Monday, December 1, 2008

Cosmic Evangelizing: The Need to Shoot Bibles Into Space?

After reading Sagan's Gifford Lectures, I turned anxiously to his novel Contact. The vastness of space and the seemingly inexhaustible amount material that comprise the comets, moons, planets, stars and black holes leaves one reeling. It is even a bit scary.

My good friend, The Monad, responded to my last post by writing,
"The question of what salvation would be on other planets is mind-boggling. I suppose if there is evil on those other planets than salvation is necessary...can Satan exercise dominion on other planets? What's to say that he can't? Then the question becomes one of soteriology. How does Jesus save? Is there something about the way in which Jesus brings salvation that is unique to this planet? We have no way of knowing."

The question indeed is of soteriology. If there is tripartite (mind, body and soul) life that is shackled by sin on other planets how are they saved? Are they saved?

My other good friend sees orthodox soteriology as being not only an anthropological but a cosmological panacea.
"The problems of finite-thinking have come about because of the belief that Christ's redemption ONLY applies to humans and not to rest of creation as well. Once we understand salvation as applying not to the salvation of souls but to the promise of the 'new heavens and new earth', the question about life on other planets and how they fit into the overall scheme of things, really is a moot point."

This answer isn't satisfying.

The value of reading Sagan is that we are challenged to strongly critique the entire anthrocentric enterprise. Christianity, wrongly or rightly, has a soteriology that is completely enthralled with the notion of humanity. Early Church history and controversy deal almost exclusively on the communicatio idiomatum.

Patristic thought may concede that Christ vindicated creation (universe and all), but they will stubbornly hold that specific salvation of humanity was only possible through the Incarnation.

St. Athanasius famously states, "He was made man, so that we might be made gods."

Poignantly, the soteriological question for St. Anselm was, Cur Deus Homo? or Why Did God Become Man?

Perhaps most provocative is St. Gregory of Nazianzus claim, "That which was not assumed is not healed; but that which is united to God is saved."

Extraterrestrials (a name for that itself is thoroughly anthropocentric) are not going to have a human nature. In that case, will their unassumed nature not be healed? If they are in every way like humans, except for having three eyes instead of two, will that third eye not be saved?

My friend writes,
"Sure the life, death and resurrection of the incarnate God happened in a remote corner of the universe, but that shouldn't limit its cosmic implications."

Well, of course it does!
The Gospel is the Good News. Thus, any good soteriology should be able to pass the scrutiny of the most important question for pastors: Is it preachable?
This is only conjecture, but Christian soteriology will probably not stir the soul of E.T.

On the other hand, if my good friend is right: God has vindicated all creation and creatures and promised a 'new heaven and earth' (or earths?). Then it seems that Evangelicals need to set new priorities. Forget Asia and Africa - there are as many as a billion worlds that need to know that God through Christ has given them new life! Evangelicals should become the biggest supporters of NASA, and begin a program to shoot bibles into space.

I'm not joking.

If one is convinced that Christ has undeniably, solely saved the fate of the entire cosmos one ought to feel an uncontrollable desire to rush headlong into the vast blackness of space only to hope to come across intelligent life and proclaim, "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!"

8 comments:

Fred said...

hmmm. Have you read Percy's Lost in the Cosmos?

Jason Gill said...

Fred,

Thanks for reading.
Yes, I have Walker Percy's fine book (I think he might be a Catholic Atheist, too!)

I think his book is a bit different than what I'm talking about, though. He seems to be concerned with how we understand the numinous (which Christians would call God). I think he offers seven or eight different modes of human transcendence, which allow us to experience the sublime. Seems odd from a Catholic that the Eucharist isn't mentioned as a mode... (I read the book my first year in college, I could be wrong about that).

Overall, Percy may have something to offer in this discussion. If only to posit that the Church has ‘corners’ on the transcendence markets. Sagan’s religious protagonist in Contact, Palmer Joss, always keeps saying, “Isn’t it ironic, the only thing the western world wants – and indeed desperately needs – is meaning. And meaning is the single thing that science can’t give us.” And isn’t this Percy’s thesis? That the material and the immanent lack meaning? Or at least not meaningful in an existential way. That’s why we need to have modes of transcendence. He offers art, sex, and a few others. I would suggest communal, Eucharistic worship.

Again, thanks for reading.

Chris said...

"Its hard to believe that one god created all of this." -Lenny
"There's probably lots of gods, and some of them's gotta be chicks." -Carl

Its not a new problem, as Christian missionaries have examined the question when bringing the Gospel to the savages in other parts of the world. If someone lives and dies and never hears the Gospel, a Christian requirement for salvation, can they be saved? If not, does that mean that all of the people who died prior to 35 AD, if not a law abiding Jew (and as Christ points out there is no such thing), gets to reside where the "worm dieth not, and the fire in not quenched" for all eternity. Maybe.

