How a Rising Religious Movement Rationalizes the Christian Grasp for Power

On the dangers of the Seven Mountain Mandate.

One of the great challenges of the present age is deciding when ideas or concepts that are seemingly far from the mainstream are worth highlighting and critiquing. On the one hand, there’s the danger of “nutpicking”—of highlighting fringe voices and wrongly describing them as representative of your opponents’ beliefs. 

On the other hand—in part because of the stress and pressure of the pandemic and the intensity of political polarization—there are previously obscure (and even crazy) ideas that have become suddenly and violently relevant to American life. QAnon is a prime example. 

Today I’m going to talk about something called the Seven Mountain Mandate. While it’s a term that few people know, the core concept is deeply influential to the way in which millions of Evangelicals approach culture and politics. It’s a concept that has its uses, but it’s also subject to profound abuse. In short, it often confuses Christian power with biblical justice, and it creates incentives for Christians to not just seek power but to feel a sense of failure and emergency when they are not in positions of cultural or political control.

The origin of the Seven Mountain Mandate rests with an alleged divine revelation shared by Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With a Mission, and the theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer. Not one of those men is fringe. They’re among the most influential Evangelicals of the modern age. And what was that revelation? Cunningham explains it in the short YouTube below:

In its distilled essence, the Seven Mountain concept describes seven key cultural/religious institutions that should be influenced and transformed by Christian believers to create “Godly change” in America. The key to transforming the nation rests with reaching the family, the church, education, media, arts, the economy, and the government with the truth of the Gospel.

At one level, this analysis seems less like revelation and more like logic. Each of these men accurately described important arenas of life, and if Christians truly want to be “salt and light” in the world, they should want to comprehensively cultivate true biblical values in American culture.

To put it another way: If God asks mankind to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God,” He does not intend that those virtues be confined to church. The fruits of the spirit—“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”—are not mere Sunday School values. They should pervade our interactions with the wider world.

Moreover, if and when those seven key institutions become instruments of injustice, Christians should respond. To take some obvious examples, if the “mountain” of government turns against its citizens, Christians have an obligation to stand with the oppressed. If the mountain of popular culture transforms the beauty of art into the perversion of porn, Christians must resist. And if the mountain of education teaches falsehoods, Christians have an obligation to tell the truth. 

The command to “do justice” has real force, and it’s incumbent on Christians to seek justice across the length and breadth of American life.

But there is an immense and important difference between seeking justice and seeking power. In fact, the quest for power can sideline or derail the quest for justice. And that’s where we get to the real problem—the difference between a Seven Mountain concept and a Seven Mountain mandate or Seven Mountain dominionism.

In 2013, Bethel Church pastor Bill Johnson and author Lance Wallnau co-authored a short book called Invading Babylon: The 7 Mountain Mandate. In that book, here’s how Wallnau described the stakes:

Each of these seven mountains represents an individual sphere of influence that shapes the way people think. These mountains are crowned with high places that modern-day kings occupy as ideological strongholds. These strongholds are, in reality, houses built out of thoughts. These thought structures are fortified with spiritual reinforcement that shapes the culture and establishes the spiritual climate of each nation. I sensed the Lord telling me, “He who can take these mountains can take the harvest of nations.” (Emphasis added.)

“We don’t really have a choice in the matter,” he writes. “It will require nothing less than the government of God to dispossess and occupy the territory dominated by the gates of hell.” He continued, “The sober truth is that everywhere the Church fails to exercise her authority, a vacuum opens for darkness to occupy.”

Wallnau went on to describe the importance of “mountain kings”—those individuals who have a “position in a high place” and who wield influence over “their own sphere directly and other spheres indirectly.” It is thus of urgent importance for Christians to reach, influence, or even become these “mountain kings.”

At its most extreme edges, Seven Mountain dominionism holds that Christ will not return unless and until the church successfully invades or “occupies” each of the seven key spheres of life.

Seven Mountain dominionism is common within the so-called “New Apostolic Reformation,” a term that describes a charismatic movement that is attempting to restore the so-called “lost offices” of apostle and prophet. These new apostles and prophets place great store in their ability to discern the will of God for individuals and for the nation. A number of these “prophets” accurately predicted the rise of Donald Trump and then confidently predicted another Trump victory in 2020.

One of those Seven Mountain adherents, Paula White, became arguably Trump’s closest spiritual advisor, chair of his Evangelical Advisory Board, and a special advisor to the White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative.

