Existentialism and the Heavens
Existentialism and the Heavens
Not long ago I visited the McDonald Observatory. Hundreds of miles from the nearest significant uban area and with a staff diligent about eliminating every nearer source of interfering light, the observatory enjoys the darkest night skies in the continental United States. After the telescope viewing and lectures were done I walked a street on that unlit mountain top at 3:00 AM and experienced more clearly than ever in my life the undeniable awe which makes the revealed statement of Psalm 19:1 a declaration of nothing more than common sense: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork." Later in the psalm David clearly appeals to the sun to make his point complete. In paraphrase, "a man can no more hide from the sky's revelation of God's power and activity in the world than he can hide from the light of the sun." But it is not the daytime sky to which minds run when reading Psalm 19:1 (nor do they need to in its context). It is the night sky which most directly demands and inspires awe. I need to explain a tiny bit about existentialism in order to make sense of what follows.
Existentialism is a worldview without legitimate awe. As an example, beauty can be (arguably always is) an inspiration for awe. Actually, I think more accurately, aesthetic experience (the unique psychological state provoked when a subject is in the presence of beauty) is an experience of awe. And awe, despite its nebulous nature, has an inherent association with (if not outright appreciation of) excellence---something beyond or excelling the other stuff. But a significant aspect of existentialism is a refusal to recognize that excellence. Beauty can be a topic for the existentialist, but only insofar as beauty is indistinguishable from mundaneness. In the sad world of existentialism, beauty is not simply in the eye of the beholder, it is a product solely of the temporary creativity of the beholder; not, importantly, of the object's creator (whether God or artist).
My considered opinion is that existentialism dominates the worldview of the generation born since about 1990. I know plenty of exceptions, but even most of those exceptions are resilient souls who have deliberately chosen against the experience they have with the soul-deadening worldview of their peers.
The heavens' declaration should naturally reverse that relationship. That is, the night sky should make it natural to live in awe---in the awareness of something greater and someone intentional. And that sky should make the choice not to believe, not to be in awe, at least counterintuitive.
So why is the experience of so many the opposite today? I don't know. But that consumately dark night recently in west Texas makes me think at least one problem is that the vast majority of people where existentialism flourishes live where they never see the night sky. Oh sure, they have seen pictures from the Hubble telescope depicting even more than the naked eye or most powerful telescope can see from Earth. But those pictures are heavily saturated in scientific trappings and prior interpretations---some of which are even friendly to the concept of awe. But being friendly with what can be awesome is not the same as being driven by the immediate presence of the fourth day's creation into the humble acquiescence that there is---indeed must be---something greater.
Artificial light hides the light of God: an interesting and pervasive metaphor turned, I suspect in this case, quite literal.
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