April 24th marks two very different anniversaries: the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Holocaust and Genocide and the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Hubble Telescope. The first anniversary represents the darkest side of human nature, while the second represents humanity at its most inspiring.
The killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks began on April 24th, 1915, and took over 1 million lives by the time it came to an end. Armenians call it Medz Yeghern (“the Great Crime”) and it is acknowledged by most historians and governments of the world, but it continues to be denied by Turkey.
As their empire faded into the dust, the Ottoman Turks also attacked other minorities, especially the Greeks and Assyrians. But the greatest tragedy was the one that befell the Armenian population. As the map further down graphically illustrates, the extermination of Armenians was conducted on a scale surpassed only by the Germans a couple decades later. Wholesale deportations, destruction of entire villages and communities, and concentration camps dotted the Turkish landscape. These killings were not a result of wartime, as the Turks continue to insist. This was a methodical attempt to exterminate an entire group of people. It was genocide by any definition! Armenian communities throughout the world – including our own state of Maine – are commemorating this great tragedy with many special events and memorial services.
The launch of the Hubble Telescope on April 24th, 1990, opened up the eyes of humanity to the ends of the universe. For 25 years the telescope has orbited above the earth’s atmosphere and has returned photograph after remarkable photograph of the immense glory and stupendous wonder of our universe. How can we look at the immensity of the universe and yet act in such small, selfish and monstrous ways to our fellow human beings? Do we not know that we are made of stardust and to stardust we return? This is the point where one can say to the religions of the world – including most versions of the Christian faith – “your god is too small.”
A god who condones violence – whether directly or by interpretation – is not a god worthy of the universe. On this anniversary of Hubble I’m tempted to say this about the Christian Church throughout the past 2,000 years. Would Jesus Christ identify himself with the hatred and selfishness that continue to be exhibited in his name? Or would Jesus tell us to gaze in wonder at every picture of space that Hubble sends down to the small-minded inhabitants of this earth? Yes, I can just hear the theologians object: But Jesus is the Word of God, he created this immense universe and all its wonders; he doesn’t need Hubble! You mean like he didn’t need this earth or a human mother? How easily we resolve everything by retiring to the divinity of Jesus! This is the monophysitic heresy of the church! Alive and well in every other sentence we speak or sing.
No, I prefer to stop sometimes and think of Jesus alone on a mountaintop or in the desert, gazing at the starlit sky and wondering how deep is this ocean of light and darkness above us. How many wonders will be discovered in the centuries to come as human beings learn to look upward instead of downward and inward to our own selfish motives?
Human beings have continued in their inhumanity ever since Jesus looked up at the sky. And yet, scattered throughout our centuries of violence and hateful acts, great spirits have dared to look beyond our darkened hearts and look to the skies for glimmers of light and hope. Today, our machines and ingenuity have enabled us to look into the very depths and origins of creation – 14 billion years ago – and, at the other extreme, into the tiniest domains of existence, where strange particles and mysterious forms of energy are joining the dance of continuing creation. The Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva, Switzerland, is doing for the extremely small scale what Hubble is doing for the extremely large scale of creation. The maps of existence they are creating are enough to blow away every fundamentalist lie and deception.
There is creation all around us – the antithesis of our destructive urges. This is why the two anniversaries on this day pose such huge questions to us. Do we continue killing each other, often in the name of a god who is too small? Or do we join the galaxies and the subatomic particles in the dance of unity that many great scientists have tried to encapsulate in that ever-elusive “theory of everything”? Perhaps because it is a dance that unites all levels of being is the reason why it is so difficult to reduce it to a single theory or equation. Perhaps by trying to find a “theory of everything” scientists are making the same mistake that religions have made with their gods. Perhaps scientists are trying to make the universe too small, like religions make god too small.
Then again, after many years or centuries, perhaps scientists will have their “theory of everything.” But in the meantime we can enjoy the spectacle that unfolds before us thanks to the good use of human ingenuity. Have you ever wondered why religious fundamentalists are against education? Because they don’t want their god to be exposed as too small. But the map of the universe is growing ever larger and more detailed. Science presses on, to replace the maps of human hatred with maps of incredible beauty and mystery. Consider the two maps below. Don’t they look similar? Yet, the first represents the evil of men, while the second gives us a glimpse into our neighborhood in the amazing universe. Psalm 8 sings with these words:
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens… When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of us, that you care for us? (slightly paraphrased)
The universe is the great equalizer. It puts our human acts in proper perspective. As we remember one act of human evil, let us celebrate the goodness of a God who is not too small and who beckons us to look at the heavens above.