Another New Gnosticism
The New Geocentrists
By Karl Keating
Publisher: Rasselas House
Pages: 366 pages
Review Author: Christopher Beiting
Every family has one. The uncle who’s convinced the moon landings were faked. The cousin who believes 9/11 was an inside job. The grandmother who’s sure human beings coexisted with dinosaurs. And so on. Alas, the Christian family is no different. We have our fair share of kooks as well. From Catholic Answers founder and noted apologist Karl Keating comes an interesting book that examines one new aspect of this phenomenon: the bizarre resurgence in recent years of geocentrism, or the notion that the earth is fixed and unmoving at the center of the universe, not just in fundamentalist Protestant circles but in traditionalist Catholic ones as well. Keating’s work, as its title suggests, focuses not on the movement itself (though at times Keating does deal with specific flaws in the theory) but rather on the people responsible for it. While it is tempting to dismiss this whole phenomenon as lunatic-fringe stuff, unworthy of the attention of an author of Keating’s stature, Keating demurs, and he draws some interesting conclusions about the subject. His book is, in turn, informative, amusing, and deeply disturbing.
The New Geocentrists covers three main subjects. It begins with a consideration of the works of Solange Hertz and Paula Haigh, two radical traditionalist Catholic writers for journals such as The Remnant who, as part of their complaints about most aspects of modernity, also find time to criticize modern cosmology, essentially seeking a traditional, old-fashioned, hierarchical view of the cosmos to go along with their desire for a traditional, old-fashioned, hierarchical view of human society. Which means, in essence, that Galileo was wrong: By displacing the earth from its traditional place in the center of creation and claiming that it revolved around the sun, Galileo would end up destroying the dignity of man and the basis for a traditionalist, religious, God-centered view of the cosmos. This pattern of thinking tends to be what drives most of the new geocentrists: a dislike of modernity, a longing for traditional authority, and, frankly, a sense of wounded pride.
The New Geocentrists then moves on to consider two main individuals and their work. The first is Gerardus Bouw, a Protestant and former leader of the geocentrist revival (and one of the few involved in it who possess any kind of formal training in astronomy); the second is Robert Sungenis, a Catholic and the current leader of the movement. Author of the massive, self-published, three-volume work Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right and the didactic novel The Copernican Conspiracy, as well as the driving force behind the strange documentary film The Principle, Sungenis and his associates occupy the lion’s share of the work.
And upon close inspection, what a bizarre gallery of rogues they prove to be. Keating asks not whether their arguments are right or wrong but whether they have any credibility to make their arguments in the first place. The reader is, of course, left to judge, but Keating is able to establish a number of things about them. First, few have any formal scientific training or certification, and of those who don’t, some have on multiple occasions grossly misrepresented or exaggerated their qualifications. Furthermore, a number of these authors are guilty of severe academic sins: several high-profile acts of plagiarism, a number of cases of selective or misleading use of sources, and a consistent inability to do accurately (or in some cases, refusal to do at all) the basic mathematics necessary to prove their points. It’s rather telling that Keating spends more pages of his relatively short book explaining the difference between geosynchrynous and geostationary satellites than Sungenis et al. do in the massive Galileo Was Wrong (and when they do, they get it wrong).
Things grow a little more sinister when the situation behind the production of the Sungenis-helmed 2014 geocentrist documentary The Principle is examined. On the surface, it is a competently produced film, featuring interviews with famous physicists such as Michio Kaku and Lawrence Krause and narrated by Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek: Voyager. In reality, the film has been the subject of consistent complaints on the part of those involved, several of whom claim they were falsely interviewed or deceived into participation in the project by being given fraudulent or misleading information (Krause and Mulgrew have been particularly vocal about the deception). When one considers the pattern of unprofessionalism, sloppiness, or outright misdirection employed elsewhere by the new geocentrists, this should come as no surprise, nor should the fact that the producer of the film, Rick DeLano, was in 2002 the defendant in a $10 million legal suit over stock fraud.
