Sunday, August 09, 2020

Baptizing aliens?

There was an online dispute recently about whether we would be able to baptize intelligent extraterrestrials. Many of the participants in this forum said no, of course not: God took on human flesh to save humans, he became a child of Adam to save the descendants of Adam. My response is: how do we know he didn't become a rational creature to save rational creatures? One can point to Scripture to argue agsinst my point, but I think it requires assuming that statements about whom Jesus died to save are meant not just positively, but also restrictively (he didn't die to save those others).

It's certainly a valid question whether we could baptize extraterrestrials. But I also think there's a certain naiveté about it. One big assumption is that whatever intelligent life we meet out there will have a biology relatively similar to our own, rather like in science ficton TV series, all the extraterrestrial life looks like us, except for maybe a few modifications to the face (looking at you Star Trek). I'm not talking about being carbon based or breathing oxygen, although those are relatively assured, based on what we know. I'm talking about the life cycle and the organization of its society.

Would you baptize a xenomorph from Alien or one of the hunters from Predator? Perhaps the latter, which are at least rational, if you could get them to put their weapons down long enough to talk. All sorts of forms of intelligent life are possible. One needn't go as weird as the creatures in H.P. Lovecraft's twisted meaningless universe (e.g., "The Color from Space," the Great Old Ones) to see that there might be beings for whom Christian faith would just make no sense.

Say there were an intelligent species that organized itself as a hive consciousness; what would salvation even mean to them? Or what if the life cycle of the intelligent species required that one mate to kill the other and lay eggs in its corpse? Actually the latter would be a relatively easy sell for the Gospel, despite being rather weird. There are possibilities far beyond our imaginings, possibilities that would go beyond just making us uncomfortable, but actually appear to us as violations of the integrity of persons.

None of this is to say that we wouldn't be able to baptize extraterrestrials, just that we may find fewer candidates out there than we in our earth-centric view anticipate.

In Fiction

Some time ago, I wrote a review of The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber, which was a sort of liberal Protestant imagining of aliens who wanted to hear about Jesus for their own odd purposes, but without any need for salvation from sin.

A much better book on baptizing extraterrestrials was Eifelheim by Michael Flynn. Insect-like (but also somewhat humanoid) aliens crash-land on Earth in the Middle Ages. A pastor and well educated priest befriends a group of them and evangelizes them. The second half of the book is a detailed imagining of the aliens' realization that they need salvation from sin (not just physical death), and their acceptance of faith in Jesus. I found it moving.