Out There Somewhere

On the hot evening of July 20, 1969, I looked up at the moon from Camp Hadar, a Jewish overnight camp in Clinton, CT. The moon seemed so close. I squinted my eyes tightly, hoping to see Neal Armstrong step down onto the surface. On the moon: An ancient fantasy of humanity fulfilled in my lifetime! It didn’t seem possible that such a thing could be, yet there it was, unfolding on a black and white tv, broadcasting live. What did it all mean to a teenager of the 60s? That in a terribly broken world of war and racism and poverty, something profound could happen, something that exemplified the transcendent spirit of exploration, something bright and hopeful. My friend Murray argued throughout the night that this lunar landing stuff was all made up. He claimed that Nixon was using it to divert the public from his criminal actions in Vietnam. I haven’t seen Murray in about 45 years, but the moon landing conspiracy people are still out there. But I didn’t buy the conspiracy then and I don’t now. We did it. We walked on the moon. The probe landing on a comet the other day was certainly not as dramatic as Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon, but still! What an extraordinary achievement. To take 10 years to get there and then actually succeed – not perfectly, but good enough – to touch down in one piece and then start sending back information. Information on what? I hope the telemetry will reveal basic facts on the origins of the Universe itself. In other words, I hope what we discover is ourselves (ok, I was influenced a bit by the movie Interstellar…) Some folks have wondered whether or not the comet may yield evidence of alien life. I have argued about this notion for years. I am not a follower of Carl Sagan, who said, essentially, “Look out there at the billions and billions of stars; how can there not be alien life of one form or another?” I am a believer in the Fermi Paradox which states quite simply, “If there are billions of stars and planets in the Universe that are capable of supporting life, and millions of intelligent species out there, then how come none has visited Earth?” Since there is absolutely no evidence to support either side it comes out to be a question of aesthetics. But what if – just what if – I am wrong. What if the comet ends up holding some amazing and incontrovertible evidence that presents us with the fact there was and there is alien life out there? Does the Dow Jones crash? Does NSDQ soar? Do riots break out? Is there a food panic? And what about spiritually? What does it mean to people of religion if there is non-human intelligence in the Universe, potentially more intellectually advanced? What does it do to our relationship with God? Or to put it more colloquially: is alien life good for the Jews or bad for the Jews? The answer, simply enough is as follows: you do your thing, we do our thing. We respect you, you respect us. After 2000 years of being treated as though we were an alien life form, we can surely show some empathy for others from outer space. How other faiths may respond I can’t say, though my guess for traditional Christians is that a non-human intelligence would mess with their notion of the Trinity. That is, if God is Jesus and Jesus is God and both are spirit, how can there be an intelligent life form outside that sacred triangle? For Jews, God transcends this planet. Our God is not just our God. Our God is not a God of territory or ethnic or racial preference. Our God is larger than us, larger than the Universe itself. I looked up at the moon on a hot summer’s night 45 years ago and I wondered what would happen next? Would I walk on the moon? Would I go into space? Would I go to Vietnam? Tonight I’ll look up at the sky wondering how to even imagine something 300 million miles away. Will my children or grandchild (I’m patient…) leave Earth’s orbit? Will this planet still be inhabitable 100 years from now? Will my progeny one day look at Earth through a telescope, marveling that their roots are interplanetary? With or without alien life, the Universe is filled with mystery and promise and hope.

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