Eclipses are rare occurrences in our world–and even to someone raised in a science-embracing culture they can feel mysterious. Little wonder that Christians have been co-opting these events ever since their religion got started.
1984: All Summer in a Day.
I’m not normally awake at 10:00, but Mr. Captain and I were up, dressed, and out the door at that time to a park nearby to see the eclipse.
To our surprise, there was very little traffic on the roads and very few people outside looking at the sky. Don’t they know? I wondered. I could hardly contain my excitement.
The park we like is an expansive pocket park in the city nearby; it’s got a lot of wildlife in it and native plants. Years ago when we had more time, we used to walk there in the very early mornings. One morning there we startled a doe with her fawn–the doe leapt as gracefully as a zephyr into the underbrush, but her fawn stayed where it was on the paved path to get what had to be its first look at humans. We stared at each other in wonderment, the fawn and the humans; it wasn’t much bigger than a beagle, with wobbly-looking legs and huge brown eyes and ears out to here and a dappled golden-brown coat that looked like it came right out of a Disney movie. Today there were no deer visible, but we did catch sight of squirrels and a lot of geese and ducks.
As we walked, I remembered the last eclipse I’d seen. It’d been some years ago during this one school day in May, during my usual PE (physical education) class. Mobile was a miserable and awful place generally, so I’d finagled myself a volunteer position in the school library during that class. That lucky break kept me from having to wear the ghastly orange polyester-knit PE uniform my school forced on female students, but also from sweating my rear end off in the oppressive, sweltering heat of Alabama summers. My schoolmates were peeved they hadn’t thought of it first.
I don’t remember what the other kids in my school did during the eclipse itself. Part of me thinks that some of them were herded outside to use crafted cardboard viewers, while others were kept indoors to make sure they didn’t blind themselves. It didn’t really matter to me; I disliked most of my schoolmates intensely and regarded all but a few of them as incurious, xenophobic, mean-spirited, and dull.
I was in a storeroom preparing discarded books and magazines for donation to the local public libraries for their upcoming book sales, nervously counting minutes until the eclipse started. I wasn’t supposed to go outside, but I had a plan.
I kept an eye out for the two adults working in the library. When the coast inevitably became clear, I darted out of one of the side doors that opened into the school’s sad little courtyard. Most schools seem to have something like it; it was a small square bit of open ground that was planted with small trees and bushes and flowers. It needed work desperately, but the school couldn’t afford someone to weed and tend it; usually that work was done by student volunteer groups once a year or so when the place got too overrun.
The skies were clear, and at that time of day the courtyard should have been awash in bright sunshine. The outdoors in that area were also usually filled with natural noises like bird cries and insects chittering.
But that afternoon, the courtyard was silent–and awash in an eerie sepia-toned twilight.
The sky got darker and darker–not totally night-time dark, but way past the sort of rose-gold darkness of dusk we normally got as a precursor to the night.
I stood there gazing around myself in wonderment. I didn’t look at the sun–though I really really wanted to. I kept my eyes trained on the courtyard’s overgrown greenery. I breathed in the suddenly-chilly air and tried to push every single sight and sensation into my body’s memory. (My husband saw the same eclipse as a boy from where he lived; though he didn’t get nearly the totality that I enjoyed, he still remembered the awe and excitement of seeing even that bit.)
Eventually the courtyard began to brighten again, and a few birds tentatively began to call out. I headed back to my perch in the library’s storage room to finish my task, though I was pretty much useless for what was left of the day.
I’d seen something rare and profound. I’d seen a solar eclipse–or at least, I’d seen as much of one as it was safe to see.
Yeah, I was walking on clouds for quite a while!
The Pinhole Box.
On Monday, yesterday, I saw my second solar eclipse–or at least as much of it as it was safe to see.
Mr. Captain and I hadn’t been able to scare up eclipse-safe sunglasses, so we made do with homemade viewers made from cereal boxes. (Instructions are found here!) Through the little pinhole punched in the box, I watched as the sun got eaten up by the intruding moon, till finally Mr. Captain and I stood in the same sepia-toned dusk that I remembered from my childhood.
Our shared experiences washed over us as we gazed around ourselves like we were children again. We marveled at the park and the geese losing their little avian minds in their pond nearby. The nighttime noises of insects began at the height of the duskiness, though with what seemed to me like a tentative intonation; the birds quacked and honked and flapped around in concern.
When the semi-darkness lifted, we headed back home. We were both in summer clothes–me in bright red sandals and a smock dress that looks sorta Peruvian; him in a t-shirt and jeans–and we were quite chilled. Next time, we joked, we’re bringing jackets.
Next time is in 2024, and I have a relative living right under one of the totality cities. It’s time to plan a visit!
