Genesis Remembered in Apollo 8 Anniversary
Would NASA and Big Media censor the Christmas Eve broadcast 50 years ago that included reading from Genesis?
In this age of political correctness and anti-religious bigotry, we wondered if the 50th anniversary celebrations of Apollo 8 would mention the Christmas Eve broadcast with its Bible reading from Genesis. Illustra Media portrayed that event beautifully in this short film:
But would secular institutions like NASA and scientific journals avoid mentioning the Genesis reading? Some did. These included Phys.org, Nature, and Space.com, who preferred discussing climate change and environmentalism instead, or focused on how the famous Earthrise photo illustrated man’s insignificance in the vast, bleak universe (but see Illustra’s other short film, Pale Blue Dot, for a response). Some news sources did mention the Genesis reading, including Fox News Science, and Tom McLeish in his article at The Conversation.
Fortunately, NASA itself not only kept the Genesis reading intact in its nicely-done YouTube video, but also made it a major feature of the Smithsonian’s “Spirit of Apollo” event at the National Cathedral on December 11, as we reported here. This is quite surprising for an institution whose labs, like JPL, go out of their way to suppress Christmas, ordering its employees to avoid Christmas trees and lights and colors, and say “holiday party” instead of Christmas party. Needless to say, NASA is all about evolution almost all the time. Genesis? That gets polite disdain at best. But NASA kept the Bible reading without any negative comments at all, and even tweeted a short version of the video that retained Genesis 1:1 on its @NASA Twitter feed on December 21.
Perhaps President Trump’s open announcement to the country that it’s OK to say “Merry Christmas” again is bringing the popular greeting back out of the closet, and calling a cease-fire in the war on Christmas. (Some schools, senior centers and companies haven’t gotten the message yet, though.) Christmas is a national holiday in the United States, after all, and is celebrated around the world. One doesn’t have to refer to its religious aspects to celebrate it. But for NASA to not only acknowledge Christmas, but also play the creation account from Genesis is quite something these days.
The Genesis reading was, in fact, a major part of the Apollo 8 astronauts’ Christmas Eve broadcast, the capstone of one of America’s greatest successes in space. Having been told to ‘do something appropriate’ on Christmas eve, because the largest audience in television history would be tuned in, Commander Frank Borman thought and thought until he was given a Gideon Bible by a friend. Not knowing what part to read, he decided to just start at the beginning of the book. That seemed right: the creation of the world.
A billion people were tuned in that night, hearing, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth… and God saw the light, that it was good… And from the crew of Apollo 8, good night, good luck, a merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.” It was hard to top that. Many commentators in 1968 thought the reading was highly appropriate, even perfect after such a violent year of protests over the Vietnam war, hippies, and two assassinations the previous summer. Only atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair got upset. She sued NASA, but her grinchy move quickly evaporated.
Another good aspect of the NASA film was its mention of the suitability of our sun and planet for life. Astronaut Jim Lovell says, with evident feeling,
The Earth is a mere speck in the Milky Way Galaxy. Look what we have here: water, and an atmosphere; we’re orbiting a star just at the proper distance to absorb that star’s energy. God has given mankind a stage on which to perform. How the play turns out is up to us.
The 50th anniversary was a good time for the world to remember when it was OK to say “In the beginning, God created” and “Merry Christmas!”
But Wait! There’s More
Here’s another amazing fact about Illustra’s “Merry Christmas from the Moon” video. Not only was it about the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 8, but this Christmas marks the 200th anniversary of Silent Night, the most beloved of all Christmas carols! The producers may not have even realized this at the time when they selected Silent Night to begin and end the video. Paul Taylor mentioned this on World Radio’s “The World and Everything In It” broadcast for December 21. Taylor gives the history of how the carol was written and performed in Austria for Christmas 1818, and recounts its growing popularity over the years.
Almost 20 years ago, the Illustra staff had produced an “evergreen” (timeless) video called Amazing Grace: Five Hymns that Changed the World, with “Silent Night” as the centerpiece. Questar Media, the distributor, has put the entire film on YouTube. You can watch the “Silent Night” episode starting at minute 18:00. This would be a wonderful memory to share with the family on Christmas Eve, along with “Merry Christmas from the Moon.”
As for what the word “merry” in Merry Christmas means, listen to what George Grant says about it in the December 14 broadcast of The World and Everything In It, starting at minute 25:00. Did you know it conveys the meaning “gallant,” as in “Robin Hood and his merry men?” Grant’s well-written monologue will enrich your holiday greetings. Don’t settle for “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” When shopkeepers offer that to you, give them back a warm, “Merry Christmas!” You’ll be saying something more meaningful than they realize, and it may help them feel empowered to embrace the holiday once again.
CEH will take a break the rest of this week and resume reporting after New Year’s Day 2019, unless important news breaks. To all our readers and supporters, we at Master Plan Association wish you each a very merry and even “heavenly” Christmas.