Attacks on Christianity seem to thrive during the Christmas season but that hasn't always been the case.

I was bummed to hear last month that a constitutional challenge was leveled at "A Charlie Brown Christmas." After a local church in Little Rock invited students to see an upcoming performance of the show, a parent contacted the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers, a self-described community of atheists, agnostics and humanists who charged that the show contains religious content and was being performed in a religious venue.

For those unfamiliar with the holiday classic, there's a key moment when Linus recites passages of scripture from the Gospel of Luke, which tell of the birth of Christ.

After giving the verses, Linus announces to his Peanuts family, "And that's what Christmas is all about."

One of my most memorable Christmas messages came not from an earthly pulpit but from another celestial body ... the moon. On Dec. 24, 1968 Apollo 8 Commander Frank Borman, Command Module Pilot Jim Lovell and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders became the first astronauts to spend Christmas in space.

People around the globe gazed skyward that Christmas Eve, just like the shepherds and wise men did during the first Christmas while each crew member read from the Book of Genesis, reciting verses 1 through 10, as they orbited the moon. Borman closed the message with the words "Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you - all of you on the good Earth."

It's estimated that as many as one billion people watched the historic broadcast or listened on the radio. It was an incredible moment in our history, and gave many, including this writer a new perspective on the sanctity of life in the vastness of our universe.

Madalyn Murray O'Hair, a noted atheist of the day, responded by suing the United States government, alleging violations of the First Amendment. The suit was dismissed by the Supreme Court due to lack of jurisdiction.

I recently heard astronaut Gene Cernan talk about his feelings of being the last man to walk on the lunar surface 40 years ago. Cernan commanded Apollo 17, which was the eleventh manned space mission in the NASA program and the sixth and last mission to land on the Moon. Apollo 17 returned to Earth six days before Christmas and like the Apollo 8 mission, allowed us to again reflect on the bigger celestial picture for the holidays.

We recall Gene Cernan's memorable words when he climbed the ladder to the Lunar module on leaving the moon.

"America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind," he said.

Today, Cernan continues the fight to have NASA refunded, pointing out that it would cost just a half cent in the federal budget pie. He said the inspiration the space program could have on our children and future generations can't be calculated.

To amplify that fact, he tells the story about his granddaughter, who is now 20 and in college. When the girl was about five and they were both looking into the night sky, grandpa Cernan told her that he had walked on the moon.

Looking at him in amazement, the little girl answered, "I didn't know you went to heaven!"

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com [1]