And we’ll remember the jackets and glasses next time.
Let the Jesus Juking Begin.
A while ago I brought up the Christian habit of Jesus Juking. A Christian made up the term; it means hijacking a non-religious conversation with some reference to Christianity to puff one’s piety up. For example, one person might be talking about what they’d ask for if they were given three wishes. Others give their own imagined requests. Everything sounds normal so far: people would ask for a billion dollars, or happiness, or to find a good spouse. Then a high-and-mighty Christian announces that he or she would ask for the conversion of the entire world. The conversation grinds to an uncomfortable halt. The juker gets that smug glow from being a super-sanctimonious TRUE CHRISTIAN™ among all those lesser life-forms. The juked Christians feel annoyed for not having thought of that response first. And non-Christians roll their eyes so hard they almost fall out of their skulls.
Jesus Juking isn’t really Christianese because the Christians doing it seem steadfastly unaware that their conversation mates (be they Christian or not!) find it irritating and grating in the extreme. And it’s been going on a very long time–in The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery, we see an example of someone doing it–and this ought to serve as a textbook example of the phenomenon:
Uncle James thought the conversation was sagging to a rather low plane of personal gossip. He tried to elevate it by starting an abstract discussion on “the greatest happiness.” Everybody was asked to state his or her idea of “the greatest happiness.”
Aunt Mildred thought the greatest happiness–for a woman–was to be “a loving and beloved wife and mother.” Aunt Wellington thought it would be to travel in Europe. Olive thought it would be to be a great singer like Tetrazzini. Cousin Gladys remarked mournfully that her greatest happiness would be to be free–absolutely free–from neuritis. Cousin Georgiana’s greatest happiness would be “to have her dear, dead brother Richard back.” Aunt Alberta remarked vaguely that the greatest happiness was to be found in “the poetry of life” and hastily gave some directions to her maid to prevent any one asking her what she meant. Mrs. Frederick [Valancy’s overbearing mother] said the greatest happiness was to spend your life in loving service for others, and Cousin Stickles and Aunt Isabel agreed with her–Aunt Isabel with a resentful air, as if she thought Mrs. Frederick had taken the wind out of her sails by saying it first. “We are all too prone,” continued Mrs. Frederick, determined not to lose so good an opportunity, “to live in selfishness, worldliness and sin.” The other women all felt rebuked for their low ideals, and Uncle James had a conviction that the conversation had been uplifted with a vengeance.
“The greatest happiness,” said Valancy suddenly and distinctly, “is to sneeze when you want to.”
And wow are they going hog wild with the eclipse.
The Scent of Pure Desperation.
See, the eclipse was solar. It involved the sun.
Guess what word sounds a lot like sun?
If you said “son,” then you’ve got a good idea of the circus that TRUE CHRISTIANS™ are having at the expense of the eclipse. As that link says, the juke goes thusly: “Tomorrow we will all stare at the sun, but when was the last time you took a good look at the Son?”
(I know we all just groaned hard. Sorry.)
The guy who wrote that link wasn’t thrilled with the Jesus Jukes happening now, but there are a lot more Christians who are totally sincere about their attempt to grab attention for themselves and their religion. One pastor wrote about “The Son Inside the Eclipse” and he sounds downright resentful that people will drive and fly great distances to watch the eclipse but won’t go to nearly that trouble for his dying religion. He wants people to mentally link the eclipse in their minds with his religion’s myth about its founder dying. Good luck with that, dude.
A writer for CBN advises the religious site’s readers to “Keep your eyes on Jesus, not the eclipse.” It’s like Christian leaders and writers are totally terrified of how obsolete their system is when an eclipse can threaten their sense of dominance that much. Notice too that this link mentions the three-hour-long darkness that the Gospels describe happening when Jesus died, but at least here the writer is aware that a total eclipse only lasts for a few minutes before ending, so concedes that whatever that Gospel is talking about, it can’t be a real eclipse. That’s a rare moment of honesty. Props where it’s due, because quite a few fundagelicals would likely say that yes, that was totally what happened. Catholics and liberal Christians are quite okay with it just being a metaphor. (Speaking of which: that link actually tells us, among many other things, that the Vatican has an observatory. It’s run by real live astronomers. Color me shocked.)
It seems like the really nasty sorts of Christians have two modes and only two modes when it comes to important cultural events: they either totally condemn those events or they try to take advantage of them in some way.