Astute readers will by now have noticed two things. First, you’ll note the extent to which the heart of this strategy (or mandate) isn’t based on clear scriptural commands but rather on claimed special revelations from God. Second, you’ll note how much it emphasizes the importance of placing people in positions of power and control.

Taken together, these realities explain at least some of the hysteria surrounding Trump’s electoral loss. Seven Mountain dominionism joins with other forms of Protestant Christian dominionism, Christian nationalism, and newly emergent strains of Catholic integralism (which seeks to integrate Catholic “religious authority with political power”) to place an immense amount of spiritual importance on political leadership.

In Invading Babylon, Wallnau makes this explicit. He says, “The business of shifting culture or transforming nations does not require a majority of conversions.” What does it require? “We need more disciples in the right places, the high places.”

To put it another way, when Trump lost the election, the church not only lost a “mountain king,” alleged apostles and prophets lost their own access to the “high places.” They also lost a portion of their spiritual credibility. The post-election challenges weren’t just the path to preserve the presidency—for some of Trump’s most fervent and prominent Evangelical leaders, they were a means of preserving the integrity of their divine pronouncements.

Yet belief in those pronouncements dies hard. When Jeremiah Johnson, a man who claims to possess a “prophetic anointing,” predicted Trump’s win in 2015 had the integrity to apologize for falsely prophesying that Trump would win re-election, the backlash was immense. The New York Times’s Ruth Graham tells the story:

On Facebook, [Johnson] reported that he received “multiple death threats and thousands upon thousands of emails from Christians saying the nastiest and most vulgar things I have ever heard toward my family and ministry.” He also said he had lost funding from donors who accused him of being “a coward, sellout, and traitor to the Holy Spirit.”

There’s also a tragedy inherent in Christian support for Donald Trump as our “mountain king.” There’s little evidence that he brought biblical justice to our land. Quite the contrary. He left us diseased and divided. He drenched America in a tidal wave of lies. 

What is the alternative to the pursuit of power? I prefer the wisdom of Martin Luther King Jr. “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool.”

Christians can never forget that they live in what my pastor once called an “upside-down kingdom.” The last shall be first. If you want to save your life, you’ll lose it, but if you lose your life for Christ, you’ll save it. And don’t forget, the Son of God himself spent his entire life on earth far from the mountaintop.

He was born in a manger distant from the centers of power. He was the friend of sinners. He was persecuted and punished by a “mountain king” named Pilate and executed next to a thief. When he rose, he appeared not to Caesar but to a small band of ordinary men and women who would become martyrs, not rulers.

Christ prevailed, as my friend (and seminary professor) Curtis Chang told me, not by fighting from the commanding power of the heights, but by fighting from “utterly different terrain.” When scripture calls Christians to “take up your cross and follow me,” it’s declaring, in Curtis’s words, that “our mountain is Golgotha”—the dusty Israeli hill where Christ was crucified.  

No amount of special revelation or modern-day prophecy should take our eyes off that biblical model. Any admonition that declares that we must rule should be checked with the immediate reminder that Christ did not. It is the cross—not the boardroom, not the Oval Office, and not the box office—that is the absolute center of the Kingdom of God.

One last thing …

Every now and then, I like to end with a song that’s pure joy. This fits the bill, both in lyrics and performance. Ellie Holcomb is a reader favorite, for good reason. Enjoy:

Why Is it So Hard to Reach the Christian Conspiracy Theorist?

When fellowship is superior to facts.

I’m going to share with you the question I get more than virtually any other. It comes from sons and daughters, husbands and wives, uncles and aunts. It's a simple question with a hard, complicated, and often completely unsatisfactory answer. Here it is:

A person I love is deeply committed to conspiracies. What can I do? 

Sometimes the question is followed by another. What resources can I share with them to prove that vaccines are safe? Or that COVID is real? Or that the election was lawful? I’ve had a tendency to respond to the question with a question. Is your loved one merely conspiracy-curious, or are they conspiracy committed? 

If conspiracy-curious—they’re coming to you with genuine questions about misinformation—my advice has been simple: Engage enthusiastically. In other words, don’t be alarmed by bizarre questions. Instead, view them as an opportunity to have honest and genuine conversations. I love it when someone asks me, for example, if late night “ballot dumps” turned the election for Biden. The question communicates an open mind. 

