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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Trouble In The Sky Signals Trouble In My Faith

     The year, 1968 was an amazing year.  I was 25 and had been married for only two years.  I accomplished getting a bachelor's degree from college.  I had a new job that I wanted to point toward a profession -- not just a job.  I had my health and was living in beautiful Idaho Falls, Idaho.  Everything seemed to be good.  I went to church regularly, prayed, helped my neighbors and was asked by the church to be scoutmaster.  Twelve of my thirteen boys received their Eagle award and our activities were fun, fun, fun.
     I loved learning new technology and learning about this beautiful world that I had inherited.  I was meeting new people and loved going fishing, hunting, exploring and finding new things.
     I had always wanted to learn a bit about astronomy and decided that the best way to go about this task was to make my own telescope and learn about mathematics and optics while I was doing it.  I bought a couple six inch telescope glass blanks and proceeded to grind them by hand for hours and hours in preparation to be the primary reflecting mirror for my Newtonian telescope.
     After doing the mathematics on the proper curvature of the mirror blank, I sent it to a telescope manufacturer to get the mirror coated with a silver glaze and when it was returned, I constructed my own telescope tube, installed an eye-piece lens and on a dark night proceeded to do what Galileo did 400 years before by looking into the night sky to learn from what I saw.
     I wasn't prepared for what I saw and felt.  
     One of the first objects I wanted to see was a nebula -- specifically, the Owl Nebula.  It was formed 6,000 years ago in a violent explosion and is only about 1,000 light years away from earth.
     For some, as yet, unexplainable reason, I suddenly lost interest in my newly-found hobby.  I didn't realize till many years later that what I had seen was frightening to me on a very fundamental level.  If I could believe my own eyes at what I was seeing, I might somehow lose my faith in my religion -- in much the same way that Galileo did.  I did not want that to happen.  It would be better, easier and safer to let others blaze their trails through the teachings of organized religion and allow myself the role of an interested non-aggressive non-combatant in these trials.
     I have since read biographies of Galileo and have some to grips with this amazing pioneer.
     Why has it taken so long for us to challenge religion?  I have no simple answers.  All I know is that in my own life, it was not an easy thing to do -- to stand up for what I can see with my own eyes in the face of such strong dogma coming out of religious organizations.
     Last summer I located the Andromeda galaxy on a very dark night while camping in the mountains far away from light pollution and that old sense of awe swept over me that I felt nearly 44 years ago.  It is a much more beautiful existence that we live in than I have ever imagined it to be.


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