Queen of Space



Yesterday, Milo ascended into the heavens. (You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you?) Okay, not in body, but in image and words. And, okay, he fell back to earth again, a modern-day Icarus on wings of helium. But he – or his authorial effigy – was up there above the clouds for over an hour, live-streaming his (book’s) adventure on Facebook.

Thousands of his fans joined in to watch; over 165,000 have now seen the video. In the livestream chat, some of them (trollishly?) insisted that the footage proved the earth was flat; others insisted that what we were watching was not actual footage captured in space, but only the book projected onto a green screen. Some of us (myself included) even believed for a moment that what we were seeing was live.

And why not? Do you realize how unspeakably cool it is that Milo – and a few other guys to help him – could do this? Launch a copy of his book up above the clouds, film the whole thing, and get it back? Ever so casually, just by following the GPS attached to the balloon. You know, as if it were an everyday occurrence.

Which, I’m sure you realize, it is. The balloon that they used looked pretty simple, just a single balloon attached to a metal strut. The camera was a GoPro, which anybody can buy for a few hundred dollars, depending on the model you choose. Things fell apart a bit when the assemblage hit the ground, but the guys were able to upload the footage so that thousands of us could watch Milo’s book soaring above the clouds. And how did we watch? On hand-held or laptop or desktop devices with astonishing computing power. In color. With sound.

*

Back in 1950, the pope exercised his infallible authority to pronounce ex cathedra on Christian doctrine for the first time in Church history.

(I know, you thought he did this all the time, but most doctrine has been affirmed through councils, not issued ex cathedra. The promulgation in 1950 was the first since the articulation of the doctrine of papal infallibility by the First Vatican Council of 1870.)

“By the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority,” Pope Pius XII wrote,
we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
This wasn’t, of course, a new teaching. The tradition of Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven goes back to antiquity. Its celebration had been a feature of the Orthodox liturgy since the beginning of the seventh century; the popes began observing its celebration soon thereafter. Throughout the Middle Ages, the feast of the Assumption was considered liturgically the same in rank as the greatest feasts of all: Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. But exactly how Mary had been assumed remained something of a question, and no council had ever pronounced on the particulars of the doctrine.

And then came modernity, and the exploration of space. And – perhaps not coincidentally – the papal pronouncement to the effect that, yes, Mary was bodily assumed.

Carl Jung was quite excited by the official pronouncement of the doctrine. “If the Assumption means anything,” he wrote to the Dominican priest Victor White, “it means a spiritual fact which can be formulated as the integration of the female principle into the Christian conception of the Godhead. This is certainly the most important religious development for 400 years.”

Feminist theologians like Mary Daly were unimpressed. “Although,” she opined in Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (1978), “protestants were alarmed at the papal proclamation of this dogma in 1950, the catholic myth-makers undoubtedly sensed, as least subliminally, that this final gesture was no threat to the primacy of the self-mothered godman.” Jung was wrong to hope that the dogma of the Assumption suggested the integration of the female principle into the Trinity. Rather, in Daly’s view, it only completed the demolition of the goddess. But, according to Daly, there was worse to come:
Having eliminated Mary, the ghost of the Goddess, [the religious rapism of traditional Christianity] sets up a unisex model, whose sex is male. Jesus, androcracy’s Absolute Androgyne, is male femininity incarnate. Unlike Dionysius, whom he spiritually incorporates, he is not a member of a pantheon of female and male peers. He is the Supreme Swinging Single, forever freed from challenge by Forceful Furious Females. Moreover, the male-identified femininity of the unisex christian model does not negate male masculinity/sadism. Rather, it accepts this. This christian demolition of the Goddess and mythic establishment of male divinity has paved the way for the technological elimination of women through the application of modern medicine, transsexualism, cloning, and other forms of genetic engineering.
And you thought “I BATHE IN MALE TEARS” was bad! Daly famously refused to allow men even to take her advanced women’s studies courses at Boston College, never mind speak. Wouldn’t you love hearing her debate feminism with Milo? (She died in 2010, alas.)*

*

I refuse to believe that something of this imagery was not in the back of Milo’s mind when he and the guys decided to launch his book into space. Why else make such a big deal in his Facebook posts about being able to see the Great Wall, Amy Schumer, and Rosie O’Donnell from there? He was going to be the queen for the day, while they would remain hopelessly earth-bound – and fat.

Okay, he probably wasn’t thinking in exactly these terms – about Jung and the role of the feminine in Christian theology and Daly’s claim that Jesus was “androcracy’s Absolute Androgyne.” But, you know, close. Or maybe it’s just that I have been thinking in more or less these terms for the past thirty years, ever since I read Gyn/Ecology while backpacking across Europe with my boyfriend and trying to figure about what being a medievalist meant.

You see, I had meant to become an astronaut. I’m serious. I was an undergraduate at Rice University in Houston, and Rice owns the land on which the Johnson Space Center was built. Although I didn’t appreciate it at the time, I did my first ever research paper, back in fourth grade, on President John F. Kennedy. You know, the one who launched the manned space program in a speech that he gave on campus at Rice. (I got a C+ on that paper, and my dad got really mad. Not about the C+. About the fact that I was writing about Kennedy, whom he loathed.) The first real research paper I did, one snowy winter in eighth grade, was on the manned space program. As part of the assignment, we were supposed to write off for information. I wrote to NASA and got lots of wonderful pamphlets on the history of the program, plus some cool prints of the space shuttle which was then being built. I spent high school convinced that I was going to be able to go up – bodily – into space. Just like Princess Leia. Or Mary.

