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Astronaut Mike Massmino services the Hubble Space Telescope in the cargo bay of the space shuttle Atlantis May 15, 2009. CNS photo/courtesy NASA

Editorial: A call for respect

  • November 9, 2017
Astronaut John Glenn believed science and faith were interconnected parts of the same world. He had no trouble reconciling Heaven and Earth.

After his final trip to space, this is what he said: “To look out at this kind of creation and not believe in God is to me impossible. It just strengthens my faith.”

From his spaceship miles above the Earth, Glenn experienced the wonders of science and the glory of faith, and he believed until his death last year at age 95 that God’s plan included both. Evolution was part of that grand design, but as one component only of “some power greater than any of us” across the universe.

Former astronaut Julie Payette, Canada’s neophyte Governor General, is of course free to hold a different view. One of Canada’s virtues is that anyone can reach public office regardless of where they stand on the religion spectrum. But Payette strayed out of orbit recently when she used a public podium to mock religious faith.

Her derision occurred Nov. 1 at the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa. Perhaps Payette was merely chasing applause from a roomful of scientists when she ridiculed those who see God’s divine hand in the cosmos. Her tone was described as mocking, even theatrical, as she championed science and compared religious believers to climate-change deniers and astrology fans, luddites all.

“Can you believe that still today in learned society, in houses of government, unfortunately, we’re still debating and still questioning whether humans have a role in the Earth warming up or whether even the Earth is warming up, period,” she cracked. 

“And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, lo and behold, a random process....

“And so many people — I’m sure you know many of them — still believe, want to believe, that maybe taking a sugar pill will cure cancer, if you will it!”

Payette stopped short of comparing sugar pills to prayer, but we got the idea.

It was an extremely disappointing performance by the Queen’s representative (particularly odd given that the Queen herself heads the Church of England). The duty of the non-elected, non-partisan Governor General is to unify the country by reflecting the shared values and beliefs of all Canadians. 

When it comes to religion, that means showing respect for the overwhelming majority of Canadians who believe in God — or staying silent on the topic. What people of faith received instead was a condescending snigger delivered to entertain a roomful of scientists. 

Going into space may not bring every astronaut closer to God, so Payette is free to reject religion. But her title obligates her to show it respect.

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