A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Could Jesus Have Died for the Klingons Too?

Claire Moskowitz, senior writer at space.com, ponders the question that many others have reflected upon of late: if alien life were discovered in the galaxy, would that change religion, and in particular, for our interests on this blog, Christianity?

Moskowitz suggests that of all the major world religions, Christianity may have the most difficult time dealing with the possibility if it turns out to be fact because of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation-- God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ. She writes,
"Did Jesus die for Klingons too?" as philosophy professor Christian Weidemann of Germany's Ruhr-University Bochum titled his talk at a panel on the philosophical and religious considerations of visiting other worlds.

"According to Christianity, an historic event some 2,000 years ago was supposed to save the whole of creation," Weidemann said. "You can grasp the conflict."

Here's how the debate goes: If the whole of creation includes 125 billion galaxies with hundreds of billions of stars in each, as astronomers think, then what if some of these stars have planets with advanced civilizations, too? Why would Jesus Christ have come to Earth, of all the inhabited planets in the universe, to save Earthlings and abandon the rest of God's creatures?

Weidemann, a self-described protestant Christian, suggested some possible solutions. Perhaps extraterrestrials aren't sinners, like humans, and therefore aren't in need of saving. However, the principle of mediocrity — the idea that your own example is most likely typical unless you have evidence to the contrary — casts doubt on this, he pointed out.

"If there are extraterrestrial intelligent beings at all, it is safe to assume that most of them are sinners too," Weidemann said. "If so, did Jesus save them too? My position is no. If so, our position among intelligent beings in the universe would be very exceptional."

Another possibility is that God incarnated multiple times, sending a version of himself down to save each inhabited planet separately.

However, based on the best guesses of how many civilizations we might expect to exist in the universe, and how long planets and civilizations are expected to survive, God's incarnations would have had to be in about 250 places simultaneously at any given time, assuming each incarnation took about 30 years, Weidemann calculated.

If God truly became corporeal and took human form when Jesus Christ was born, this wouldn't have been possible, Weidemann said.
My big problem with this is Weidemann's suggestion that, if necessary, God could not incarnate himself simultaneously elsewhere. Really? Christians believe that God is omnipresent, that is God is everywhere. We don't know how to describe such all encompassing presence in its detail, and we have no idea how God can be everywhere, since we human beings obviously cannot be in more than one place at a time. But we figure that, well... God is God. Indeed, omnipresence is one thing that makes God who God is, and our lack of it is part of what makes human beings who we are. Then why is it so impossible to believe that God could make himself corporeally present in more than one place at a time? Can we understand how God can do that? That's like asking if we can understand how God can incarnate himself even once, say, in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago. Comprehending God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ is no less difficult to make sense of than God revealing himself in the same way on different worlds simultaneously. It doesn't seem to me that simultaneous incarnations is an impossible feat for the God who created all that is.

If there is intelligent life out there somewhere in the universe (and I am truly non-committal on this subject for what I believe are good reasons), I think Christianity can maintain its core doctrines while standing in amazement at the grandeur of God and the universe he created with limits that are far beyond our limits of understanding.

Perhaps the late Larry Norman was on to something many years ago when he sang,

If there's life on other planets,
       then surely He must know.
And He's been there once already,
       and has died to save their souls.

Or perhaps, our civilization is the first and the oldest, and so God chose to incarnate himself here and get to the root of the problem before it spread.

I do not assume that there are "Klingons" out there in the vast universe, but if there are, I can live with it and still keep my faith.... better yet.... I will continue to pass it on.


Carolyn Evaine Counterman said...

Saw this title on FB and had to come running to see what the answer is. I think I might be with you on this. God can do everything. Which means he can save "Klingons" if they are there to need saving. Interesting post. Thanks!

Allan R. Bevere said...

Thanks for your comments. Carolyn.

PamBG said...

I certainly believe that God wants to save all sentient beings in the universe.

To me, this points out the need for theology to seriously catch up with 20th and 21st century science. I know that there are a number of people who have done excellent work in this area, but I don't think we yet have a popular metanarrative for how God and evolution fit together.

We also need to stop getting hysterical about the notion of panentheism and stop confusing it with pantheism. God is not creation, but God is present in creation and holds it in being, so why would "salvation" not be part of the fabric of God's created bits 30 million light years away?

This is why I don't believe in "hard form" Christian exclusivity.

Sharp said...

It's funny but I postulated, on my own, as a kid of maybe thirteen, that this would not be a problem for God at all. THis train of thought was prompted by seeing a painting of a green-skinned, reptilian alien nailed to the cross. If Christ is truly infinite, could He not be on billions of worlds at once? Couldn't these incarnations die simultaneously on all these worlds, with it being a crucifixion on Earth, a sword on Kronos, a firing squad on Cestus III, a gallows on Rigel IV? And then all rose three days later, with it reported by mouth on Earth, print on Eminiar, electronic broadcast on Gorn, and telepathy on Talos? Finding extraterrestrial life would threaten my Christianity not one iota. God is a big, creative God.

2xA Ron said...

Interesting post! I think certainly God could do it this way if He wanted to (and if there was extraterrestrial life, which I find doubtful), with multiple incarnations, though many Christians find this offensive (applying Hebrews 9:26 to it). But I think He could also simply apply Christ's death here on Earth as a human to all sentient beings, just as He applied Christ's death as a Jew in Jerusalem to all human tribes and nations. Christ did not have to come and die again for the Aborigines, the Polynesians, the Mongols, the Picts, the Latins, the Africans, etc. He died once for all of us, and if there is life on other worlds in need of redemption, I see no reason why He couldn't have died for them as well.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Pam, the problem with some forms of panentheism is that they reject the notion of God's transcendence over creation.

Allan R. Bevere said...


You make an interesting analogy.

PamBG said...

Pam, the problem with some forms of panentheism is that they reject the notion of God's transcendence over creation.

That's no excuse for throwing out the whole concept. It seems to me that it's intrinsic in a theology that takes modern science into account with respect to the creation of the universe.

As I say, I know that there are a number of people like John Polkinghorne and Teillard de Chardin who have developed theologies that deal with modern science (Of course de Chardin was silenced by the Catholic church, for another good cross-post comment). But our popular theology is 500 years behind the times.

And that's not just an issue about keeping up with fashion. 500 years ago, theology spoke to the way people thought that life-the-universe-and-everything worked. Don't you think that part of the problem today is that theology doesn't speak to the way we know things work?

As believers, we're increasingly at risk of actually making God sound a lot more like Santa Clause than Primary Cause. We're doing a darned good job of presenting Christianity as a system that requires magical thinking. We almost define transcendence as "magical thinking"

Allan R. Bevere said...

I don't know what you mean by magical thinking.