This is a piece someone put together from video of Carl Sagan's work with the Voyager interplanetary spacecraft project and a bunch of clips from popular films (and music from Mogwai.)
I'm posting this video because I was thinking about it as I drove back from Prince George yesterday, through seemingly endless miles of Rocky scenery.
I stopped the car for a few minutes near Jasper and just looked at those mountains. I thought about how big they are, how old they are. For centuries we have traversed them, climbed them, named them, mined them, even blown chunks out of them for our trains and highways, and still they remain. Still they call to us, so hostile and yet so inviting. What is it about mountains that fascinates me so much? Why do I go down to Kananaskis every year and climb around on them? Why do I take pictures of them? Why do I pause and venerate them?
And then I thought about Carl Sagan and his "pale blue dot" speech; about how tiny these mountains are. All of that rock put together is insignificant compared to the mass of a larger planet, or to the galaxy, and so forth.
But Carl Sagan was wrong about our pale blue dot.
(from ~ 3:50 in the video)
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.
Sagan is right to say that our petty conceits are put in place by the vastness of the universe. We don't need to send a satellite out to the edge of the solar system to see that, though: I see it in towering mountains; I see it in the nearly-infinite expanse of oceans; I see it in the deep blue sky on a clear summer day.
I also see that in the complexity of a single leaf blown off a tree in autumn, or a pebble sitting in the bottom of a stream &mdash smoothed and shaped by the constant flow of water over a span of time that makes my life seem positively trivial. We don't need to measure the distance of a nearby star to be overwhelmed at our insignificance.
There's more to our humanity than just insignificance, though.
I see it in the smiles of my friends, and the tears of my loved ones. Humanity is so very fragile, and yet so very durable. We are angry, and yet we have the capacity for so much gentle patience... That's something worth remembering, too. Not the times when humanity meets your lowest expectations, but when we exceed the greatest visions of instinct and law and reason to do things that will break your mind. That's why we should deal kindly with one another. That's why we should cherish our home. Not because we are incapable, but because in spite of all the odds, amazing, wonderful, glorious things happen.
Carl was wrong about something else, though, and maybe this is the reason he doesn't give our life the credit that I think he should. You see, we can't do any of those wonderful things on our own; and life is petty, cruel and short. Humanity has proven time and again that we are incapable of dealing kindly with one another, that we cannot be trusted to fulfill our responsibility.
But in all of the height of a mountain peak, in the depth of an ocean, in the incomprehensible distance between our galaxy and the next, there more than just a hint that help will come from elsewhere. There is a universe crying out the name of just the one who will help us.
St. Anselm said that God is "something than which nothing greater can be imagined." Whether this is proof of God's existence is beside the point: however tall the highest mountain, however deep the deepest sea, however wide the universe really is, God is greater. God is bigger. God is more amazing.
And however wonderful the smiles of your friends, however tragic the tears of a child, however brutal the atrocities of war, know this: God sees it all, and God is greater than all of it. If Anselm was right, then God feels that pain. God feels that anger. God tasted that blood in his mouth. He also felt the joy of meeting a long-lost friend, and smiled at the pink-and-purple clouds of a summer sunset.
And he did it all for us.
Far from insignificant, God has proven to us once and for all time that however small our pale blue dot, however selfish our actions, insignificant our victories, we are each more significant than any other thing in the entire universe.
Our responsibility is far more than Dr. Sagan seems to have imagined. It is our position of importance in the universe, our privileged position, that makes us significant. Alone of all the being on this earth, we can take the time to reflect on our actions, and our insignificance, as Dr. Sagan has.
And precisely because of that we are responsible &mdash not only to deal kindly with one another, but to live with ourselves. We are responsible to live each and every day with the knowledge that we have been given a second chance at life, and life more abundantly. We have been given patience that can turn anger into peace. We have been given joy that can turn mourning into dancing. We have been given hope, in spite of our sometimes bottomless hopelessness.
We are responsible to come to grips with forgiveness, grace, mercy, and above all else, with love.
My friends, God's love is worth more than all the hydrogen in all the stars in all the universe.