There are many planets considered capable of harboring life, and some scientists believe it is only a matter of time before we discover alien life, or they discover us. This near-certainty prompts us to wonder how we might view alien life through the lens of our religions. Would their discovery cause us to abandon our spiritual beliefs? Would their discovery be considered a threat to our worldview and our notions of ourselves? Would we be able to welcome aliens?
A BBC article speculated not long ago on how the adherents of different religions might respond to the discovery of aliens. To me, it seems that the view one would take of aliens is more dependent upon one’s developmental level and perspective-taking ability than upon one’s religious affiliation. Those functioning at a lower cognitive, moral, and emotional level would find it far more difficult to expand their understanding of the universe than those who are not so hampered. However, religion and developmental level can be confounded, such as among evangelical Christians with a literal understanding of the Bible. Here, those who follow these teachings necessarily function at a lower level that embraces black-and-white thinking without nuance, and life is simplified to whatever is found in the Bible. If it isn’t in the Bible, it must be wrong or nonexistent. Most Christians do not function this way, but for the literalists, their religion is reduced to the level of their ability to comprehend it.
In my opinion, pagans would have little difficulty with the discovery of aliens. Pagans have a very Earth-centered religion, but in spite of the localized belief and practice of many pagan groups, it seems to me that since pagans are mostly polytheists, they would not be particularly fazed by alien presence or beliefs. I could see pagans being more welcoming and genuinely interested in alien spirituality than any other religious group, regardless of developmental level.
Those with more transcendent beliefs and practice would have the least difficulty. Contemplative practice is broadening to the point where one realizes that God is the God of all, and the method of worship one employs is merely a reflection of the practitioner and his or her experience of God. Whatever beliefs aliens may espouse would not be a threat at all, merely another path to the Divine.
The BBC article considers salvation and human uniqueness to be potentially the most difficult barrier for Christians facing alien discovery. The appearance of sentient aliens could elicit numerous inappropriate responses, from attempts at conversion to attempts at genocide, and hamper any diplomatic relations. What will be needed is people with a broad perspective who realize that humans are not so special after all.
For example, humans were not the first to develop agriculture; ants have been farming both plants and animals for millions of years. We have had agriculture for only the last few thousand years. As science progresses, we see less and less that is uniquely human – many animals purposefully communicate and can use language, and other animals make and use tools. Elephants may even have funerary rituals. If we can let go of our need to be the apex of creation, we stand a much better chance of successfully taking our place among a parliament of nations, and even of worlds.
Being able to relinquish our notions of superiority would enable us to learn from others as well. There is a fairly good chance that alien species may have their own religions and be more spiritually advanced than we are. What an opportunity for learning!
“There is no need to imagine that God reveals the same truths in the same way to all intelligent life in the Universe. Other civilisations could understand the Divine in their own myriad ways, all of which could be compatible with each other.”
We can apply this to our world now, of course, without any exotheological demands on us. We have such difficulty accepting the various religions we already have, that suddenly having to adjust ourselves to even the existence of aliens much less their religious beliefs would likely be too much for most of us. I hate to consider the chaos that would likely ensue. My hope is that most of us can learn to accept each other before we are forced to deal with an extraterrestrial culture. The contemplative path can lead us to that place of greater tolerance and acceptance. Take heart, and do not forget the value of your contemplative example; you may help to save the future.
Copyright © 2017 Teresa Chupp. All rights reserved.