It gets worse: Sungenis’s eccentricities are not limited to his support of geocentrism. He is on record as believing that dinosaurs coexisted with humans, that the sinking of the Titanic was an inside job, that crop circles are caused by NASA firing lasers or plasma weapons at the earth, that the moon landings were faked by Stanley Kubrick (a Jew), that 9/11 was an inside job (orchestrated not by Muslims but by Jews), that the tidal wave that struck Japan and set off the Fukushima reactor was not a natural event but was triggered (by Jews), that Monica Lewinsky’s seduction of Bill Clinton was orchestrated (by Jews), and that Kennedy was not assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald but by another group (the Mafia — no, sorry — the Jews). Oh, and, of course, the Holocaust didn’t happen either, at least not as is commonly accepted. Here’s the nasty stench at the core of the new geocentrism: not just the insanity of conspiracy-theory mania but the sempiternal nastiness of anti-Semitism. (Keating does not mention Sungenis’s long-running battle with his bishop, Kevin Rhoades, over his anti-Semitism. In 2008 Rhoades called Sungenis’s views “hostile, uncharitable, and unchristian” and made him remove the word Catholic from his apologetics ministry.) Of course, you won’t find any of this at Sungenis’s website — it all got conveniently erased and flushed down the memory hole at about the time he realized he had to go to Hollywood to get his movie made. But it’s all in print journals for anyone who cares to dig it up. And it’s not limited to Sungenis by any means; most of the prominent geocentrists are conspiracy theorists, and an ugly anti-Semitism links many of them. By contrast, Gerardus Bouw’s plagiarism, sloppy math, and beliefs that the constellations are a secret code for the Gospel of Christ and that the King James Version is the only infallible translation of the Bible seem almost quaint by comparison.
So, what is it with these kooks, and why should we care? Keating notes that, on one level, they’re a new manifestation of an age-old problem, gnosticism, which has always had its own allure. In his words: “There is an attractiveness in thinking oneself part of a group that has been preserved from errors that infect the rest of society…. There is a sense of anticipation in being part of a movement that might become the wave of the future. There is satisfaction in being privy to knowledge that is unknown to the generality of mankind.” Moreover, part of what drives them, paradoxically, is the sin of pride. “Are you significant?” is the tagline for The Principle, with the implication that, if the earth is not the center of the universe, we are not. The new geocentrists somehow fail to realize that our position as children of God does not depend on where we are in the cosmos but who we are with respect to God and what He has done for us. Keating is right to note that the new geocentrists are as sloppy with history as they are with everything else: even in the days when people lived with a geocentric concept of the universe, the fact that man was in the center gave them no comfort. For them, the center of the cosmos was not the best place but the worst — full of corruption and farthest from the perfection of Heaven. That was just as true for pagans as for Christians (see Cicero’s Dream of Scipio).
As to why we should care, Keating is in part driven by a laudable sense of charity — he is concerned that people who drink this Kool-Aid will, once they wake up and realize what a load of codswallop it is, wind up disillusioned and believing in nothing, neither religion nor science. That idea is commendable, but there is another reason why this sort of thing should be singled out for refutation and censure. The technology of the twenty-first century is, as Michael Shea has noted, a “force multiplier,” making it possible for a small number of malcontents to have a lot more influence, and do a lot more damage, than they have been able to do before. The fact that some rather high-profile people got sucked into, and snookered by, The Principle demonstrates this; we need to be on guard against it because we all suffer as a result.
It is amusing to contemplate that the new geocentrists excoriate Galileo and praise instead the authority of earlier Christian writers. They would do well to reflect on the following from St. Augustine’s The Literal Interpretation of Genesis (coincidentally cited by Galileo in his “Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina”): “In fact, it often happens that even a non-Christian has views based on very conclusive reasons or observations about the earth, heaven, the other elements of this world, the motion and revolutions or the size and distances of the stars, the eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of years and epochs, the nature of animals, of plants, of rocks, and similar things. Now, it is very scandalous, as well as harmful and to be avoided at all costs, that any infidel should hear a Christian speak about these things as if he were doing so in accordance with the Christian Scriptures and should see him err so deliriously as to be forced into laughter. The distressing thing is not so much that an erring man should be laughed at, but that our authors should be thought by outsiders to believe such things, and should be criticized and rejected as ignorant, to the great detriment of those whose salvation we care about. For how can they believe our books in regard to the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they catch a Christian committing an error about something they know very well, when they declare false his opinion taken from those books, and when they find these full of fallacies in regard to things they have already been able to observe or to establish by unquestionable argument?”
Or, to paraphrase the good bishop of Hippo: Get your science right, you idiots. You’re making the rest of us look bad in front of unbelievers.
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