Mary got me my junior year in college and has refused to let me go. But I miss those years of reading science fiction and OMNI magazine (cover-to-cover, every month). I miss geeking out over Robert E. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert. I miss the dreams of going into space. I miss the stars. Most of all, however, I miss the joy.

Do you remember when Star Wars first came out, how fun it was? OMG, the movies that we grew up with in the seventies! They were all so...depressing. Okay, I was little young to see some of the really depressing ones until I was older, but I have no memory of any movie before Star Wars affecting me in quite that way. Giving me hope that there were adventures to be had, even if only in a galaxy far, far away. I wanted adventures like that, with dashing, roguish pilots at my side, and civilizations at stake.

And then something happened, and it all went away. First, I was stronger at Latin than mathematics and physics, which was fine. Then, I got drawn into the study of the scriptures and the history of religion. But something changed culturally as well, after Challenger exploded in January of my senior year. It was as if the heart went out of our country when the crew of Challenger died. Although  the space shuttle program came back – eventually – and some of my friends actually became astronauts (which was very cool), the magic was gone. We – the country – no longer believed.

*

But what did we no longer believe? In ourselves? In America? In the adventure of aiming for the stars? Thirtysomething years ago, when my boyfriend and I were on our Grand Tour the summer before the Challenger blew up, we were all still convinced that the US and USSR might end up in a nuclear war. My friends and I knew that President Reagan was, if not a bad guy, then a fool. We knew it because the grown ups told us so; plus, he was just so smooth-talking when you saw him on television. And he had that idiotic idea that we as a country could protect ourselves from nuclear missiles with lasers or some such. And then, three or four years later, the Berlin Wall came down – but the stars never came back.

It’s odd, really. I am sitting here writing on a machine I could only dream of at that time. Sure, we had Macs, with – wait for it – all of 512k RAM. There was no public internet. You listened to music on cassette tapes or (wonder of wonders!) CDs. And HBO was still the best way to see movies, at least until rented tapes became the thing. Everything was new and fresh and exciting. And, okay, I was young. But the young people I know now don’t seem to have the hope that we did. Certainly not the young people who have spent the past year protesting Milo’s talks.

I blame Mary Daly. I really do. I blame her for the poison that has seeped into our culture, separating women from men. But even more I blame her and feminists like her for poisoning the images that we had of hope. Of the Mother of God being assumed gloriously into the heavens not because God wanted to rape her or obliterate her femininity, but because he loved her as his creature, mother, sister, and bride, and wanted her to be with him in heaven as his queen.

Daly wanted none of that. Pick a passage, any passage, more or less at random from Gyn/Ecology, and you get the gist:
The majority of those who believe themselves to be sophisticated would probably deny that taking christian [NB lowercase] myth “seriously” has had any controlling effect on their behavior or beliefs. The fact is that the symbols of christian and prechristian patriarchy permeate Western culture and are actively promoted by Western technocracy. The messages of murderous misogynism are simultaneously superrefined and super coarsened. Moreover, the christian church prepared the way for post christian mental/moral dismemberment by morally coercing its members to believe the blatantly bizarre. The penalty for refusing such forced acts of “faith” was eternal damnation and hellfire. The descendents (sic) of christians (including former christians as well as those remotely controlled by the general heritage) have been trained to believe the unbelievable. Thus trained, they are ripe for the rapes of the professional bureaucratic and technological tyrants, the fabricators of texts and textiles that contort minds/bodies. In a particular way they are vulnerable to the violations of the media massagers, the sublimating ad-men.
It is hard to know where to start in unpacking such passages (the book is full of them). Was Daly a prophet or madwoman? Lunatic or seer? It all sounds so...current. Except for the part about who is controlling whom. Did I mention that Daly taught at Boston College, a Jesuit school? Of course, she is right about “the majority of those who believe themselves to be sophisticated” denying that they have been in any way influenced by Christian myth. But everyone who is anyone knows that the West promotes patriarchy and “murderous misogynism” and that Christianity is to blame. Plus, of course, that Christianity was all built on lies. Sorry, “the blatantly bizarre.”

Like, for example, the belief that God loves the world and suffers when his children do. Or that he made them in his image and likeness to be makers of things, to be curious and artistic and willing to reach for the stars. Or that he gave them free will to obey or disobey his commandments, preferring children to robots whom he could control. Or that he made them both male and female to be companions and helpmeets.

“Thus trained [in such beliefs],” Daly would contend, “[Christians] are ripe for the rapes of the professional bureaucratic and technological tyrants, the fabricators of texts and textiles that contort minds/bodies. In a particular way they are vulnerable to the violations of the media massagers, the sublimating ad-men.”

*

Sending his book into space – literally, sublimating it – was a media stunt. Of course it was. “Seek attention,” Milo tells readers of the book.
We live in an age where the competition for attention is getting tougher and tougher. Half a century ago, everyone watched the same channels on TV because, well, there wasn’t much else. Now there are thousands of channels, YouTube feeds, books, games, and websites competing for the public’s eyeballs. If what you have to say is important, you have to know how to get people listening.
Even a thousand years ago, there were already too many books to read. It is the first rule of rhetoric. You must first capture your audience’s good will. But how do you capture their good will when their minds are already filled with the fear of eternal damnation and hellfire? With the fear of being called racist or sexist or homophobic or Islamophobic or transphobic simply for affirming your faith in your own culture, including its technology and art?

Milo knows: by having fun. And what could be more fun than sending your own book into space just because – thanks to the wonders of modern technology and our faith in ourselves as makers – you can?

Image credits: MILO in space; Titian, Assunta (1516-1518); the balloon goes up with Milo’s book.

*And, yes, Daly is saying some very interesting things here about transsexualism. Too much to unpack in one go. 

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