The Vatican is holding a conference on extraterrestrial life: if there's a more irresistible bit of news for bloggers to riff on, let's hear it. But aliens, it turns out, test theologians' reasoning abilities almost as much as journalists' poker faces. If extraterrestrials exist, it could throw a significant wrench in the ecumenical works. For example: are aliens saved? Here are some of the problems:
- Do Aliens Get Saved? This question "goes right to the heart of Christian beliefs," explains the London Times' Hannah Devlin, who strikes a half-serious tone. "[T]his isn't a trivial issue for theologists," she argues. One would have to consider whether "intelligent life" implied the existence of a soul. Then there is the matter of whether Jesus saved every intelligent life form at one time, or whether there are, to quote one astrophysicist, "other equivalent salvation events that take place elsewhere in the Universe."
- Stop Laughing: This is About Earth-Centrism The Washington Post's Marc Kaufman manages a more sober tone (save for the headline--"When E.T. Phones the Pope"). "[T]he logic of astrobiologists," he writes, "points ... to the likelihood that we are not alone, and perhaps that we
are not even the most advanced creatures in the universe. This may not 'conflict with our faith,' but it may conflict with the stories we tell
about who and what we are." Catholicism has a particularly tricky relationship with these scientific disruptions to earth-centrism; the Vatican, as Kaufman notes, "got Copernicus, Galileo and other men of science wrong and doesn't want to do that again." There's a divide on this issue:
Many Protestant scholars agree ... that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would not pose a major challenge to their faith or theology, especially if it was not intelligent or morally aware. But on the evangelical side, there is a deep concern, one reminiscent of the battles over evolution. "My theological perspective is that E.T. life would actually make a mockery of the very reason Christ came to die for our sins, for our redemption," Gary Bates, head of Atlanta-based Creation Ministries International, told me recently in a critique of the Vatican conference. Bates believes that "the entire focus of creation is mankind on this Earth" and that intelligent, morally aware extraterrestrial life would undermine that view and belief in the incarnation, resurrection and redemption drama so central to the faith.
- No Kidding--Aliens Would Change Everything Doug Mataconis at Below the Beltway takes the problem at face value. "Are Christianity and, to some extent, other religions only stories about life on Earth?" This is the question as Kaufman phrases it. The answer is easy, thinks Mataconis: "yes."
Even more so that the Copernican Revolution, or Darwinian evolution, the discovery of intelligent life elsewhere--life which may or may not have it's own form of a belief in a god and which may believe that it is the central story of that god's creation--would seem to pretty clear be the end of the universality of any religion that claims Earth as the center of God's universe.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.