Tuesday 24 January 2017

Baptising Aliens

A fascinating radio review in the Church Times this week asks 'Would you baptise an extra-terrestial?'. Apparently this is a question addressed by a Steven J.Dick, who has the job of coming up with protocols to govern NASAs engagement with any alien life forms they may encounter. The Jesuit answer, we are told, is: only if it asks to be baptised.

It seems to me that this question raises some really interesting points about what the incarnation means. Christians believe that Jesus took on human flesh, and that the combination of this incarnation and his subsequent death and resurrection somehow redeems/saves humanity. But there is debate at an academic level, and considerable vagueness at a popular level, about how much it matters what kind of flesh Jesus took on at the incarnation.

At one end of the spectrum, we have the kind of lazy racism that assumes Jesus redeemed white flesh and finds it inconceivable that he was of any other ethnicity! But the issue that I have most engaged with over the years is the question of whether it matters that Jesus was male.

Over the course of the many debates about women's ordination, some people clearly thought that because Jesus was male, men were in some special theological category of godliness - men could represent Jesus in a way that women couldn't. Ts is clearly nonsense, as the theological point of the incarnation is that Jesus assumed human flesh so that human flesh could be redeemed. If you take the fact of his maleness as not simply an incidental feature of his particularity (ie, in order to become fully human you have to be A PARTICULAR human, not generic 'humanity') but as of key salvific importance, then the logical implication is that women aren't as fully saved as men are, which no serious theologian would argue.

So I was really interested to see this question about extra terrestial life! It opens up a whole other area for discussion - which is, do we think that God in Jesus assumed HUMAN flesh, so PEOPLE are redeemed? Or do we think that, in assuming 'flesh', God became identified with the whole created order, so that what is redeemed is creation itself? The scriptural reflection on this is mixed, sometimes talking about 'man redeeming man', sometimes about 'creation'. Its a question that has pastoral implications for those of us who are clergy, who are surprisingly often asked about whether pets go to heaven, and similar conundrums.

So the thought experiment about alien life is fascinating. Few of us would now see 'creation' as simply involving this planet - the whole created order clearly involves all the universe. So do we think that the incarnation of Jesus as a Palestinian child about 2000 years ago sufficed to save the whole created order, or just humanity? What do you think?


  1. Puts a whole new light on the sheep of another fold

  2. Did you ever read "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell?

  3. Hi Miranda, CS Lewis puts an interesting spin on it in Perelandra (Voyage to Venus). His book suggests it is only the sentient life on Earth that had fallen and so needed redeeming. The Hnau and Sorn on Mars had not. Somewhere else in Lewis, but I can't find it at the moment he does ask if Christ needs to die in each new world. Maybe someone else can remember his speculation on that.

  4. I think that implications of the 'fall' had implications for how the whole of the creation functioned so then Jesus came to initiate the restoration of the whole created order. This is indicated by verses such as Romans 8:19-22