NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory calls the passage of a clump of “loosely packed icy dirt” called Comet Elenin close by earth (35 million kilometers) a not terribly exciting “coming attraction.” The 13th century minds among us cling superstitiously to the idea that its arrival heralds the culmination of the 2012 Mayan end-time scenario or the return of Jesus to earth.
The comet, says Don Yeomans of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif, “looks kind of wimpy.” So why the Internet buzz? As NASA typically deadpans, “There have been some incorrect Internet speculations that external forces could cause comet Elenin to come closer.”(See an examination of what could better be called hysteria at Discovery.com).
Will it inspire “some shifting of the tides or even tectonic plates here on Earth?” Will Jesus be hitching a ride on it?
NASA can’t answer religious queries – it’s not their department. But they can answer scientific questions, and comets are scientific, not religious phenomena.
“Comet Elenin will not encounter any dark bodies that could perturb its orbit, nor will it influence us in any way here on Earth,” said Yeomans. “It will get no closer to Earth than 35 million kilometers [about 22 million miles].”
But Paul Begley, a preacher at Community Gospel Baptist Church in Knox, Indiana, likes all that Internet buzz. WND tells us (apparently not having bothered to consult NASA, as I have), “Begley wondered aloud what sort of physical effect the comet might have.” WND could have saved some space on their site by just referring Begley to the correct URL but instead they quoted him. Not unhappy to have an opportunity to slap down the catastrophically ignorant (okay, I’m downright gleeful), I’ll play along:
“Will there be some type of magnetic pull? Will the poles shift? Will there be some type of pull of gravity that creates earthquakes and tsunamis and volcanoes and hurricanes and tornadoes and cyclones and mudslides, forest fires? What’s gonna go on?”
Yeomans has an answer to that question. He assures us (he’s a scientist, remember, not a local pastor):
“So you’ve got a modest-sized icy dirtball that is getting no closer than 35 million kilometers,” said Yeomans. “It will have an immeasurably miniscule influence on our planet. By comparison, my subcompact automobile exerts a greater influence on the ocean’s tides than comet Elenin ever will.”
Or as Ray Villard of DiscoveryNews puts it: “The effects of the comet on Earth at closest approach will be as inconsequential as that of a mosquito slamming head-on into an ocean-going supertanker.”
But you can almost hear the faithful cry: But what about Jesus???? (warning: better gulp down a few espresso’s to keep up with this guy):
It’s coming!” thunders Paul Begley, a preacher at Community Gospel Baptist Church in Knox, Ind., in a YouTube video. “It’s on its way and right in the middle of the Feast of the Trumpets, it is going to come through and get in between the Earth and the sun.”
The Feast of Trumpets, otherwise known as Rosh Hashanah, falls between sunset, September 28 – sunset, September 30 this year, 2011. Oh No! Oh, wait…what’s the Feast of Trumpets?
As Wikipedia reminds us,
“Not normally celebrated in Mainstream Christianity, a small number of evangelical Christians celebrate the Feast of Trumpets. Some connect the observance with the “sound of the trumpet” that they believe will occur at the return of Jesus Christ (“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God,” 1 Thessalonians 4:16).”
Don’t feel bad if it means nothing to you; it was nothing to me as Lutheran years ago. I spent 20 years not knowing a thing about it. And I never missed Jesus’ return, not even once.
But back to the 13th century…The comet will make its closet approach to earth on October 16, during the Feast of Tabernacles, which falls between sunset October 12, 2011 – nightfall October 19, 2011. Begley finds this significant.
“I’m here to tell you right now, we’re getting closer and closer and closer and closer to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.”
(Makes you wish we could find some Mayan priest to debate him, doesn’t it?) He quotes Scripture for our benefit (because scripture always trumps science):
“And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken. And then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory.” (Mark 13:25-26)
“And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.” (Luke 21:11)
Oops, like I said, no earthquakes, unless Yeomans’ subcompact automobile or a mosquito splatting on a supertanker can cause earthquakes. I hate to say the Bible is wrong where science is concerned (no, not really) so let’s just put it down to reality’s well-known liberal bias and leave it at that. I won’t even mention here that Paul of Tarsus, whom Christians believed actually talked to Jesus after he died assured us he would still be alive when Jesus returned (1 Thess. 4:14-18).
Sounds like Pastor Begley thinks this little ball of ice that you’re going to need binoculars or a telescope to see even on its brightest day, is going to bring Jesus back to earth. Why’s he slumming it? What, Christ couldn’t have found a flashier ride? It’s not like Elenin is Halley’s Comet, which we’ve been seeing since at least 240 B.C.E., or even 1997’s Hale-Bopp. This is not much of a ride to bring power and glory. He’s going to lose all his street cred with this fashion faux pas.
Once upon a time, pre-scientific humanity looked to the stars and saw omens in comets. Since then, we’ve discovered a great deal about the universe around us. But there are those who refuse to move out of the 13th century, including Christian fundamentalists – and apparently World Net Daily.
You won’t find headlines such as this in the New York Times. Not because the New York Times is particularly liberal – it’s not – but because the New York Times firmly inhabits the space that is called the modern scientific world. As for Begley – his pre-Renaissance mind is clearly not the pride of Hoosierdom, which makes WND a good home for him. I would respectfully (okay, not very respectfully) suggest to WND that they change their byline to “A Free Press for an Ignorant People.” I think that would be more suitable. At least until they leave the 13th century and stories like this behind.