Yesterday I rhapsodized about SpaceShipOne and the Ansari X Space prize. In it I alluded to the unique LDS reasons for fascination with exploring space. Today I would like to expand on those reasons and on the unique opportunities that space expansion can present to the Kingdom. I writing this in earnest, but feel free to impute to me whatever degree of ironic distance permits you to tolerate what I have to say. It’s a little raw.
The unique LDS reasons for fascination with space are twofold. The first reason has organic roots in Mormonism but is strange and unsettling to us who are only used to the modern church. This first reason is LDS Zionism, which is the idea of building Zion or at least Deseret. No matter how much we talk about Zion families and Zion wards, the genuine Zion is a place apart politically and geographically. There is no such place today, nor can there be. Mormonism only has a critical mass in the Intermountain West, but even there the law and the institutions are largely those of the nation at large. Even in those areas where politically and culturally we could act, the Intermountain West shows surprisingly little difference from the rest of the country. If we are ever to evolve anything genuinely and uniquely Mormon, we need the real separation that this earth cannot afford us. Space offers real separation. Moonbases, Mars colonies, and space colonies with their ability to bemoved, give us a chance to have our own place. We could then learn what Mormonism was a way of life for a nation and not just for a person or a family. We could ask for the revelations that are now held back because they are moot. We could be a genuine city on a hill to the world, showing the real possibility of a different way of life, and similarly an inspiration to those members who would be left behind to live in the world and act with it. These are the benefits of Zion that space could offer us. What’s more, we would honor our roots. Our ancestors tried to build a nation in an inhospitable place and we are true to their memory–our hearts are turned to them and theirs to us–if we seek to carry on their work.
Given all this I’m surprised the Saints haven’t wondered more about what the future holds for us. Gentile SF writers have done it for us: Mormons have their own planets in Starship Troopers and in The Gripping Hand. But we haven’t. Do we hesitate to think so far ahead, seeing it as God’s province alone to make grand plans for the future?
Or perhaps we think our plans will make no difference? This is a worthwhile point. Space will open up. Men and women will settle. But not today or tomorrow or soon. The path that will lead to space colonies is so uncertain and expensive and reliant on enormous nonexistent infrastructure that the Church is in no position to launch its own efforts, despite its resources and the dedication of its members. But failing a utopian independent Mormon space program, what is there? Lots. We could do some good with prizes like the Ansari X Space prize I mentioned that seed innovation. Research into biospheres, for example, is woefully underfunded. We could help speed things along, probably. Yet even I, with stars in my eyes, wouldn’t want to use tithing funds and tithing time on such a wishful venture without some guiding word from Christ. And frankly, it would be very odd for the Church to do any such thing without preparing the ground among the members with talks and revelation explaining the meaning and importance of opening up space. In fact, at this early stage of affairs that initial step might be enough. It would keep members aware of space exploration, sensitize some of them in their politics, send some few more of them into the space industries and investment in those industries, and would give us a foot in the door if the time ever came. That’s probably the best we can do for now. LDS Zionism is a long-term goal that is both unsettling to the modern psyche and difficult to work towards in current circumstances.
The second goal is less alien to the modern American psyche but hardly more modest. This is the goal of leavening the loaf. A historical model is the Puritans, who thought they were separating themselves and failed, but did succeed in putting their stamp on the New World and making it hospitable for the survival of religion. Insomuch as there is a space community now of enthusiasts, researchers, and corporations, this second goal is achievable now. We just need to be active, as Mormons, and in the long course of things we will find that the new world of space will be hospitable to our views and our institutions. The space community now is a little thing but if it grows as it could we may find that the color we’ve added to the paint may be brushed over a very big barn indeed.
How to achieve this second goal? Simply, some Saints have to think about space expansion in connection to their religion, some have to act politically in favor of space expansion, some must go into the industries, into research, into investments–and we’re there rubbing shoulders and earning gratitude and making friends.
Mormons also have an opportunity to articulate the religious reasons for going to the planets and the asteroids. The space community feels it, but they can’t articulate it well. We can articulate it. God can speak to us in new revelation. We can draw on our existing revelations. Possible themes: the visions of the majesty of God’s handiwork; our knowledge the real and independent existence of the universe and the possibilities of increased relations with it; the holiness of increase and growth; the holiness of turning to our settler ancestors for inspiration; our being the children of God and growing to be like him through the work of creation; why it is that having a garden on the personal level is and making “the desert blossom as the rose” at the level of the Church was so important. This we can do.
Will we? Ask God. As for me, I will answer any call to pioneer Mars with a resounding yes (if only!) and until then will say yes to hometeaching and tithing and raising kids and will keep thinking about Mormons and space.