This is ET calling
We’re going to listen in on the neighbours. It seems that the wise men of the world, who don’t believe in God because we cannot see Him, believe that the universe if full of intelligent life, eh, because we cannot see them.
Now that takes a bit of figuring out. And to help you figure it out a bit more, they are proposing to spend $100m pointing their smart phones to the sky and seeing if anyone can pick up that elusive bit of code that will prove once and for all that ET is out there. There appears to be an ‘app’ that you can use to help the project. It is the “BOINC app via Google Play. Don’t worry, the app won’t run down your battery as it only operates when a device is plugged in and charging. Furthermore, data is only transferred over Wi-Fi as to not eat into your monthly data allotment (assuming you aren’t on an unlimited data plan)”
The men behind this game are led by none other than Stephen Hawking and a fleet of professors etc. from the Royal Society in London. One of them, a professor at Oxford, was on TV saying that there are that many stars out there that there has to be life. There you have it: there are stars so there must be life. It is all a question of numbers.
To me it is strange thinking, and here is why. Several of the people named as backing “The Breakthrough Initiative” are well known atheists. They don’t believe in God because they can’t see him and consider such belief to be superstitious. When you ask them where did the universe come from they say that it just ‘popped into being.’
And they call us superstitious!
How to Help Stephen and friends
In the interests of journalistic integrity I decided to download the BOINC app onto my £10.99 smartphone and vintage ‘pay as you go device.’ The user instructions were easy to follow.
1. Switch on device and go to a quiet place such as a church or chapel. Eucharistic adoration is a good spot as there is always silence. Place phone on silent so as to not disturb others.
2. Hold phone eighteen inches from face and watch out for little green men on the screen. If ET is not a little green man we don’t want to know him.
3. If you get a text message it is probably from God. ET does not text.
You know, there is probably more chance of you getting a text from God than hearing ET, even if you have an app.
It's all in the mind
At the launch of the Breakthrough Initiative, Professor Hawking said, “To understand the Universe, you must know about atoms - about the forces that bind them, the contours of space and time, the birth and death of stars, the dance of galaxies, the secrets of black holes," he explained.
"But that is not enough. These ideas cannot explain everything. They can explain the light of stars, but not the lights that shine from planet Earth. To understand these lights, you must know about life. About minds.”
Then on Thursday came the big news that they had found the home world of ET. Well, I exaggerate a bit; they found what they think is a planet orbiting its sun at about the same distance as we do. Seemingly this planet is quite similar to ours.
“'Earth 2.0' found in Nasa Kepler telescope haul,” ran the headline. “Such worlds are of interest to astronomers because they might be small and cool enough to host liquid water on their surface - and might therefore be hospitable to life,” continued the story.
What is all the fuss about
What amazes me is what all the fuss is about. If there is life out there, ok, if not, well again, ok. It appears to me that these men are becoming more and more desperate to show that life on earth is nothing special and that if there is life somewhere else in the universe then it is further proof that God does not exist and that we are masters of our own destiny and we are almost like Gods ourselves. This notion is even beginning to be voiced by certain historians and scientists.
At the end of the day, who cares whether there is life out there or not. Let’s assume that someday ET decides to send us a message showing that he has known about us for a thousand years and has been watching us to see if we will ever grow up, will it make any difference to your life? Will you be able to stop working and live a comfortable, easy life with nothing to do?
But what if……
These are not new questions; people have argued about them for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks debated the subject, St Thomas Aquinas, in the 13th century, came to the conclusion that there were no other inhabited planets and later thinkers were divided on the subject.
What do I think?
Well, for what it is worth, I’m not sure. Our God is a strange God; when he makes anything he makes plenty of it. One sun with one planet would have been enough if we were all there was going to be. The problem with that is that we would soon have run out of things to think about.
No, our God makes stuff in abundance. When he made the universe he put enough paraphernalia in it to keep us figuring out for several lifetimes and the more we learn about the universe the more we realize how strange it is and how little we know about it.
I believe the universe is teeming with life, simply because I don’t see why God would make so much of everything else and no life other than ours. Is there intelligent life out there? Probably, if you consider animals intelligent but is there life with rational souls, made in the image and likeness of God? That I am not so sure about.
He is not a God of secrets
God has shared everything with us, his life, his wisdom, even down to sharing his very being with us in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. I don’t think that such a God would not have told us in some way that there were other people similar to ourselves in the universe.
Will we ever know the answer? Of course we will, and a lot sooner than we think. The moment we close our eyes for the last time and go down through the tunnel of life and go to meet God, at that moment we will know all the answers to these questions; he will not keep anything back.
When you think of it, God has told us all we need to know in order to live full and happy lives and in all of it I don’t see ‘searching for aliens’ as one of the requirements to be fulfilled and at peace.
But we like our secrets
A few others have been doing a bit of listening in lately; hackers have broken into the secure adultery website Ashley Madison. Ashley Madison, whoever she was, is the name of a website dedicated to people who want an affair but can’t be bothered going down to the pub on a Saturday night. It’s a sort of a ‘ring up and meet’ site with no strings attached and all a bit of harmless fun.
Well, that is what the advertising would lead you to think. But the numbers caused me a bit of hassle over the weekend. There are over one million people in the UK who pay Ashley Madison a hefty fee every month to help them be unfaithful to their partners. Having a mind that likes numbers, I soon calculated that this means that about one in every thirty people of adultery age, say 25-60, are on the website.
