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Above the Clouds

by Loren Acton, NASA Astronaut

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked after my “astronaut” talks is some version of the following, “How was your view of God and religion changed by your flight?” My boring response is that my reaction was basically neutral. I returned with pretty much the same views, beliefs, and hang-ups as I had at launch. My particular hang-up was a continuing and profound disconnect between, on the one hand, what I’d been taught about God at home, in church, and at Bible school and, on the other, my convictions about values like fairness, justice, and love — as well as my life-long learning and experience in the scientific way of thinking.

Looking at Planet Earth and out into the Universe from space is truly an awesome experience. It is fantastic to be there as a knowledgeable observer, to appreciate the origin of this world and its place in the universe. Looking down on the clouds at night, lightning storms provide a never-to-be-forgotten show while in the day the storm clouds trace the great weather systems that make life as we live it possible. As a child I was led to believe that Heaven was somewhere, somehow up there above the clouds. The actual above-the-clouds experience is a whole lot better than myths of harps and streets of gold!

It is neat to understand that the same laws of nature that keep the moon in orbit about the earth and the earth about the sun are maintaining our space shuttle in its orbit of the earth. Thanks to our remarkable brains and a gradual intensification of learning, humankind has breathtaking knowledge of how things fit together, understandings unavailable to our richest and smartest forebears. The scientific method and the technology that it has engendered provide new, testable, and verifiable answers to questions of, for example, evolution and cosmology — questions of profound interest and importance, which in our ancestors’ day were strictly the province of priests and shamans.

I’m grateful that, thanks to Thank GOD for EVOLUTION and the concept that God is the universe, I am at last able to reconcile in a sensible way my life experience with God as expressed in the “night language” of friends and loved ones of many faiths around the world. It is really a wonderful thing to be able to use the word “God” without an internal grimace. If you, also, experience a disconnect between your spiritual life and your experiential life, I encourage you to try thinking about God and the universe in this positive and helpful way.

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