In the wake of Yuri Gagarin’s historic ascent into “outer space”, Nikita Khrushchev remarked
As to paradise in heaven, we heard about it from the priests. But we wanted to see for ourselves what it is like, so we sent our scout there, Yuri Gagarin. He circled the globe and found nothing in outer space — just complete darkness, he said, and no garden at all, nothing that looked like paradise. We thought the matter over and decided to send up another scout. We sent Herman Titov and told him to fly around a bit longer this time and take a good look — Gagarin was only up there for an hour and a half, and he might have missed it. He took off, came back and confirmed Gagarin’s conclusion. There’s nothing up there, he reported. 
There’s a remarkable concentration in the saying by Khrushchev: it asserts that traditional talk about God “in the heavens” is referring to space that is above the sky. As we saw in a previous post that looked at the older models of the universe with regard to how the outer layers of the sky (or the spheres) were supposed to influence things on the earth, the sky was, at first, conceived of as a dome.
At a basic level, Khrushchev is correct (and this, despite Gagarin’s later religious beliefs). Continue reading
In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act I, Scene 2, Cassius says to Brutus concerning Caesar:
“The fault […] is not in our stars”, which stars are here connected to the “fates” of “men”. James Dunn notes, commenting on this passage, that
These “supra-mundane forces” are typically the gods, or some sort of divine/angelic (or demonic) powers. The notion of fate that accompanies the above passage from Shakespeare is, arguably, even more intense, and sounds rather Homeric, as though:
This fate is inescapable; yet it is not always, as is often thought, inflexible. It can be steered, and even in some cases escaped temporarily, though this fate will always catch up with the individual in the end. The Greek word for “fate” (“moira”, “moros” or even “aisa”) means portion or allotment: it is the lot that is assigned to one, as C3PO whines in Star Wars: A New Hope: “We seem to be made to suffer; it’s our lot in life.” This lot is what is simply “laid on us“, and includes what are the very ambiguous “gifts” (δωρα) of the gods —e.g., the loveliness of Helen of Troy; double edged gifts, if ever there were– that would not and cannot be chosen (“no one can have them by choosing” Iliad III.66); this lot includes, at its climax, death.
I suggested that the cup of this portion is, to some degree, flexible: Achilles in the Iliad has two fates he might fill up his allotment with [IX.410 ff., Fagles, 265], though some things are not flexible, because they are beyond one’s lot or portion, and pursuing them would bring about calamity for all. The fates are, it seems, above the Olympian gods such as Zeus, though he is the one who seems to distribute the portions, the limits of men — and as we see in the Iliad VIII.70 ff., where Zeus apportions different fates to the two different armies of the war in his “golden scale”, and in the Iliad XVI.400-550. [Fagles, 427], he can override the fates or portions of men, though the cost could be great, and would bring great turmoil and chaos even among the gods.
The historical-natural-cosmic and the theological are here one and the same. Here, there are no elemental powers that are not in some sense divine, and the difference between magic and religion, or between divination and naturalistic predictions, is unrecognized, moot. Continue reading