But more to the point, it also means that about one in every fifteen marriages has a partner who wants someone else.
Now think about that: you are walking down Ulster Street in Ulster Town and you pass thirty ordinary, respectable, homely looking people in the 25-60 age range; statistically one of them is on the Ashley Madison website, one of them is carrying a horrible little secret twenty four hours a day seven days a week.
And that is only the ones who seek by web….what about all those other poor people who drift into relationships at work, in the golf club or wherever? When you begin to think about it, it would make you shiver.
If you think we’re bad…….
The Daily Mail ran an article last week with the headline: “Is Ottawa the most adulterous city on earth?” and then went on:
“It may seem a prim, northerly city often buried under the snow - but Ottawa has a steamy underbelly and is packed with cheaters, according to the fallout of a massive data breach.
The Canadian capital has emerged as a hotbed for users of adultery website Ashley Madison, which has had the intimate information of some 37million users worldwide stolen in the past week. According to figures from the Canadian arm of the website, 200,000 of its users are registered to Ottawa - more than a fifth of the city's 883,000 residents.”
It all glamour and harmless fun
Nowadays we tend to laugh at these things and think them funny. Sarah didn’t think it was that funny.
Sarah, 34, from Surrey, was happily married for ten years and had a six-year-old son, James. But in January 2013, she discovered that her husband Rich had been having an affair for two years, arranged via the website.
“I was shaking from head to foot. I felt physically sick. I didn’t know whether to cry, laugh or scream. It was horrendous. My stomach was in knots. I felt so angry and confused and utterly heart-broken, all at the same time”, she said.
The couple divorced eight months later.
Jackie, 50, from North Wales, also caught her husband Peter using the site.
“I had my suspicions he was cheating and thought I’d set up my own account on a few of these sites so I could have a look”, she said. “I was sickened to see his face pop up.”
These are two stories I read about on a site called The Christian Institute.
But before you go ranting
It is all too easy to point the finger at others. So before we go ranting about such and such and so and so perhaps we need to look a bit closer to home. We all have our little peccadillos and how many of us are in the position to throw the first stone.
The story of Ashley Madison, (I wonder who she was) reminds me of an old story that comes down to us from the Desert Fathers. The Desert Fathers, who were addressed as Abba, were men who went out into the desert to seek God in solitude and silence. They were often joined by a young man who wanted to follow their way of life. The young man was called a novice. Here is the story, if I can remember it right.
A day out and the walk home
“One day Abba John was coming home from visiting Abba Gregory, whom he was in the habit of visiting once a year to discuss the things of God. On his way home Abba John and his novice met a beautiful young woman walking along the road towards them. As they came up close Abba John looked at the beautiful young woman, smiled and said a few words to her, then continued on his way, his head bowed in prayer.
“When the two men arrived back at their cells the young novice turned to Abba John and said, ‘Abba John, why did you speak to that beautiful young woman on the way? Was that not risking temptation?’
“What young woman?” Asked Abba John. ‘Oh, the young woman from earlier. Yes, she was beautiful and I admired her beauty. But when we passed her on the road, I left her there!”
Look but don’t stare
Abba John was a shrewd man. He knew how to admire the beauty of the world and to leave it behind him. There is an old and useful saying that also comes from the Desert Fathers, “Let there be no beginnings.”
The time to put a halt on these things is at the very start. So often in life we talk ourselves into handlings and then, when we have said too much and can’t back out, we often go ahead, even against our will, and knowing that we run the risk of destroying our lives.
But don’t get sick
If you were listening to the Nolan show last week you would have heard an interview that should have made you angry. Valerie Watts, who holds a senior position in the health service here, told Stephen Nolan that there are no new medicines available in Northern Ireland this year, because the people in Stormont have not sorted the welfare carry on yet.
Basically what this means, according to Mr Nolan, is that people in Scotland, England and Wales have access to better health care than us: they can access new and improved drugs while we have to make do with aspirin.
But who is really sick
Stormont is at least providing one function: it is proving beyond doubt that Northern Ireland is ungovernable. No matter how you go about it, when you have two parties who see politics as hatred of their neighbour then you are going to be caught in interminable conflict.
There is no way this country could go back to majority rule. The two sides in Stormont can barely speak to each other, the country is seething with sectarian hatred which lies only just below the surface, and no one even wants to address the real issues.
The return of Perfidious Albion
England is playing a shrewd game. With the demise of the empire and the rise in nationalism in these islands, England no longer cares about what is happening in the home colonies. They will dole out the money to the devolved parliaments and let the natives do with it as they wish.
If we in Northern Ireland want to spend our money on excess politicians and policing contentious parades then so be it. Do you think Westminster gives a hoot if we don’t set enough aside to buy new drugs?
Ah, God, I’ve got myself depressed. What will I do?
I think I’ll take my telephone and go and listen for the aliens. If they don’t call within two minutes (I have a short attention span) I will come in and join Ashley Madison and book a flight to Ottawa; then I’ll be happy.
When all that fails I’ll come home and sit down and talk to the wife. There is enough beauty in her to keep me going a lifetime. Sure that is why I married her.
The views expressed are not necessarily those of the editor but are the views of the writer.
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