Jesus and Space Aliens
Something I’ve wondered since a kid is how the Christian church would react if intelligent, sentient life from outside Earth were discovered. A silly question in some ways, since there is no evidence of space alien life, either scientifically or from scripture. But particularly in light of the recent declassified U.S. Navy files and videos on U.F.O.s, the subject deserves serious consideration. What effect would the existence of alien life have on the truth of Christianity?
Most likely, the revelation of alien life would lead to a massive departure from the Christian faith and organized religion in general. While there may be a temporary surge in church attendance from people looking for a familiar comfort, like after the September 11th attacks, a large chunk of people would see alien life as fatally undermining the claims of Christianity, discrediting the religion.
In 2014 Pope Francis said that he would baptize Martians if they requested it. This would be the second reaction: all persons, human or alien, have a need for a savior, who is Jesus. This is a plot point in Orson Scott Card’s famous Speaker for the Dead, where Roman Catholic missionaries journey to witness to aliens. The Pope’s point in his homily was that all creatures need to find redemption from the creator, and the existence of aliens would not change that. However, from within Christian theology there are some significant problems with this. Jesus is the redeemer of creation by being the savior of humanity. Cur deus homo? asked Anselm. Why the God man? Why did God become human? The incarnation is Jesus becoming true man, the second Adam, the covenant head of his people. Being baptized into Christ is fallen humanity being joined to true humanity, the old man finding restoration in the new man. To justify giving aliens the sacrament of baptism would require arguing that the incarnation was God becoming a creaturely person, not God becoming human. This, of course, would overthrow millennia of central Christian teaching. Nicene Christology would have to be rejected, and scripture’s teaching on the incarnation interpreted away. The effect of this would be to undercut the veracity of Christianity, rendering it meaningless or so entirely changed as to be a wholly different religion.
Another approach to aliens would be to regard them as outside the covenant of grace. That is, they are still creatures, part of a creation being redeemed by Christ, but are not persons to whom salvation is offered through faith in Jesus. There are two different ways this could go. The first would be to regard aliens as hyper intelligent animals or really well-developed robots. The aliens may even be more intelligent or culturally evolved than humans, perhaps even considered non-human persons the way that some apes are now, but not sinners in need of a savior. Their eternal fate would be no different than anything else in creation, of which humanity is the steward. I suspect that this approach would lead to xenophobia (think District 9), where out of fear or resentment, people would treat the aliens like animals.
The second way to consider aliens outside the covenant of grace would be to view them as akin to the other biblical, non-human persons: angels. Angels are creatures, but are outside of the creation being redeemed. They are either servants of God in perfection or enemies fallen into sin. There is no more damnation or redemption for angels and demons, though they still remain part of creation and subject to the sovereignty of God. Aliens could be treated in much the same way: sentient creatures whose relationship to God in creation is independent of humanity. Interestingly, M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs is likely about confusing demons for aliens.
In both of these latter two options the truth of Christianity is not threatened by the arrival of intelligent alien life. My suspicion is that after the initial chaos of an alien encounter subsided, that this is where most remaining Christians would land.