Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Did the Chief of NASA Say We Need to Pray To God?

No. No he did not.

The headline on regarding humanity’s ability to detect and defend earth from asteroids was: NASA chief says only God can defend Earth against asteroid attack. This is an example (just one) of the idiocy of the American media and the death of journalism. At no time did Charles Bolden, the chief of NASA, say anything about “god.”  What he did say concerned a hypothetical threat and NASA’s ability to detect it in time. Bolden stated: 
“From the information we have, we don't know of an asteroid that will threaten the population of the United States. But if it's coming in three weeks, pray."
In the original Reuters article, which—by the way—is the source that cites, Bolden makes no mention of god (meaning just made it up). Whether he meant pray as in “pray to your specific deity” or just as a sarcastic comment that we may as well "pray" because we would be screwed, I can’t answer. What he did not say was only “God could defend the Earth.” He didn’t even say anything remotely like that. It may seem a minor point, but it is shoddy journalism and it distorts the original quote and concept.

Two other aspects of this I think are important enough to mention:

1) Examples like this are why we need to be careful in how we speak and what terms and phrases we say. I have no idea if Bolden believes in the Abrahamic god, a “pagan” god, or none. I also don’t care. However, by using a religious terms such as “pray” he just inserted a separate concept and answer into a serious conversation therefore muddying the waters. It would have been better to say: 
“From the information we have, we don't know of an asteroid that will threaten the population of the United States. But if it's coming in three weeks, you may as well kiss your ass goodbye."
Ok maybe not that exact turn of phrase, but if I had to put myself in his shoes I bet that is what he meant by “pray.” He was trying to drive home the point that we have absolutely no defense against something discovered that will impact in the short term. I doubt he meant, whether he is a believer or not, that prayer is the answer. Again, not knowing his intention I cannot say what he really thought or meant. My point here is that atheists and agnostics (or however you define yourself) need to purge certain phrases and language from our speech because what we are doing is propagating a concept that we do not accept. Using terms and phrases like “pray”, “faith”, “Thank God!”, Jesus Christ!”, etc. only make their use ubiquitous and the majority (believers) feel even more in the majority. That may be true for now, but given the current trend it won’t be in the future. There is no time like the present to make that known. The religionists that like to push their brand of religion onto others almost always say something to the effect that “most people believe in X, so you should shut up.”  By using these terms and phrases we only reinforce that perception.

For example, go back to the article and read the comments or you can watch a reactionary video from a “theologian” after the jump below. This is what happens when we inadvertently use religious language in everyday speech. It bolsters their confirmation bias that everyone thinks like they do, that prayer and god are the only solutions to life’s problems, and that even the godless (or what they perceive as godless) ultimately secretly believe.

2) The assumption of "God" on’s part implies the Abrahamic god of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As the original quote makes no mention of god, the writer for MSN inserted their own god or an assumed god of the majority. It could be any of the other thousands of gods that are and have been worshiped, some for just as long if not longer than what most Americans believe in. I could sarcastically say "Maybe it's Zeus," and Jews, Christians and Muslims will snicker (or call for my head) however Zeus was worshiped by the fore bearers of Western culture for thousands of years just like their special biblical guy. The assumption that one god is true over others is nothing more than cultural dominance and indoctrination.


Anonymous said...

Although I am prone to saying, "Oh my god!" and "Dear lord" and "Jesus Christ!" I have started saying, "For fuck's sake!" which is sort of awesome, if not generally accepted in mixed company.

If I do say it, I always SPELL it, "For godssakes." Just because I like the implication of multiple deities on that phrase.