If there were sentient aliens, would Jesus be their messiah also?
That will depend on several a variety of things such as their origins of sin
, if any or what some Christians call original sin. It will also depend if they are in some degree human!
The discovery of life beyond Earth would be a triumph for science but might wreak havoc on certain religions. Some faiths, such as evangelical Christianity, have long held that we are God’s favorite children and would not easily accommodate the notion that we would have to share the attention; others, such as Roman Catholicism, struggle with thorny questions such as whether aliens have original sin.
Now that researchers have discovered more than 1,500 exoplanets beyond the solar system, the day when scientists detect signs of life on one of them may be near at hand. Given this new urgency, Vanderbilt University astronomer David Weintraub decided to find out what the world’s religions had to say on the question of aliens. In his new book, Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal with It? Weintraub investigates the implications of life beyond Earth on more than two dozen faiths. Scientific American spoke to him about his findings, including whether Jesus saved the Klingons as well as humanity.
Which religion will have the toughest time reconciling aliens with its beliefs?
The ones that have decided that we humans are the sole focus of God’s attention. The religions that see the world through that viewpoint tend to be some of the Christian evangelicals. The Eastern Orthodox Church, a branch of Catholicism, also has that view.
There are some people who claim that if God had created extraterrestrials, then there clearly would be words in the Old and New testaments, which we would have already found, that would have said explicitly that God created extraterrestrials—and since those words don’t exist, there can’t be. Well, there’s nothing in the Old and New testaments that talks about telephones either, and telephones do seem to exist.
You write that the Roman Catholics have a particular issue when it comes to extraterrestrials. What is their viewpoint?
Original sin is an important idea in Roman Catholicism. The idea that Adam and Eve shouldn’t have eaten the apple—they committed a sin and that’s how sin entered the lives of humans. Jesus’s act of dying on the cross was to redeem all humans from that original sin, to allow us to get to heaven.
Let’s say you discover some aliens on some other planets and you decide that you should convert them to Christianity. A reasonable question should be why? If they live on planet Earth, they could be descendants of Adam and Eve but if they are Klingons living on planet whatever, they couldn’t suffer from original sin because they’re not descendants of Adam and Eve. Christianity would make no sense for these creatures, unless our understanding of original sin makes no sense.
Roman Catholic theologians are starting to rethink that in light of the possibility that there could be living beings on other worlds. The idea of original sin may be recast not as sin that comes directly from a literal Garden of Eden and a literal Adam and Eve but that original sin somehow simply exists in the fabric of the universe.
Then you’ve also got to rethink some other ideas. If the redemption by the son of God who was incarnated in human form on the Plains of Galilee 2,000 years ago provides redemption for human beings on Earth, does that also provide salvation for Klingons?
Or does Jesus have to separately visit their planet?
Right. That’s a serious theological problem. Most theologians are pretty seriously averse to the idea that the son of God will have to visit every planet and get crucified on every planet.
What if there’s another planet that’s been in existence for 100 million years before us? Do all of those creatures not get to go to heaven because the Jesus event didn’t happen until 2,000 years ago? Is that fair? It’s not for me to say.
Some Catholic theologians are wiling to wave their hands and say it’s simply not a problem; God will take care of it. Some say it’s a serious problem. But theologically it’s a pretty interesting problem. These questions have been sitting out there for several hundred years. Two hundred years ago [American revolutionary and political philosopher] Thomas Paine put these questions out there very eloquently, and theologians started to address this and decided, yeah, this is a problem.
Do any religions explicitly discuss the possibility of life beyond Earth in scripture?
The middle of the 19th century is when a whole bunch of new religions were born, and many of those religions had something to say about extraterrestrials. In Seventh-Day Adventism, for example, the founder had visions of extraterrestrials—Saturnians—in which she saw them and saw that they were pure; they had not sinned. The only sinful beings in the universe were humans on Earth. That was her solution to the Thomas Paine problem, the original sin problem. The Saturnians didn’t need Christianity because they didn’t suffer original sin. - Did Jesus Save the Klingons?
The Catholic Church doesn’t have an official teaching on aliens but doesn’t discount their possibility either. Pope Francis made headlines in 2014 when he said that even Martians have the right to receive the Holy Spirit through baptism.
Pope Francis has declared everyone has the right to be baptised, even aliens should they come knocking on the church's door.
Christians cannot "close the door" to all those who seek baptism even if they are "green men, with a long nose and big ears, like children draw," the pope said at his daily mass on Monday, according to Vatican Radio.
"If tomorrow, for example, an expedition of Martians arrives and some of them come to us ... and if one of them says: 'Me, I want to be baptised!', what would happen?" Francis said in another display of his lively sense of humour.
The Argentine pontiff known for his down-to-earth style has often used colourful and humorous expressions to make his points on the direction of the Roman Catholic Church. - Pope says baptism for all - even Martians
In any case of extraterrestrials, there is doubt whether they are human, so a conditional baptism would be required! In the case they have never sinned, there would be in principle no need to have Jesus as their Messiah, unless they are able to freely do so.
God’s ways are not man’s ways. And frankly there is too much unknown in the whole of the universe to absolutely take this question in an absolute manner at the present moment.