I’m more alarmed, however, if someone tells me the election was stolen. The declaration communicates not just a commitment to a false reality, it also carries with it an implied commitment to a particular community.

I fear that my early responses to questions about the conspiracy-committed have been too passive—too inadequate for the magnitude of the challenge. I’ve advised patience. Give the political moment a chance to calm. Give COVID a chance to pass. Let people come back to church, to attend the way they used to attend—in close contact with people they love.

Recreate the human connections we’ve all missed, and then let’s see if the challenge remains so urgent. Then let’s see if so many millions of Christians continue to flirt with QAnon, believe Antifa attacked the Capitol on January 6, or believe that widespread election fraud cost Trump the 2020 election. These beliefs don’t just undermine our civil society, they often exact great costs in the wrathful hearts of their adherents.

But the more I see the conspiracies play out in real life, the more concerned I grow. When large numbers of people hold beliefs with religious intensity, those beliefs not only provide them with a sense of enduring purpose, they also help them form enduring bonds of friendship and fellowship. The conspiracy isn’t just a set of intellectual convictions, it’s also a source of community. It’s the world in which they live. 

Let’s put it another way: The conspiracy becomes part of their elephant. 

Ok, I know that makes no sense, but hang with me for a moment. Earlier this week a friend reminded me of Jonathan Haidt’s discussion of persuasion and moral humility. Haidt, as many readers know, is a New York University professor, a social psychologist, and author of The Happiness Hypothesis, The Righteous Mind, and the excellent Coddling of the American Mind, with my friend Greg Lukianoff.

Haidt describes our mind divided “like a rider on an elephant.” The rider “represents your conscious verbal reasoning—the stuff you’re aware of, the stuff that uses logic.” The elephant is “everything else, the automatic processes, the 99 percent of what’s going on in your mind that you’re not aware of.” 

Haidt argues that most of us spend our time trying to persuade other people’s “riders.” As he says, we forward them articles with the “seven reasons why you’re wrong,” but the real way to persuade is to “speak to the elephant first.” The elephant, after all, is “much stronger than the rider.” If the elephant digs in its heels, the rider can’t make it go anywhere, but when the elephant moves, the rider will follow along effortlessly. 

I love how Jonathan explains it in the first few minutes of this YouTube video:

So how does a conspiracy theory become part of the elephant? When it’s connected to the fabric of your identity, to your community, to your friendships, and to your faith. 

Let’s think this through for a moment. Let’s suppose that you forward to your Aunt Edna the absolutely perfect fact check—in 900 words, her commitment to “stop the steal” crumbles into ash. Where does that leave her in her friendships? Where does that leave her in her sense of political purpose? Does it leave her disconnected from her friends in her Bible study? Does it impact her relationship with her husband? What about the online community that’s embraced her and helped her through the loneliness of the pandemic? 

All of those consequences are exactly why most of the conspiracy-committed are beyond the reach of even the most potent acts of persuasion. You’re asking the rider to fight the elephant. 

So, how do we persuade? We reach the elephant. If your role in another person’s life is (as you see it) the “teller of hard truths,” then you’re at an immense disadvantage when contending for a family member’s heart with the people who share the same lie, but also love them, accept them, and give them a sense of shared purpose. 

You? You just make them feel bad.

Now, lest we start to feel arrogant—like we might be rational enough to be all rider and no elephant—Haidt has news for us. We’re not. We’ve got our own elephants, and it’s very hard to pull them away from their appointed path. 

Months ago, I wrote a Sunday newsletter called, “There’s a Question My Confederate Ancestors Taught Me to Ask.” I was reflecting on the humbling realization that we’re deeply bound to our place, our time, and our tribe. “When everyone around us is right,” I said, “we deserve little credit for conforming. When everyone around us is wrong, we’re also likely to fail.” 

Thus, the necessary posture of persuasion is one of deep humility. We can take little credit for our virtues. We’re often imprisoned by vices we can barely comprehend.

True persuasion is much more challenging than winning a debate. Sweeping away a falsehood is of little use unless you can replace the lie with a meaningful and empowering truth. You cannot yank a person from their community and then leave them homeless. Do not pretend we can replace something—no matter how malignant—with nothing.

There is profound biblical precedent for this idea. In Matthew 12, Jesus describes an “unclean spirit” that leaves a person and “passes through waterless places seeking rest.” Finding no rest, the spirit returns to the person and finds that the house of his heart is “empty, swept, and put in order.” And so the spirit takes up residence with seven more spirits, “more evil than itself,” and thus the “last state of that person is worse than the first.”