But the bible also says that, "The things of God are made plain in this world so that they [the unbelievers] are without excuse." So, even though they never heard of this man Jesus, they don't really have an excuse for unbelief since simple reflection should bring them to gnosis, or unity with the knowledge of God. This knowledge or relationship is what is probably meant when the scripture speaks of the "son" of God. Benei Elohimis a term used in various ways throughout the Old Testament to refer to the nation of Israel, a judge or ruler, the body of the righteous, and of course the messiah.

[As an aside, wonder that nobody ever questions why God chooses to have a "son" without banging some chick. Or better put, why would God, becoming man, choose to come into his creation in a manner contrary to the laws of that which he has created? Talk about a phallocentric religion, at least the pagans were honest about the Man > Woman > Child relationship.]

There are several easy solutions to Mr. Gill's dilemma...

1. The Gospel only applies to this Earth, and humans in specific. Paul goes so far as to say, "To the Jews first, and [then] to the Gentile (non Jews)". -ROM 1:16
In that case the "Good News" can be seen as temporary thing, like the Torah or "Law" that the Jews still abide and the Christians claim to have been liberated from by God himself.

2. Aliens don't have souls. Much like animals, self-aware robots etc. This can be supported by the fact that the bible says that "Ah Hadam" [Mankind], later bastardized to "Adam", was made in the Image of God and given the breath of God, not all of creation which the bible says came before mankind.

2.1. Aliens have souls and Alien Saviors and probably Alien Gods, like the Native Americans
or

3. Don't ask why. This should occur to anyone who begins to take Christian dogma seriously as much of it does not flow logically. As Christ instructs the disciples, "but when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do; for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking". Masturbating to concepts like "anthropological", "soteriological", and "cosmological" while asking "Do aliens have souls?" misses the bigger question, "Am I being lied to?".

Jason Gill said...

Chris,

What a thoughtful exposition, especially with so much candor.

Of course, the theological problems that rack earthly evangelizing missions also problematizes extra-terrestrial questions of cosmic evangelism.

However, you then jump to natural theology (which I think is important to address in this discussion, but it's just a blog post, and I'm just arm-chairing, here). The problem isn't general revelation (i.e., natural theology), but specific revelation in Christ Jesus (now the validity (hence, "are we being lied to") of the Christian faith is an endless and important discussion, but one I am not entertaining here. See my other posts for that). If Jesus is specific revelation of God's loving atonement of human sin, how does that affect non-human sin (extraterrestrial sin)?

Working within a Christian framework, it may be that holding onto the question maybe more important than asserting an answer.

Of course, this question leads to more questions: ones that have certainly been considered over the years, such as what exactly is the 'imago dei'?

Thanks again for sharing. You may like to read some intro writings of Thomas Aquinas - he takes both logic and dogma incredibly seriously. I think you'll find that past much of the contemporary vapid Christianity, there is a rich, provocative and salient narrative that can attract discussion among even the most staunch of skeptics.

Chris said...

Sigh. There, of course, was no need for the sarcasm, but I'm not surprised to see the typical Jewish response to inquiry, i.e. "The question is more important than the answer."
That's great but it makes morality and theology utterly useless.

A simple example, say we wanted to build a bridge so that we can get food from the other side of a river. We know that food = good, hunger = bad and we know that we can make a bridge to cure the bad with the good. So we set about the task of building a bridge and all of a sudden we find out that there is a right way to make a bridge, so that it doesn't fall down, and wrong way to make a bridge, it collapses. We decide, in as much as food = good, building the bridge right = good.

As building a bridge where there is no food, or building a bridge to food poorly, have the same effect (hunger which = bad), to say that the good is in the bridge building is simply silly.
Furthermore, theres no end to the questions. Say, "perhaps hunger not = bad" or "since, food = good is building a good bridge justified at all cost?" etc...
The questions simply undermine the original point, "food = good".

To look beyond contemporary vapid Christianity to traditional ignorant Christianity does no good when examining the flesh and blood questions that we will be confronted with in this century.
We need not worry, however, since history shows that utilitarians, (Hitler, Stalin, Castro, etc) are always more than happy to fill in while religious teachers glad hand each other into nonexistence.

Jason Gill said...

Chris,

It seems, we may be at, unfortunately, an impasse. Of course, this isn't a surprise we are coming from differing foundational premises (I from a confessional Christian context and you from a benevolent utilitarian context (I'm sorry if that doesn't quite get at your position). In fact, it's heartening that we disagree. Shouldn't differing sub-structures lead to different super-structures?

In your remarks you may have touched upon a very critical difference. You write, "[Your answer] makes morality and theology utterly useless."

In fact, we may be better served by a theology and morality that is less attentive to the current demands to be relevant, commensurable, and useful.

As I said in my response to Fred, science may be incredible effective in being useful; it has done a terrible job in being meaningful.

Fred, you’re right. There has been a history of “religious teachers who glad hand each other into nonexistence.” (I actually quite like that phrase) There is much to be done, positively and constructively. My aim isn’t to create an unbreachable either/or. Christianity should be an active call for love and justice. Certainly, you seem to be less than impressed by the annuals of Christian accomplishment. Of course, we all fall short, and there is always more to do.

