Text copyright © 2016 Robert B. Clemons III
NOTE: What follows is the “Introduction” of a book I am still writing on the subject of Exotheology. In the likely case that you are not familiar with this subject, it deals with the idea of theology from an extraterrestrial perspective. The first paragraph, after the following quote from an Arthur C. Clarke novel, will make it clear what question this subject explores. I anticipate completing the entire book by the end of May, 2017.
“The huge and silent shadows driving across the stars . . . were as far beyond his little ‘Columbus’ as it surpassed the log canoes of Paleolithic man . . . Reinhold watched, as all the world was watching, while the great ships descended in their overwhelming majesty—until at last he could hear the faint scream of their passage through the thin air of the stratosphere.”
Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End, Ballantine Books, Inc. NY, 1953
In 1953, Arthur C. Clarke, one of the most visionary science fiction authors of the 20th century, wrote in his great novel, Childhood’s End1, of the inevitable first contact with humanity of an extraterrestrial civilization. While he did not employ the term exotheology, Clarke wrote of the impact it will have on the religions of humankind when alien beings from the stars come to visit in a public way.
How will it affect the many religions of Earth when beings from other star systems land here and begin to interact with human beings and with human civilization in a public forum? That is the primary question posed by exotheology.
We know, from human history, what the fate has been for the religions of indigenous peoples when advance human cultures have invaded their lands. Constantine insisted that all Romans become Christians, the European pioneers who came to the land whose name they changed to America changed its original inhabitants (who survived the slaughter) to Christians, and the slaves kidnapped/bought from Africa had their religions changed to Christian. The Muslims have been at least equally intolerant of the personal religions of the inhabitants of lands they have conquered over the centuries. Will advanced extraterrestrials be any more merciful than human beings are in this area?
Many other Science Fiction authors have speculated on this and various other issues related to extraterrestrial religion or lack thereof; however, little has been written from the religious or academic theological arena concerning the possible ramifications of such an interstellar conflict of theologies. Many theologians undoubtedly see this area as too speculative or too closely related to Science Fiction to share the great benefit of their creative, well-informed ideas. On the contrary, this is an area of present, serious concern to all philosophies and theologies. It is an idea whose time has certainly arrived. Science no longer doubts the likelihood that there are other intelligent civilizations spread across the Milky Way, not to mention all the other billions of galaxies throughout the universe.
C. S. Lewis was one of the rare Christian academicians who took an early interest and expressed his honest appraisal of the possibility or probability that there are other planets with other civilizations of intelligent beings, created by God. He speculated on the idea that perhaps Christ had been incarnated within those civilizations as well. He also considered the idea that God would present other worlds with other plans of atonement, and even that there may be worlds where the beings created in God’s image, never yielded to the temptation to “eat the forbidden fruit.” There are a handful of brave thinkers like Lewis spread all the way back to the early Church writers, but very little thought as been given to the subject.
Looking at this subject from another facet raises the idea that maybe those Christians who expect Jesus to come back soon are billions of years off in their timing. It may be that Earth really is as special to God’s Salvation Plan as humans have traditionally believed, but to an infinitely larger degree, and that humanity serves a special purpose in God’s creation that we never considered. Perhaps the Christ Event is something that started on Earth and is destined to spread throughout the rest of the universe in an evangelistic explosion that exceeds Billy Graham’s crusade numbers to an infinite degree. Along with that idea, it may be that a hands off rule, so far, is in effect throughout the Universe in regards to Earth. The idea would be that we are not ready yet, for First Contact. The command could have come down the chain from God proclaiming that Earth has a special role and purpose under God’s Salvation Plan in the Universe. Maybe that’s why the angels (extraterrestrial protectors?) were so excited and joyful in the New Testament Christmas story (Luke 2:8-15).
Most environmental experts agree that it is necessary for us to prepare today for the massive threats of climate change that, year by year, are coming upon us. Many people are now worried about an asteroid or comet or even a rogue planet, colliding with the Earth and impacting civilization in varieties of potential ways including extinction. The fact is, the thing that is most likely to happen, when one considers the vast number of star systems in our galaxy alone, is the eventual arrival of extraterrestrials, far more advance than us (they would have to be just to be able to make the journey), who come here on purpose to execute whatever agenda they have. The number of stars in our galaxy alone outnumbers, by billions of times, all the space objects that may collide with Earth.
