This essay considers American Catholics who, from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, reflected seriously on the religious significance of technology in general, and space science in particular. American Catholics, while no more immune from the belief that space science would create fundamental changes in human life than their Protestant, Jewish, and secular counterparts, nevertheless sought to understand the Space Age in their own distinctive terms. Catholic discussion of these issues revolved around the contributions of two theologians. From the earliest moments of the Space Age, Thomas Aquinas provided a justification for the work of Catholic scientists and astronauts within a Cold War framework. However, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's cosmic vision helped American Catholics integrate feelings of wonder and hope with darkly realistic fears about the military consequences of the space race. Thomas and Teilhard, fundamentally optimists, helped Catholics elaborate a vision of a way forward through the very real threats Americans confronted in the “long 1960s,” a vision they developed in books, articles, and speeches, but also in art, liturgy, and fiction. Ultimately, however, both extreme hopes about cosmic unification and extreme fears about total annihilation modulated, and like their fellow Americans interested in space flight during the 1960s, American Catholics turned in the early 1970s to a renewed focus on the Earth.
- © 2015 by The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture