John Cheek reflects upon what this world values highly.
Waking up on New Years' Day morning, I put the kettle on for those staying with us, switched on the TV and a certain news channel came into view.
There were just two headlines, it seemed, and what was happening in the lives of two-thirds of planet Earth wasn't of importance.
One was the shocking revelation that firework displays had been held across the globe in the previous few hours. Highlights of spectacular explosions in the skies above London, Berlin and Sydney were screened and I wondered how many millions had been spent in staging these spectaculars, all of which lasted less-than one hour.
The other headline was about the NASA Space Probe, New Horizons. It had travelled close enough in a galaxy far, far away, to send back exciting images of what was already nicknamed 'the snowman'. Around 6.5 billion km from the earth, New Horizons was successfully relaying images of Ultima Thule, a beautiful, thrilling, 21 mile-long floating mass...of dirt and ice.
The on-screen coverage continued, with scenes from NASA Headquarters, of scientists applauding, crying and hugging one another.
The news gave no mention of how many people had been sleeping-rough overnight, or anything else of any gravity (sorry).
I began thinking of the US speaker and author, Rev. Tony Campolo. Years' ago, Campolo was invited to speak at Spring Harvest and, on the first night, began with a declaration which went something like:
"You know folks, if last night was an average night, over 3,000 children starved to death in Africa - or died of malnutrition-related causes. Do you know what? Many of you people here do not give a s***.
"What's more, some of you people here are far more concerned that I just used the word s***, than the fact that over 3,000 children starved to death last night."
Afterwards, a member of the audience tried to remonstrate with Campolo, along the lines of you-don't-understand, you used a rude word.
Campolo responded, "What's worse, that I used a rude word, or that 3,000 children starved to death?"
Just two days after Ultima Thuma rocked our world, the news headlines were all about the Chinese space agency proclaiming that their Chang'e 4 lunar spacecraft had landed on the moon around 10.30am on Thursday, 3rd January. Twelve hours later, the Jade Rabbit 2 luna rover left the spacecraft, drove off a ramp and began making tracks on the moon's surface. Feeling somewhat underwhelmed, I was to have a number of in-depth conversations with others about the matter, over the next few days.
Despite my scepticism, I cannot deny that I've learnt a great deal about the scientific benefits that come historically, from space exploration. Domestic fire-alarms, along with non-stick pans, are two things which have come about as a result of scientific research from space.
But even then, who exactly has benefited? Many people in the West, undoubtedly, but for two billion people, the need for a fire-alarm simply isn't there. The majority of people in the third world have never made, or received, a telephone call in their lives. How many children could be lifted completely out of poverty, in America and China, if just a small fraction of the respective space 'budgets' were spent on them, instead?
I once worked with a man we'll call Paul. Paul had been a Christian at one point, but had fallen away and now put his faith in science and science-fiction. Years ago, when the internet was a new addition to office computers, Paul took great pleasure in logging onto the fledgling NASA website and showing me 'live' images from space. He wanted me to be impressed and, as he knew of my Christian faith, perhaps he hoped that I would follow him in no longer trusting in God.
I later went to a party at his home, and saw an upstairs room, which he had dedicated to science-fiction; a shrine to Star Wars. His obsessions grew and eventually, his evenings were spent on-line, playing live computer games against rivals from across the globe. His wife hardly got a look in.
I'll say it: the emperor's got no clothes on. Many of the early American astronauts later became Christians, through their experiences of being in space and looking back on the earth and realising what a truly beautiful, living planet it is. Sadly, the space race showed up what many societies on Earth preferred to value. Things haven't got much better, even now, and children continue to starve.
In the face of real human need, and when his enemies were looking to accuse him, Jesus declared, "I ask you, which is lawful...to do good or to do evil, to save life or destroy it?"
Charity begins at home, they say. As planet Earth is our home, let's remember the needs of those who share our world; if we get our priorities right, we can alleviate all poverty, eventually.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
View all articles by John Cheek