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But my friend had sparks in her eyes, the kind that emanate from people who confuse facts for knowledge, evidence for science. I listened to her convince herself. I sighed. Why would the sun be a star? Why be a star when you are already a sun?
So my friend gave me a book and said if I was so certain, then I should read it and convince her why it couldn’t be true. I read the book. It was called “Cosmos,” by Carl Sagan, and I never should have read it. Sagan was a scientist, and people like him use words in a deceptive sort of way so that it makes a deceptive sort of sense, and can, after not much difficulty, break even the strongest will. He described a mind-defying universe where suns confuse themselves with stars, where distances are so vast that they are measured in light years, where suns are drawn by gravity into galaxies, swirling in a cosmic dance across space like clusters of lovely seashells in the vast, empty ocean. Countless suns, countless galaxies, all the time, everywhere.
I tried to convince another close friend, a Hasidic woman, to read “Cosmos,” too. That way we could be confused together. She said that a book like that is a test of faith and I shouldn’t have read it to begin with.
She was right, of course. Why had I read it? Because now that I had, I knew God’s terrible secret; that his universe is large, and that He pounds out worlds like matzo balls, as many as He pleases, without so much as glancing at Earth. And from wherever He is in the terrifying vastness, up and beyond, could He see us at all? Did He care that we are here, a floating speck of planetary dust among the unfathomable largeness of space, where light just travels and travels and travels, never stopping, never ending, for billions and billions of years longer that it is supposed to?
I tried to understand God. I mean, we humans have always wanted a God that is all-great and all-powerful, but not quite like that. Just enough so we could pretend He is a lot like us and we are enough like Him, and that the universe is not much larger than our minds.
I never finished reading the book. I stopped halfway, when, for the fifth time, I read the word “evolution.” I felt uncomfortable with the book, as if it were a dirty thing I had touched. My formerly Hasidic friend said the word “evolution” often, without wincing, as if there were nothing to be afraid of at all.
“Who are you to tell God how to create the world?” she asked. “And if He decided to do the job through Evolution? What are you going to do, ban Him?”