American Astronomer Carl Sagan narrated Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, an award winning television series that became the most widely watched series in the history of television.
In public elementary school, many students like me were shown clips of Sagan’s series, where he told us, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made of the interiors of collapsing stars. We are all made of starstuff.”
An alluring thought for many, perhaps, and it was brought recently to my mind because I saw the tail end of his quote “We are all made of starstuff” emblazoned across a little girl’s shirt. The shirt didn’t attribute the quote to Sagan, but it was accompanied by a sparkly unicorn.
That a star, distant, twinkly, and magical, at least in a Disney universe, should enhance our self-worth or make us wonder at the complexity of our chemical make up is a limited materialistic view that hearkens back to the tragedy of Romans 1.
“Therefore, God gave them up…because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”
Maybe I will make a t-shirt which proclaims: “Starstuff is not enough.” Really, the truth is that starstuff is just dust.
It is also true that we are just dust. In that, Sagan was correct. However, he was trying to form a deeper connection between the individual and the universe, the cosmos, as he put it. The connection can’t go any deeper because, as Sagan himself pointed out, it all boils down to nitrogen, calcium, iron, and carbon. No one can have a relationship with dumb elements.
Sagan’s well-documented use of marijuana and his advocacy for its legalization prove that starstuff was just dust for him too. He had to look outside of himself for a substance that could help him cope with the reality of daily life.
Christians believe that God formed man from dust, but He also breathed into man the breath of life, creating man in His image. This goes beyond the material, into a dimension of life which Sagan repeatedly doubted.
The Lord reached His holy hands into mud to form the material body of man, but when sin condemned the man to be returned merely to starstuff, the steadfast love and merciful character of our God would not leave it at that.
No. He became clothed in dust Himself in the incarnation and “tabernacled” among us. He subjected Himself to death, to be entombed in dust, so that He could rise, defeating death and raising us to walk in newness of life, an eternal life lasting longer than the life of any star.
In Lewis’s The Silver Chair, Puddleglum makes the argument for trusting in Aslan, the Christ figure, even while the enemy presents her dark, underground world as what is real. He says, “Then all I can say is that our made-up things seem a good deal more important than your real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one.”
Starstuff is a pretty poor substitute for a Living God who has defeated death and loves us enough to invite us to share in eternal life.