And so I feel I should change my response to the question that launched this piece. When you fear for the mind and heart of your conspiracy-committed mother or uncle or son, don’t wait. Engage. But don’t engage immediately with argument, but instead with the fellowship and love that makes the heart want to turn towards truth. You become the person who loves them, accepts them, and helps provide that vital sense of virtuous purpose. 

The conspiracy theory is often the symptom of an underlying disease—a disease of hate or fear that robs a person of joy. The fierce anger and furious purpose of the conspiracy mindset is a hollow replacement for the peace and faith found not just in truth, but in truth communicated by a loving and empathetic family and friends. 

(By the way, this whole year—when hundreds of thousands of older Americans died of disease in nursing homes and hospitals and millions isolated at home with Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and the endless scroll of their Facebook feeds—has demonstrated the extent to which our culture has neglected intergenerational relationships and forsaken older family members to fend for themselves in a time of great stress and pain.)

It can seem strange to speak of evangelizing Evangelicals, but there’s a crying need for people of faith to reach out within their own community to turn the elephant, to demonstrate the kind of fellowship that can make the fact checks superfluous. 

The longer I look at our bitter and divided culture, the more convinced I am that there are no shortcuts to cultural repair. Politics are important, but it’s relationships that will repair or destroy our land. Do we care enough about our angry relatives that we’re willing to love them back to spiritual health? The answer to that question will be more important than any media reform and any political contest. We simply cannot write off millions of Americans as beyond the reach of truth and hope.

One more thing …

One thing that I enjoy the most about this newsletter is the correspondence with readers. I’ve said before that I can’t respond to everything, but I do read everything you send. Many of your letters are thought-provoking and deeply moving. 

I wanted to take a brief moment and say that I hear one of your most common questions—why do I spend so much time pointing out the perceived errors and scandals of the church? What do I hope to accomplish by providing so many people with evidence of the church’s failures and hypocrisy?

There’s a long answer to that question, but here’s the short version—I see a distinction between Christendom and Christianity. And there are times when Christendom contradicts and even attacks the Christian faith. I’m drawing the distinction in part from Soren Kierkegaard’s Attack on Christendom—an eloquent critique of state religious establishment. Here’s how I put it in a National Review essay shortly before I joined The Dispatch:

The Evangelical analogue to the state religious establishments of years past — the “Christendom” that all-too-often redefined the faith as a kind of cultural and legal conformity, a rote adherence to external religious dictates — is the creation of a series of extraordinarily wealthy, powerful, and influential institutions that not only reach and influence Americans by the tens of millions, but also shape the course and conduct of the domestic and foreign policy of the most powerful nation in the history of the world.

A form of Christendom is necessary and important. That form should not be state-sanctioned Christianity, but rightly oriented private institutions that facilitate the spread of the Gospel and the compassionate works of the church. I’ll never forget the kind and loving Catholic social worker from Catholic Charities of Tennessee who helped my Calvinist family adopt an Ethiopian Orthodox child.

Moreover, rightly oriented institutions can impose the necessary theological and spiritual discipline that prevents churches from spinning off into apostasy and error. If a church proclaims that it is Southern Baptist or a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (my denomination), that has to mean something.

However:

It is the very importance of these institutions that can lead Christians astray. The institutions of Christendom are a means of advancing Christianity. Liberty University is valuable not because it exists, but rather because at its best it can and absolutely still does deepen and strengthen the genuine faith of its students and faculty. At the same time, the imperative that “Liberty must prosper” is not the same thing as declaring that the “Gospel must advance,” and the very moment that those two concepts start to conflict, then the institution must yield to the Gospel.

Take the extreme (but unfortunately common) example of how the defense of Christendom can damage Christianity: the often-reflexive institutional defensiveness in the face of sex-abuse allegations in both Catholic and Protestant religious institutions. Has any secular force harmed the church more than the church has harmed itself by its defensive response to the terrible crimes and horrific sins in its midst? “We must protect the church” is an impulse that can directly contradict the imperative to seek justice and care for the souls of those who are wounded by abuse and exploitation.

We cannot confuse accountability for any given Christian individual or Christian institution with hostility to Christian faith. Indeed, Christianity often requires that we confront the institutions of Christendom and, if necessary, demonstrate that no individual or ministry is more important than the truth of the Gospel itself. 

