Category Archives: FE Bioneers of Fame
Copyright 1980 Robert J. Schadewald
Reprinted from Science Digest, July 1980
“The facts are simple,” says Charles K. Johnson, president of the International Flat Earth Research Society. “The earth is flat.”
As you stand in his front yard, it is hard to argue the point. From among the Joshua trees, creosote bushes, and tumbleweeds surrounding his southern California hillside home, you have a spectacular view of the Mojave Desert. It looks as flat as a pool table. Nearly 20 miles to the west lies the small city of Lancaster; you can see right over it. Beyond Lancaster, 20 more miles as the cueball rolls, the Tehachepi Mountains rise up from the desert floor. Los Angeles is not far to the south.
Near Lancaster, you see the Rockwell International plant where the Space Shuttle was built. To the north, beyond the next hill, lies Edwards Air Force Base, where the Shuttle was tested. There, also, the Shuttle will land when it returns from orbiting the earth. (At least, that’s NASA’s story.)
“You can’t orbit a flat earth,” says Mr. Johnson. “The Space Shuttle is a joke—and a very ludicrous joke.”
His soft voice carries conviction, for Charles Johnson is on the level. He believes that the main purpose of the space program is to prop up a dying myth—the myth that the earth is a globe.
“Nobody knows anything about the true shape of the world,” he contends. “The known, inhabited world is flat. Just as a guess, I’d say that the dome of heaven is about 4,000 miles away, and the stars are about as far as San Francisco is from Boston.”
As shown in a map published by Johnson, the known world is as circular and as flat as a phonograph record. The North Pole is at the center. At the outer edge lies the southern ice, reputed to be a wall 150 feet high; no one has ever crossed it, and therefore what lies beyond is unknown.
The sun and moon, in the Johnson version, are only about 32 miles in diameter. They circle above the earth in the vicinity of the equator, and their apparent rising and setting are tricks of perspective, like railroad tracks that appear to meet in the distance. The moon shines by its own light and is not eclipsed by the earth. Rather, lunar eclipses are caused by an unseen dark body occasionally passing in front of the moon.
Johnson’s beliefs are firmly grounded in the Bible. Many verses of the Old Testament imply that the earth is flat, but there’s more to it than that. According to the New Testament, Jesus ascended up into heaven.
“The whole point of the Copernican theory is to get rid of Jesus by saying there is no up and no down,” declares Johnson. “The spinning ball thing just makes the whole Bible a big joke.”
Not the Bible but Johnson’s own common sense allowed him to see through the globe myth while he was still in grade school. He contends that sensible people all over the world, not just Bible believers, realize that the earth really is flat.
“Wherever you find people with a great reservoir of common sense,” he says, “they don’t believe idiotic things such as the earth spinning around the sun. Reasonable, intelligent people have always recognized that the earth is flat.”
He pauses for a sip of coffee, his eyes sparkling with animation. At 56, Charles Johnson is a bearded, distinguished-looking man who drinks coffee seemingly by the gallon. He chain-smokes, hand-rolling cigarettes so skillfully that they seem factory made. Unlike the stereotypical prophet, he has a wry sense of humor and a booming laugh. Fond of plays on words, he consistently pronounces Nicolaus Koppernigk’s Latinized surname as “co-pernicious.”
The Flat Earth Society’s presidency descended upon Charles Johnson in accord with the last wishes of its founder, Samuel Shenton, an Englishman who died in 1971. The society, which will round out a quarter-century next year, is a spiritual inheritor of the Universal Zetetic Society, which flourished in England in the last century.
The cosmos of the Zetetics.
Picture © 1992 by Robert Schadewald.
Under Johnson’s full-time presidency, the society’s paid-up membership has grown from a few persons to a few hundred. Membership is open to anyone who is regarded as sincerely seeking the truth; prospective members must sign a statement agreeing never to defame the society. Part of the $10 annual dues pays for a subscription to the Flat Earth News, a marvelously outspoken four-page tabloid quarterly with an editorial style reminiscent of 19th-century rural journalism.
Johnson’s office is barely controlled chaos. Books, papers, and files are everywhere; his desk is covered with correspondence. The flow of letters, still increasing, now runs around 2,000 a year, or a half-dozen every day. Some are properly addressed (Box 2533, Lancaster, CA 93534), but he receives any mail that reaches Lancaster with “flat-earth” on it. And such letters sometimes come from the far edges of the world (an expression which Johnson and his membership accept quite literally). Rummaging in a box on the floor, Johnson produces inquiries from Saudi Arabia, Iran, India.
“Everybody who writes gets an answer,” he reports. “An application or whatever is called for. We serve our purpose in keeping it alive. Whosoever asks, receives.” The “we” includes his wife, Marjory, who is a native of Australia. The Johnsons met by chance in 1959, when they both went into a San Francisco store to buy the same record, Acker Bilk’s haunting “Stranger on the Shore.” They discovered that they had more in common than their tastes in music. They’re both vegetarians, for one thing, but the overriding interest is geography
“Marjory has always known that the earth is flat, too,” says Charles Johnson. “As far as she knew, everybody in Australia knew it. She was rather shocked when she arrived here and found people speaking of Australia as being ‘down under.’ It really offended her. She would get in quite heated arguments with people who seemed to accuse her of coming from down under the world.” Ultimately, Marjory Johnson swore in an affidavit that she had never hung by her feet in Australia.
As secretary of the Flat Earth Society, she assists in running it, and writes a regular column in the News. She has also helped her husband perform experiments to determine the earth’s shape. If it is a sphere, the surface of a large body of water must be curved. The Johnsons have checked the surfaces of Lake Tahoe and the Salton Sea (a shallow salt lake in southern California near the Mexican border) without detecting any curvature.
Flat Earth; An Investigation Into a Massive 500-year Lie, will be out in 2-3 weeks. Email me @ firstname.lastname@example.org for first copy, discounted, signed if you want copy. I’ll notify you when books are ready to ship for mailing addresses.
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