One of the strangest attempts to hitch a wagon to the eclipse was a revival that was put on by some guy in Kentucky who thought he’d attract 250,000 eclipse-viewers to his borrowed farm venue. Even before I saw their Facebook page showing things getting super-duper-busy, I knew they hadn’t gotten nearly that many guests–nor had very many conversions. I’ve seen day events in the SCA put on by brand-new shires in the middle of nowhere that looked busier than that. It’s also quite certain that the majority of guests there were people who were already Christian; they seem to have had a decent time, but it was nowhere near the revival hoped for–nor the crowd size. But I’m totes jelly that they got eclipse-viewing glasses that were printed with their event name. Dangit, I couldn’t find glasses for love or money!
This week’s winner for Weirdest Phrase Ever Heard Out of a Christian also comes from that FB page:
Through gospel illusions the clowns were able to lead 4 people to salvation.
I suspect that the person who wrote that is enjoying a bigger dose than usual of fundagelicals’ wishful thinking and over-optimism, but it’s still a hilarious mental image.
That wasn’t the only group trying to cash in on eclipse excitement. Even Anne Graham Lotz, the wild-eyed daughter of Billy Graham,
whinged on and on wondered aloud, all wide-eyed and innocent, on her blog if the eclipse was some kind of celestial message to humanity from her god.
I thought I’d help her out, since she doesn’t appear to know the answer to her question and comments on that post are closed:
No, it’s most certainly not some kind of weird message, Ms. Lotz, especially not one that encourages people like you in your mission to take over and dominate the whole world for your magic invisible friend. This eclipse was just part of our beautiful natural world, an event that was set in stone eons ago to happen when it did. It’s as natural as rain and as cyclical as the leaves changing color during New England falls, and eclipses have been happening since planets and moons formed and began their dance together–long before humans even existed.
If your god needs an eclipse to talk to people, he’s a very bad communicator, because what eclipses tell me is that your god does not exist and your myths are not reflective of reality in any way. It’s only your piss-poor education in science that makes you think that eclipses are supernatural; in your holy book, disease is caused by sin, looking at sticks influences goats’ coat color, and demons can live in pigs, so it doesn’t surprise me to hear that you think your god has to manually control eclipses to let you know that it’s time to crack down even harder on your dysfunctional ideology. People who think their god poofed everything into existence a few thousand years ago may find it natural to believe that their god made the 2017 American Eclipse happen just because he wanted to send a message, but that’s totally not what reality tells us. It’s sad that you can’t enjoy a rare natural event without tacking your weird beliefs onto it and making it serve your twisted and sickening political agenda.
A god who values worshipers like her is not one I’d ever consider worthy of worship at all. It’s soooo weird that Christians themselves are the best argument there could possibly be against their religion’s claims being true or their teachings being good for humanity.
A Rush of Familiar Wonderment.
When I was a little girl, I was enchanted with science–astronomy in particular. I stood in the street in my suburban neighborhood to watch the space shuttle rocket overhead; I gazed at stars through the telescope (on its tripod stand that my dad hand-made for me, sized for a little girl to capably carry and adjust it) and wrote down what I saw in my mottled-black-and-white science notebook. I stayed up all night to watch a full lunar eclipse, marveling at the huge, blood-red moon.
I was lucky that my parents valued science generally and encouraged me in learning as much as I could of the natural world around me. By the time I became a fundagelical, I’d already learned too much to take the Bible’s myths and Just-So Stories as literal history.
Yesterday I got a taste of that childhood wonderment again.
It’s heartbreaking to think of fundagelicals depriving their children of that wonderment by making them think that picayune ancient tribal gods cause the rain to fall and crops to grow, people to be sick and then (occasionally) healed, or even direct eclipses to shatter the daytime with the grandeur of uncontrollable cosmic events, all to tell one particularly virulent and toxic group of adherents following one of those ancient tin-pot dictator gods that they better become even more virulent and toxic because the schoolyard bully they worship is getting off the pot soon. Any day now. For sure.
When I see fundagelicals talking like the ones I’ve detailed in this post, it makes me sad for them and angry on behalf of their children. About all I can say by way of comfort to ex-Christians who are struggling to free themselves of that mental bondage is that that wonderment is ageless: you will rediscover it if you keep moving forward. (Indeed, it’s simply glorious to see an ex-Christian starting to learn all the things that their childhood educators had ignored or repressed out of view.) Our universe is so much more amazing in its true reality, so much grander when seen without the fundie-glasses that shackle our awareness to fairy tales that aren’t true.
Speaking of Christian narcissism, that’s where we’re taking up next–see you then!
Naturalism. Not Gross. Not Crass. And Not Negotiable.
The Handbook: Science- and History-Based Apologetics.
Christians and the Law of Conservation of Worship.
Metaphysics is Not the Droid Christians Are Looking For.
The Handbook: Why Arguments Aren’t Evidence.
Learning to Move Past Religious Narcissism.
Videos for Ex-Christians (And Christians Teetering on the Edge).