What are Christians to make of the billionaires who take trips into space, or to the bottom of the ocean? Chine McDonald gives her view
In June, the world’s media reported on a minute-by-minute search for the doomed Titan submersible and the five men aboard. The trip, which was expected to take twelve hours, would have seen those on board join the tiny number of people alive today who have viewed the wreck of the famous ocean liner, the Titanic.
For a few days, the eyes of the world were glued to the rescue mission, before it was finally confirmed that the sub had suffered a catastrophic implosion, tragically killing everyone on board instantly.
There was much discussion about the disparity in coverage (and the effort put into the rescue mission) between the Titan sub and its wealthy passengers, who reportedly paid $250,000 each for the privilege of being on board, and the fate of the hundreds of migrants killed off the coast of Greece when the packed fishing boat they were on sank. It seems some people’s lives matter more than others. However, the truth is each individual life – whether a poor migrant’s or a thrill-seeking billionaire’s – is precious to their loved ones, and to God.
A few days after the Titan tragedy, I sat in a studio at Times Radio listening to Colin Bennett, an astronaut instructor who had just returned from Virgin Galactic’s first commercial space flight. The spacecraft Unity had climbed 50 miles above the New Mexico desert, allowing the passengers to experience zero gravity, before returning back to earth. More commercial space flights are now planned, with each seat costing up to $450,000.
I had prepared to give my critique of such extreme, expensive adventure tourism; to say such risky pastimes were a display of vanity and hubris, part of humans’ attempts to be like God. I was ready to remind listeners of the Greek tragedy in which Icarus ignored warnings from his father not to fly too close to the sun, and did exactly that, which led to his untimely death.
But hearing Bennett describe his experience on board Unity, I was reminded of the awe and wonder that occurs when we have an encounter with God. He was giddy with amazement and expressed a profound sense of the interconnectedness and beauty in our world – and beyond it. Psychologists have called this common response from astronauts who view the earth from space ‘the overview effect’. It often leads to overwhelming emotion, a change in perspective or even an awakening of spiritual belief.
Technological advances are leading to a growth in this type of adventure tourism. It does not appeal to me – I get nervous on a flight from London to Ireland – but demand (typically from men with too much money and who want the bragging rights) is strong. And while I still think it’s all a little hubristic, I wonder whether a change of perspective, a sprinkle of awe and a dose of wonder could help people better recognise our interconnectedness.
Perhaps those Twitter spats, and the other minor preoccupations that dominate the minds of so many, might gain some welcome perspective from 50 miles above the earth.