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Converting Martians May 31, 2011

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback

***This post is dedicated to Ypres Soup***

When scientists speculate today about whether intelligent life exists on other worlds the  questions that come up reflect typical modern preconceptions: Will they like us? Will they dress like us? Will they eat us? Etc etc. And these questions have changed little since the late nineteenth century when Wells described the Martian death ray. However, previous to the mid nineteenth-century speculations about alien life – and there was from 1100-1800 a surprising amount – led to quite different concerns: particularly over the denomination of aliens. After all, Christianity is all about saving souls and as soon as you establish that there are other beings in other worlds – be they Darth Vader or Yoda – then this begs the question of whether they are worth saving. There is a parallel here over some of the early sixteenth-century inquiries about the ‘humanity’ of native American Calibans and the Christian responsibility of settlers towards them.

Thinking of Renaissance theology and aliens there is a passage in William Vorilong (obit 1464):

Now doubt arrives. By what means are we able to have knowledge of [another world]. I answer by angelic revelation or by divine means. If it be inquired whether men exist on that world, and whether they have sinned as Adam sinned, I answer no, for they would not exist in sin and did not spring from Adam. But it is shown that they would exist from the virtue of God, transported into that world as Enoch and Elias in this earthly paradise. As to the question whether Christ by dying on this earth could redeem the inhabitants of another world, I answer that he is able to do this even if the worlds were infinite, but it would not be fitting for Him, to go into another world that he must die again.’

Let’s hope Vorilong was right. Beachcombing has a sudden vision of Christ having to lug his cross up to a hill on Alpha Centaurai. ‘Just another two hundred thousand habitable worlds to go…’ he mutters despondently through his crown of off-world thorns.

But as astronomy became a well established discipline and astronomers were able to stare for hours at tiny details on planets in this solar system then it was no longer enough to write off, say, Venetians as a species of angel. Interestingly when the great New York moon hoax of 1835 broke one earnest preacher in the metropolis told his congregation that soon they would be having to prepare Bibles for the Lunarians. Now that would have been a book worth reading!

Nor has this concern for the spiritual welfare of aliens entirely died out. Ypres Soup sends in a 2009 article from the Daily Telegraph describing the Vatican’s concern for our brothers and sisters elsewhere in the Galaxy. Beachcombing has got to go off and bore a class now on Roman walls (of all things), but he has time to squeeze in some choice quotes. ‘[the Vatican astronomer] asked if he would baptise an alien, he replied ‘Only if they asked’… And Beach’s favourite  ‘Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has has a soul’

Tell that to the mouse under Beachcombing’s desk: is this even good theology?

Beachcombing would be fascinated to hear of any other collisions of belief – Christian and otherwise – and speculation over alien life. drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com


31 May 2011: Invisible writes in with this reference from Wikipedia to Ray Bradbury’s The Fire Balloons. ‘A missionary expedition of Episcopal priests from the United States anticipates sins unknown to them on Mars. Instead, they meet ethereal creatures glowing as blue flames in crystal spheres, who have left behind the material world, and thus have escaped sin. This story appeared only in The Silver Locusts, the British edition of The Martian Chronicles. One of the priests, instead of putting up a crucifix, creates a glass sphere with a glowing gas inside so the creatures will feel that they are created in ‘God’s’ image.’ Thanks Invisible!!!