I wonder, why respond to my blog? Why are your writing? If you are, as you seem, so thoroughly repulsed by the tenets of Christianity and so sure that is all simply religious posturing for future bamboozlement, why respond?

Chris said...

Let's not buy into the common myth that science, while being incredibly "useful" fails at being "meaningful". This is a damnable lie. The scientific method, by being the vanguard of measurable truth has exposed the folly and error in many a "traditional" and "meaningful" belief system. I would argue that the ability to destroy ignorant belief systems is quite meaningful. A short list of such obsolete beliefs might include; paganism, witchcraft, sexism, racism, Mormonism, Marxism, social-darwinism, geocentrism, etc. (for a more exhaustive list please see Carl Sagan's other book, "Our Demon-Haunted World")

By "Christianity" I suspect that you actually mean "Altruism", a concept that only exists in what is so lovingly referred to in biology as "ultra-social" species. I don't need to point out the universalist tenet that if it claims to be God's truth and it doesn't apply to the whole of God's creation, well then...

Test all things, then cling to what's true.

A lie can be beneficial and still be a lie. I imagine that none of us would be here if ancient cavemen didn't worship a fire god somewhere along the way. If Christianity is as it claims, "The way, the truth, and the light", then Christian inquiry does and should have a point and a purpose and even an endpoint in what it claims. Otherwise, to serve the inquiry more than the end is to repeat the mistake of those who as Paul says, "...changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator" -ROM 1:25.
[Christians, Catholics in particular, may want to take note here as well, when Paul speaks of those who "glorify not God" and instead, "...changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man..." - ROM 1:23]

The question, then, should be is truth more important than the tenets of Christianity, what you call love and justice? Do Christians believe that God (the Truth, remember) is more important than what flows from God (love, justice, peace, rainbows and daisies, etc) or have they decided that they can claim that God is what they call "Truth"?

[That's not meant to be a question without an answer.]

Jason Gill said...

Chris,

I wonder if we are listening? I want to dialogue, but two monologues seem more of what we are doing? No?

My fundamental question to you: why write back? Why do you care? If this is all hogwash, what's the point? If we are on fundamentally/intractably different foundational claims, why care?

Secondarily, of course science has given meaning. Again, I'm not proselytizing (I am an atheist, after all), and I think I mentioned that I'm not trying to create either/or situations. However, the fundamental questions of meta-physics (after-science (some would translate “beyond” or “over” physics) are still hard to answer. Most specifically, why something rather than nothing? Is there something called self-less altruism? Whence comes evil and suffering? You may be right, maybe religion (and Christianity) don't have the best answers... but I think it's worth having a learned discussion.

You say, "If Christianity is as it claims, "The way, the truth, and the light", then Christian inquiry does and should have a point and a purpose and even an endpoint in what it claims." I agree, but with this caveat: Christianity itself doesn't think it's the way, the truth and the life, Christians believe Christ is. That's a big difference.

You end with an important question, "Do Christians believe that God is more important than what flows from God or have they decided that they can claim that God is what they call "Truth"?" I say that this is an important question because it has been a question that has rocked the theological thoughtful for centuries and centuries.

Often the question is posed in two different ways, but are essentially the same question:

1) Does God's essence precede God existence?

2) Is what is good, God, or is what is God, good?

How do we know?
I don't know. Not for sure, and that, I think, is ok.

But your question does demand a sort of theological promissory note, or put another way, we need to have safe-guards to know that God's goodness and God's power are not exclusive enterprises (and for Christianity, the contention that there are two-warring gods, one of good and another of evil was put to rest in the early 200’s after the Marcion controversy). You might see this in the C.S. Lewis book, “The Final Battle” where a smart, but malicious ape uses a dressed-up donkey to hoodwink the Narnians to believe that Aslan (read, God) has returned angry, and consequently is selling the animals into brutish slavery. The animals are confused, isn’t Aslan a good protector? These contrary to His nature, but the ape responds to that Aslan is not a “tame” lion. For Christians the concern is can we make sure that we know that God’s good works are really good, and not just something we believe are coming from God.

This begins a concern with what is called nominalism. This is a claim usually leveled at Calvinists, but is best explicated by Ludwig Feuerbach. His book "Essence of Christianity" argues that “God” is merely a projection of each persons understanding of the absolute (thus, for example, Marx’s “God” is the Communist State). This allows everyone equal "access" to God plan as God's plan is always exactly equal to the person's own desired end. Troubling stuff, right? Probably this is close to your concern? This is why I’m a “Catholic.” Protestant revisionism promotes the opportunity for Christian relativism (but this would be a gross simplification of Protestantism and my very varied and complex views of it). Dogma, while limiting, keeps, at least, consistency. This doesn’t absolutely secure certain claims, but it tries to balance the importance of internal cohesion within the Church.

What do you think? And again, as a curious person, why do you continue to be engaged with such conversations?