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Would Kuyper Go to Mars?

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Image credit: Randall Munroe. Image linked to the surprisingly prescient source.

In his otherwise excellent work The Problem of Poverty, the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper, as a man of his time (the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries), commended the merits of colonialism as if there were not already people in other lands with their own calling to “till the earth” that God had made. While unfortunate for his time and context, recent events may open up a case in which colonization may be the Christian duty Kuyper believed it to be: Mars.

“[W]e must never,” writes Kuyper,

as long as we value God’s Word, oppose colonization. God’s earth, if cultivated, offers food enough for more than double the millions who now inhabit it. Is it not simply human folly to remain so piled up in a few small places on this planet that men must crawl away into cellars and slums, while at the same time there are other places a hundred times larger than our native land, awaiting the plow and the sickle, or on which herds of the most valuable cattle wander without an owner?

To be generous, we might say that at least Kuyper wasn’t exactly an alarmist with regards to the idea of overpopulation. But that would be quite generous.

In reality, that land was the home and those herds were the livelihood of real people, made just as much in the image of God as Western Europeans like the Dutch.

But what if there was a truly uninhabited land, just waiting for human cultivation to serve for the needs of others and the glory of God?

The present-day Dutch believe that Mars is just such a place. According to NBC news,

The Dutch-based Mars One venture says it’s winnowed down its list of applicants to 50 men and 50 women who will compete for the chance to take a one-way trip to Mars. Yes, that’s the reward — not the punishment. The Mars One project plans to put on a reality-TV competition to select 24 prospective crew members for missions to Mars, starting as early as 2024. Winners would be expected to start up a permanent colony on the Red Planet.

In his book, The Case for Mars, former NASA aerospace engineer and a leading contributor to the Mars Direct proposal to send a manned mission to Mars, Robert Zubrin begins his chapter on “Terraforming Mars” with a traditional saying from the Netherlands: “God made the world, but the Dutch made Holland.”

But why not explore and colonize other frontiers on earth, such as the bottom of the oceans or Antarctica? Zubrin provides an interesting reply:

Mars has what it takes. It’s far enough away to free its colonists from intellectual or cultural domination by the old world, and unlike the Moon, rich enough in resources to give birth to a new branch of human civilization…. [T]hough the Red Planet may appear at first glance to be a frozen desert, it harbors resources in abundance that can enable the creation of an advanced technological civilization. Mars is remote and can be settled. The fact that Mars can be settled and altered defines it as the New World that can create the basis for a positive future for terrestrial humanity for the next several centuries.

We might, then, (mis)appropriate Kuyper’s comment in a far more favorable light. “Is it not simply human folly to remain so piled up in a few small places on this planet” when there is another perfectly good planet (with a few modifications) in our solar system just waiting to be terraformed and colonized?

I may not ever make there myself, but I love the idea of breathing new life into a dead planet. (Incidentally, this would in part take place through global warming, which I’m told we’re already good at.) Dutch reality TV aside, wouldn’t this be, in a way, beautiful? Wouldn’t it reflect the beauty of the Gospel, that though we were dead, Christ has given us new life?

So too, if God has given us the potential to cultivate the soil of Mars to vivify it with new civilizations and ecosystems, can we, “as long as we value God’s Word, oppose colonization”?

 

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Dylan Pahman Dylan Pahman is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, where he serves as managing editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He earned his MTS in Historical Theology from Calvin Theological Seminary. In addition to his work as an editor, Dylan has authored several peer-reviewed articles, conference papers, essays, and one book: Foundations of a Free & Virtuous Society (Acton Institute, 2017). He has also lectured on a wide variety of topics, including Orthodox Christian social thought, the history of Christian monastic enterprise, the Reformed statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper, and academic publishing, among others.