The Space Shuttle and American Evangelicalism

Roger Boisjoly.  Never heard of him?  He would have probably preferred it that way.  See, Mr. Boisjoly, who passed away last month, was an aerospace engineer.  Literally, a “rocket scientist”.  And by all accounts, one of the smartest guys you’d ever meet.  Why does he hold any notoriety? Why would I bring him up in a blog about Christianity?   Because Mr. Boisjoly paid a great deal of attention to something very “trivial” in the massive scope of the space program; the “O” ring.

Mr. Boisjoly had found data which indicated that in cold weather, the “O” rings, which sealed the shuttle’s multi-stage booster rockets, would stiffen and unseal.  In an internal memo, he predicted a “catastrophe of the highest order”, “involving loss of human life”.

On January 27, 1986, Boisjoly reported to his superiors that a launch during such cold weather would be too dangerous, that the seals would likely fail and “if the seals failed the shuttle would blow up.”  For hours, he argued with colleagues and managers to stop the launch.  They initially agreed, but then moved forward.

“I am appalled,” said NASA’s George Hardy, according to Boisjoly and our other source in the room. “I am appalled by your recommendation.”

Another shuttle program manager, Lawrence Mulloy, didn’t hide his disdain. “My God, Thiokol,” he said. “When do you want me to launch — next April?”

“We thought that if the seals failed the shuttle would never get off the launch pad,” Boisjoly said. So, when Challenger lifted off without incident, he and the others watching television screens were relieved.

“And when we were one minute into the launch a friend turned to me and said, ‘Oh God. We made it. We made it!'” Boisjoly continued. “Then, a few seconds later, the shuttle blew up. And we all knew exactly what happened.”

The explosion of Challenger and the deaths of its crew, including Teacher-in Space Christa McAuliffe, traumatized the nation and left Boisjoly disabled by severe headaches, steeped in depression and unable to sleep. When I visited him at his Utah home in April of 1987, he was thin, tearful and tense. He huddled in the corner of a couch, his arms tightly folded on his chest. But he was ready to speak publicly. – NPR online “Remembering Roger Boisjoly”, February 7, 2012

This sounds far too similar to discussions within American christianity today.  Those who point out departures from orthodoxy, wrong ideas about God, are painted as “nitpicky”, “divisive”, “arrogant”, or “unloving”.   In an era where more information is readily available to the church than ever, we perish due to a lack of knowledge.   We quickly brush aside the battles of councils past, completely unconcerned with accuracy.  We sacrifice precision in speech and thought on the altars of unity, growth, and relevance.  In an attempt to avoid anything dogmatic, we eschew theology altogether.. yet ironically, what we create isn’t a lack of theology, but a vacuum in which members create their own aberrant theologies.  “Deeds not Creeds” leads to wrong-headed ideas about what it is we are doing in the first place.

To draw the analogy with the space shuttle, why would you bother a new brother with something as insignificant as the “O” ring of “persons” vs. “modes” in the Trinity?  Because it matters! Because God has revealed Himself to us in His word. How, then, shall we fashion for ourselves inaccurate (at best) or false (at worst) ideas of God to worship?

As I begin this blog, it is my sincere desire to write precisely about the orthodox, historical,  Christian faith.  My heart is for those who seek to know Him more, lest we be like those who neither know, nor care about the accuracy of the faith.  For if we love our Master, we will love to know Him more, and the study of knowing God is Theology.  (Not “feeling” God, not looking inside yourself for your views of Him, rather externally to how He has revealed Himself to us through his word.) Theology matters.  Truth matters. Accuracy matters… because He matters.