One last thing …

This hymn is marvelous. That is all:

Rush Limbaugh and the Right’s Generational Despair

When ideology is malleable and confrontation is mandatory.

If you’re reading this and you’re younger than I am (I was born in 1969 and came of age politically during the Reagan era), it’s almost impossible to conceive of the pre-Rush Limbaugh media environment. It was as if we lived on a different planet. You read your morning paper, you watched the evening news, and if you were really a political hobbyist (I was!), you subscribed to Time, Newsweek, or both. The smallest micro-slice of Americans was exposed to intellectual journals like National Review or The New Republic.

My exposure to conservative commentary was the library’s copy of NR, combined with a few syndicated conservative columnists. In those days, George Will was a lifeline. And even if you were a political hobbyist, it was virtually impossible to marinate in politics. The content just wasn’t available—even when CNN debuted. Hardly anyone watched.

Rush blew up this world. He nuked it from orbit. It wasn’t just that his show was popular (and it was phenomenally popular): He created an industry, and that industry created a lifestyle. It’s the lifestyle we see now, where a person comes home from work, turns on Fox News, and doesn’t turn it off until they sleep, or where a person never flips the dial from their favorite talk radio station, or rolls from podcast to podcast, all while the phone is in their hands, scrolling through Facebook and Twitter.

Is there a Roger Ailes and Fox News without Rush? Perhaps. Is it the same? Absolutely not. 

But many of the obituaries and analyses of Rush’s undeniable impact miss that he didn’t just lead and shape a generation of political commentary—he also in many ways reflected and followed his own audience. Rush’s trajectory both shaped and mirrored the trajectory of tens of millions of Americans. It’s the path from Dan’s Bake Sale in 1993 to conspiracy, deep paranoia, and musings about secession in 2020.

I experienced Rush in two distinct snapshots: his beginning and his end. And the differences are disturbing. I first listened to Rush in the early 1990s, when friends told me I “had” to hear him. There was no Google then. You couldn’t immediately research anyone. There was no catalogue of outrageous statements online. To find out what somebody was about, you just listened to what they had to say.

When I listened to Rush, I thought I was hearing a happy warrior. Imagine a Ronald Reagan/William F. Buckley ideology in the hands of a bombastic, WWE-style entertainer. He built a bond with his audience, and if you liked him, even when he was mean, you were tempted to excuse him. You thought he was “trying to be funny.”

(Jonah’s comparison of Rush to Jon Stewart is fascinating. I’d never thought of it before, but the partisan reaction to Stewart does mirror the reaction to Rush. Progressives thought Stewart was funny, not mean. Conservatives thought he was mean, not funny.)

The peak moment of early Rush—the Rush Limbaugh who I liked and listened to—happened in May 1993. A listener named Dan Kay had called in and complained that his wife wouldn’t let him pay for a subscription to the Limbaugh Letter. Rush suggested that he hold a bake sale to raise the money, and thus “Dan’s Bake Sale” was born.

It personified the substance and fun of listening to Rush. He advocated self-reliance. Don’t whine, Dan, use the free enterprise system to make the money. He built a community. Once people knew that Dan’s Bake Sale was a thing, they drove from miles around to meet and greet fellow “dittoheads.” And there was always this sense of over-the-top absurdity. A bake sale? Really? But thousands showed up for “Rushstock,” and a great time was had by all.

I largely stopped listening to Rush after law school. When you’re trying to make your way in large firm litigation, you don’t have much spare time in the middle of the day. Besides, in the new world that Rush built, there was no lack of immediately available conservative infotainment.

To the extent I still followed Rush, he frustrated me. I’m not going to catalogue all his controversies, but I felt that something was changing—he seemed to be losing the “happy” aspect of the happy warrior.

In 2016, I tuned in again. I wanted to hear what Rush was saying about Donald Trump. Rush, after all, had been an advocate for Reaganism and a guardian of “true conservatism.” He was bombastic in service of a particular, coherent ideology. What would he think of Trump?

What I heard surprised me. Rush seemed slightly afraid of his own audience. He was offering a very mild critique of a Trump primary debate performance, and it was obvious he was worried about pushback. He wasn’t in command. He seemed defensive. This isn’t the Rush I remember, I thought.

