Curiously, in an election year that was supposed to be about jobs and the economy, social issues with a religious and spiritual dimension have played an important role. Observing the annular solar eclipse last month, I had a little fantasy about what it must have been like to be Giulia Ammannati, the mother of Galileo. So imagine if you will, that the year is 1616.
Mom: Leo, why are you packing? Are you taking a trip?
Galileo: I have to go to Rome, mom. This is really important.
Mom: Rome, Leo, why go to Rome?
Galileo: They are talking about banning the teachings of Copernicus.
Mom: And this concerns you how, might I ask?
Galileo: They’re wrong! At least I think they’re wrong, I should say I’m almost certain they are wrong.
Mom: Who is this “they?” And why should you care about some Copper Smith?
Galileo: Copernicus, mom. Copernicus. He was only one of the most brilliant scientific minds of all time.
Mom: Was? You say he was? You have to go to Rome to defend someone who is dead?
Galileo: Yes mom, he’s been dead nearly 60 years, and I am not going to defend him, but I think I have proven he was right. The earth rotates around the sun.
Mom: Oh Leo, not again with the “earth rotates around the sun.” I thought we were done with all of that — you’ve been making such a good living making spyglasses.
Galileo: They’re telescopes mom. Telescopes. And even though the tourists love them to look at scenery and the army likes to use them to see enemies, I improved them to look to the heavens.
Mom: You’ll be the death of me with this “look to the heavens.” Heavens, schmeavens, don’t you have enough to do here? Why can’t you just study music like your father and brother?
Galileo: But mom, don’t you see? I may have proven heliocentrism.
Mom: Enough of this nonsense young man.
Galileo: Mom, I’m 52 years old.
Mom: Yes and the church is 16 hundred years old and according to the clear teaching of the Bible, the earth sits in a fixed position.
Galileo: So you do know what heliocentrism is?
Mom: I keep up. And I keep up enough to know that you don’t change the Bible.
Galileo: But mom, I’m sure the writers of the Bible were not making statements about astronomy, they were just trying to describe the importance of the creation of the world. They didn’t have telescopes then and even St. Augustine said you shouldn’t take everything in the Bible literally.
Mom: Don’t you speak to me in that tone. You’re not so grown up that I can’t wash your mouth out with soap. If you want to know what the Bible says, you ask a priest.
Galileo: Mom, that thinking is so last century. It’s not even last century; a German named Luther translated the bible into German and said everyone should read the Bible for themselves in their own language.
Mom: Martin Luther indeed. Look what happened to him. Heretic! He’s lucky he didn’t get burned at the stake.
Galileo: He’s dead too, mom.
Mom: Ah ha! See, Leo. Nothing good can come from reading the Bible for yourself.
Galileo: Mom, he would be over 130 years old now.
Mom: OK, Mr. Smarty Pants. I guarantee you, in another hundred years no one will have heard of this German Luther fellow. Even if I did read it for myself, I know the Bible says the world sits in the same place; always has, always will.
Galieo: But in all 66 books there are only three or four verses that even suggest such a thing. I’m talking about science.
Mom: Listen to me and listen good, Leo. No one likes to be told that what they have been thinking for generations just doesn’t work. They get embarrassed, and then they get mad. We have done things a certain way for a long time for a reason. You don’t ask what the reason is anymore, it is what it is and those who shake things up get nothing but trouble. Why do you need to change the way people have thought about things for thousands of years?
Galileo: Because I have discovered the truth, and the truth cannot hurt anyone.
Mom: You just wait until your father gets home.
In 1633, Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy.” Under threat of torture, he recanted and lived under house arrest for the rest of his life. His writings were banned. In 1992, the finding was declared incorrect, and an apology was issued.
• Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.