Tuesday, 27 September 2016

** FATHER FRANK’S RANTS - SAVING ALIENS & HUMANS - Rant Number 695 27 September 16


‘Imagine if a Martian showed up, all big ears and big nose like a child’s drawing, and asked to be baptised. How would you react?’ asked Pope Francis once. How indeed…

Not so loopy a question. Thanks to a Kepler space telescope, NASA discovered a planet in the Cygnus constellation, potentially harbouring life. OK, it is 490 light years away – a mere bagatelle – but the nearest star to us, Proxima Centauri, also reveals a similar life-friendly planet. And when the next scientific paradigm shift makes space travel possible, the Pope’s humorous query may become serious. Even urgent. Because baptism is the necessary (though not sufficient) means to salvation, to entry into paradise. Salvation, geddit? Eternal bliss. No baptism, no salvation. Should then aliens be saved, i.e. baptised?

Well, why not? Physical appearance is irrelevant. If some children had antennae sprouting out of their head, would that disqualify from being christened? Surely not. The essential thing is not their looks but their reason. They must be rational beings. Not just sentient beings, mind you. Cats and dogs are sentient, pace Descartes, who callously considered them as mere automata. Animals do have the power of perception through the senses. But they are irrational. They lack the faculty of reason and the ethical sense. They cannot apprehend moral right and wrong, good and evil. That is why – Biblical teaching apart – the Church bars them from Heaven. Conversely, if the aliens have reason, they can, nay, must be baptised, i.e. saved.

But would they have to? Consider C.S. Lewis’ theological sci-fi novel, ‘Perelandra’. It describes a planet, Venus, of which a man and a woman are the sole inhabitants. They are, you soon suss out, analogues of Adam and Eve, prior to temptation and the expulsion from Paradise. There has been no Fall of Man on Venus. Man and woman live contently and joyfully, on a floating Eden, obeying their Creator. So, on a planet like Perelandra there would be no need of the Incarnation. Superfluous to baptise such happy and good people. Of course, whether such a world actually existed could only be established empirically, by going there. And that discovery will have to wait a bit. (Captain Kirk’s Starship Enterprise won’t quite do, I am afraid.)

The Franciscan philosopher Duns Scotus, however, boldly suggested that Christ would have become man even if the Adam and Eve had not eaten the forbidden fruit and transgressed God’s command. Why? Many reasons. To show God’s love and grace, to teach men humility, to encourage people, to show solidarity with human sufferers and to remind humanity of key moral truths. Hhmmm…the problem the priest has got with these pious ideas is that, if Adam and Eve had not sinned, like the lucky couple of Perelandra, why would they have had to suffer? No death, no lust, no sickness, no crimes, no greed, so…what’s the point, the necessity of that divine ‘solidarity’. Nor indeed would there have been any need of the Cross and the Resurrection, because…no divine sentence of death in the first place.

Interesting how in his novel Lewis shows the bad guy, Lucifer-like Weston, hell-bent on tempting the woman into disobeying her Creator. That shows that, no matter how blessed people may feel, the possibility of evil always lurks. So perhaps even un-fallen aliens might need to be baptised, just in case, so to speak…

What if aliens were older, created before us, prior to Christ’s Incarnation, that is? Would Christ have become flesh, become one of them, an alien, on each of their planets? Note that St John’s Gospel makes it clear that the Logos, the Word, predates creation. Christ was with the Father ‘in the beginning…and all things were made through him’. So the cosmos, the universe, all reality, not just the humble earth, were created by God via Christ the Logos, in the first place. The denizens of other worlds therefore owe their existence to the Logos, regardless of chronology. Still, the puzzle stands: how to relate the embodiment of the Son in the man Jesus over 2000 years ago in Palestine to aliens in galaxies faraway? A multiplication of Incarnations, Crosses and Resurrections on remote planets sounds a tad problematical.

I wonder what the Muslim ulama’, the scholars, might opine. Allah’s message must be proclaimed by a prophet and, to be saved, people have to heed it. The final, perfect message naturally is that of Muhammad. Could there have been prophets in other worlds, before Muhammad preached? The Qur’an names a certain number but a certain hadith asserts that there have been 124.000 prophets before Muhammad. Is it conceivable, possible that some might have been sent to spread the message outside the Earth? Discuss!

Pope Francis is a great one to goad and provoke. I bet he realises the real challenge for Christians today has nothing to do with little green men off flying saucers. The fearful problem is how to reach out to fallen human beings here and now, on the third planet, our home. Francis knows his own flock but I know the feeble and contemptible Church of England. A tragedy. Because festering with spiritual complacency, cowardice and compromise. Unable or unwilling to condemn the un-Christian degeneracy of English society. The only baptism that could ever save my Church is a baptism of fire. Or of blood.

Revd Frank Julian Gelli


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