Soon enough, he was all-in with Trump and all-out with Never Trump. He embraced Michael Anton’s famous “Flight 93” essay with both arms. His rhetoric grew increasingly catastrophic. He minimized the coronavirus. He spread election conspiracies. His anger was palpable. As for his ideology? He moved. The one-time tenacious guardian of the Reagan/Buckley ideological legacy had become extremely flexible. It was clear what he was fighting against—elitists, the Republican establishment, the left—and much less apparent what he was fighting for, aside from Trump.  

My friend Rod Dreher has written about the right and left’s inverse generational problem. On the left, there’s a rise in grassroots demands for censorship and cancel culture, coming often from students and young employees, that has deeply influenced a number of leading center-left cultural institutions. This Bari Weiss thread describes her perception of the culture at the New York Times, and it’s worth your time:

On the right, however, the intolerance and anger tends to come from older voters—from Rush’s generation, from my parents’ generation. As the 2020 election approached, there was a palpable sense of panic that America itself was at stake. Yes, there are the young Charlie Kirk-style firebrands. But the audience and energy for Trump was much older, and many of them attacked dissenters with every bit as much energy as the most enraged campus progressive.

I don’t put all or most of this in Rush’s lap. He broke open American media, but soon enough he was but one (admittedly important) voice of many. He was both an architect and product of his political generation, and like so many millions of his fellow citizens, he lost his political way.

The conservative side of the internet is full of stories of Rush’s personal kindness and his generosity to his friends. I did not know Rush, and I didn’t see that side of him. But in that way he also mirrors his generation. I know countless good and kind older Americans—folks who would give you the shirt off their back and show up first to help you in a personal emergency—who switch almost immediately to a posture of bitterness and anger the instant they face a political challenge.

It’s sad to see this rage. It’s sad to see this fear. After all, Rush’s conservative generation did much to leave America a better place than they found it. This is the generation that brought America back from defeat in Vietnam and corruption at Watergate. It’s the generation that gave us “Morning in America” in 1984 and helped defeat a communist superpower without the catastrophe of world war.

America is more prosperous than it was when Rush launched his career. It’s more free. Crime is down from its highs. Abortion is down. Divorce is down. Protections for individual liberty are more robust than they’ve been in decades. But tribalism is worse. Polarization is more profound.

In such a circumstance, the ideas that helped improve our republic have taken a back seat to the attitudes that help us confront our opponents. The ideology is malleable. The confrontation is mandatory. That’s the migration Rush made. That’s a migration millions made. Rush was a symbol of a generation’s despair.

One more thing …

I’m not a UFO conspiracy theorist. I promise I’m not. But I had great fun reading this story in the New Yorker about Harvard Avi Loeb and his theory about a recent interstellar visitor. It begins:

On October 19, 2017, a Canadian astronomer named Robert Weryk was reviewing images captured by a telescope known as Pan-starrs1 when he noticed something strange. The telescope is situated atop Haleakalā, a ten-thousand-foot volcanic peak on the island of Maui, and it scans the sky each night, recording the results with the world’s highest-definition camera. It’s designed to hunt for “near-Earth objects,” which are mostly asteroids whose paths bring them into our planet’s astronomical neighborhood and which travel at an average velocity of some forty thousand miles an hour. The dot of light that caught Weryk’s attention was moving more than four times that speed, at almost two hundred thousand miles per hour.

More:

As astronomers pored over the data, they excluded one theory after another. ‘Oumuamua’s weird motion couldn’t be accounted for by a collision with another object, or by interactions with the solar wind, or by a phenomenon that’s known, after a nineteenth-century Polish engineer, as the Yarkovsky effect. One group of researchers decided that the best explanation was that 1I/2017 U1 was a “miniature comet” whose tail had gone undetected because of its “unusual chemical composition.” Another group argued that ‘Oumuamua was composed mostly of frozen hydrogen. This hypothesis—a variation on the mini-comet idea—had the advantage of explaining the object’s peculiar shape. By the time it reached our solar system, it had mostly melted away, like an ice cube on the sidewalk.

By far the most spectacular account of 1I/2017 U1 came from Avi Loeb, a Harvard astrophysicist. ‘Oumuamua didn’t behave as an interstellar object would be expected to, Loeb argued, because it wasn’t one. It was the handiwork of an alien civilization.

Read the whole thing. It’s fascinating.

One last thing …

Ok, I freely admit to being obsessed with the PBS Space Time YouTube channel. I just discovered it, I can’t stop watching it, and it finally answered my questions about warp drive—questions we should all be asking. Watch and learn:

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