Sunday, April 7, 2024

The 2024 Total Eclipse, A Celebration of Awe

Luna Has Her Eyes on Sol One Week Before the 2024 Eclipse (Marineland, FL)

Tomorrow the moon will pass in front of the Sun for two hours. Millions, including myself, are scrambling to get to the path of totality. I've been surprised that some have no interest at all in the eclipse, wondering what's the big deal?

How to answer such an offhand, indifferent question?  Sure, it's easy to say an eclipse is cool, but a total eclipse is quite unlike any partial eclipse experience. If you are in the path of totality and the sky is clear, you will experience a strange twilight. The Sun's atmosphere, the corona, will be on display. And nature will experience a bit of a jump scare, as the reliable solar entity we take for granted too often, will be obscured. Birds tend to take flight in uncertainty, and humans will be all astir, too many probably taking selfies.

But the awe in the moment reaches well beyond the visceral experience of one. For a human we can take stock in the fact only for less than 500 years have humans generally accepted that the Earth revolved around the Sun. So even though some ancient cultures had calendars that predicted solar eclipses, only very recently have we grasped the scale of what's involved. The alignment of these three bodies in space due to their orbits, tilts and sizes is quite thought provoking. Here are a couple photos to scale to reinforce this arrangement.

To Scale, The Moon's Size and Distance From the Earth

To Scale, The Sizes of Earth, Moon and Sun as well as the Moon-Earth Distance 

I hope these two images give you an appreciation for how perfectly aligned Sun, Moon, and Earth must be to have the shadow of the Moon fall on the Earth. Not pictured, the distance of the Earth from the Sun itself is gargantuan. Add to that, the knowledge that the Moon is slowly drifting away from the Earth in its orbit, and in a few million years (a small percentage of the 4,000 million year age of the Earth and Moon system) a total solar eclipse viewed from Earth will no longer be a thing. We are living in a very special time.

So a total eclipse can be a moment of world solidarity, a time to celebrate the shared universe we live in, to forget about political, financial, and existential strife that we humans create for ourselves. A total eclipse can ground us in the fact that we live in a shared foundation of reality that we can agree upon. This foundational evidence, and the astrophysics we've assembled since Copernicus, puts to shame divisive world perspectives including Flat Earth theory and every religious creation myth our ancestors came up with as first-stab, imaginative hypotheses. It also gives us as individuals a chance to walk away from social media, content streaming, fantasy novels and celebrity gossip to experience a slice of real being. 

On the other side of the total eclipse all the divisiveness and distraction is sure to return. Still, just maybe that shared moment of awe might give us as a global community an inspiration to work together in the real world toward making our planet a better place to live for all its sentient beings, amateur human astronomers included.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Christian Reflections

I was raised a Christian. At an early age I was taught biblical morality, especially that Jesus's teachings were central to living a good life. By rote, I believed he was crucified to absolve sins I inherited and those I committed during my life,big I prayed for forgiveness and believed in the Christian trinity. Further, I believed that his storied resurrection demonstrated his power over death and that believing that he was the son of the Christian god would earn me eternal life.

Then I grew up. 

At first, I discovered all the biblical miracles and creation myths obviously conflicted with reality. It was a revelation to think for myself, and I had a visceral "how could I be so gullible" reaction throughout my twenties. It felt like religion and the elders I trusted to guide me had lied to me and all of its followers.

Then I became better acquainted with biblical doctrine.  I was severely repulsed by the old testament's god-decreed violence, tolerance of slavery, killing of children and patriarchal rule. These atrocious tenets far outweighed for me any new testament nods to good samaritanism and promises of salvation. If the teachings of the bible were supposed to instill good ethics, to much of its lessons were duplicit and evil.

These contemplations opened a portal to atheism for me. But lacking belief in any of the thousand of supposed gods and goddesses was only a first step, as it simply wiped my world view clean of supernatural silliness. Now I could investigate better ethical ideas with the mind of an adult engaged, rather than of a unquestioning child mesmerized by fairy tales.

Reason led me to embrace scientific skepticism which honestly attempted to sift truth from falsehoods in the world. It led me down the mindful and kind path that ebodies secular humanism. This world view sought to build community toward doing good in the world for the simple sake of doing good without empty threats and rewards. 

As a secular humanist I developed a heartfelt compassion for all living beings. This inspired me to ratchet up my ethic by participating in selfless environmentalism, veganism, and minimalism, all while taking joy in the wonders that life offered.

In the end performing such loving acts for the world, its communities, those beings in my circle and myself taught me that an ethical life stance required continual contemplation and an openness to adjust my behavior given new information. (Thinking better to act better)

Surely, I'm imperfect at this, and my attempts to influence others to see a similar light has been rather limited. Still, if I cannot inspire others, I am joyful to be on an honest path of goodness, seeking to grow and learn at every step, and living by example.

It is hard, still I understand that people need to find their own path to attain self-actualization. Yet, sometimes people get stuck in circles on that journey because good feelings get intertwined with moral teachings, even if those lessons don't stand up to honest questioning.

And it can feel good by having faith during troubled times that a higher power is watching over us with a promise that a better life waits after death. But why not have faith in our family and communities themselves, since they are the ones there giving living support? 

I see how imagining a loving teacher like Jesus who is always there for us can be powerful. And prayers to a higher power can be a source of hope when life is a downer.

For me, it's the teaching itself which is important. "Love thy (human) neighbor" is a  good one. "Do unto others (humans) as you would have done unto yourself," has its merits too. 

Why not challenge yourself to do the most good without all the divisive and questionable baggage a hundred different religions have been spouting for millennia. You might just find that being a good person is reward in itself.

"Have compassion for all beings!"