It seems to me that we must prepare ourselves for the culture shock that will certainly wreak havoc on our civilization when aliens from the stars introduce themselves to our world. We hope they will come as benefactors, bringing technology that will solve our most dire problems. Perhaps they will provide a hitherto unknown solution to the aforementioned “climate change” issue. They will certainly bring their theology, philosophy, political agendas, and the ways they believe are best for getting things done. Will we be prepared to sustain this meeting of minds and souls, or will we be overwhelmed by lack of forethought about this event?
The idea of “first contact” from an extra terrestrial origin is no longer limited to fiction by thoughtful people. A large number of prominent scientists have, over the last 50 years, expressed increasing acceptance and curiosity related to this subject.2 Kip Thorne of Cal Tech (responding to the request of Carl Sagan of Cornell University) pursued research to determine advanced means by which civilizations from other star systems might travel to Earth by way of Worm Holes. Professor George Wald, Nobel Laureate and professor of biology at Harvard, wrote of his certainty that we live in an inhabited universe that has life all over it. Professor Richard Berendzen, prominent American physicist, former President of American University, and Director of NASA’s Space Grant Consortium for Washington, D.C. suggested that it is not a matter of if but of where. He stated that many of these civilizations are probably far more advanced than ours.3 The Voyager spacecraft seemed to have, as one of its major missions, to send out an invitation to anyone in the Milky Way Galaxy who may receive it, and desire to come calling on us. The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program has been searching the skies in earnest for decades, looking for invitations from whatever ET neighbors we may find out there.
Entertainment voices have stepped up their efforts as science has become more vocal on the subject. Creative artists in all media seem to be actively involved in preparing us for E.T. contact. Television series, documentaries, movies, books, and even advertisements are portraying ideas for how such contact may take place and what sorts of beings they may be. The blockbuster movies, “Independence Day,” “Alien,” and “Ender’s Game,” are several of the many versions that have the aliens coming to destroy us, “Predator” depicts them as sportsmen who love to hunt on Earth, E.T. portrays them as harmless researchers, “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” suggests that they will come here in order to determine whether we are suitable for inclusion in the interplanetary social network or too dangerous to continue living. Certain advertisements, such as Pepsi, whimsically suggest it will be our great tasting food and drink that brings them to our door. All of these sources seem to be cooperating in preparing us to accept this next step in humanity’s maturation process.
Also, over the last half-century, many theologians have finally broken free of an unrealistic view of the universe, based not so much on Holy Scriptures (which seem rather E.T. friendly if you read them looking for the clues), as an on the outright, conservative opposition to change of any kind. Walter Sullivan has written:
“After centuries of resistance, theologians in some of the major Christian denominations have begun to grapple with the religious implications of these discoveries—in particular the fact that not only are we not central in the scheme of things, but we may be inferior, physically, mentally, and spiritually, to more highly evolved beings elsewhere.”4
Why are some religious groups often “centuries behind” the rest of society in accepting the discoveries made by common sense applications of perception? Why are many believers so narrow minded and anti-change oriented? We should be leading the way in the mental and spiritual exploration if not the physical exploration of our corner of the Universe. How can physical discovery be nervously construed as a threat to faith, which is by its own nature, of spiritual substance and origin? It seems to reflect a great insecurity in the people of faith (at least some of them) when they are so narrowly opposed to progress in discovery of the natural laws of our world or of their own concept of God’s Creation. If God created it this way, with these observed laws of nature, why would people of faith hold back from embracing such God installed laws?
Science is now telling us the universe is about 13.5 billion years old.5 Earth, occupying one of the newer corners of the universe, is a mere 5 billion years old6. Humankind (including its evolutionary hominid steps) has existed on Earth for, perhaps, three to four million years7. We have been on Earth in our current form for the last forty thousand years or so. Humans did not have the ability to record their own affairs in writing until some point during the last ten thousand years. It was not until 1903 that we learned to fly, and it was 1969, when our flying machines first took us to another world (the moon).
Suppose there have been other civilizations on other planets bathed by the radiations of other stars since the first five billion years of the universe. Whereas the people of Earth are at our present stage of technology and intellectual development (on a five billion year old world), the beings of these hypothetical civilizations would be up to 8.5 billion years ahead of us. They would be incomprehensible to us. Our entire evolutionary development as humans only goes back a few million years. We would be of absolutely no interest to them (as a species). There is nothing intelligent any of us can say about them, because each one of them may as well be thought of as equal to our greatest ability to imagine what God is actually like. In other words, as it says in the Bible, our human thoughts are folly to God, because God is so far beyond us. Concerning beings that are billions of years ahead of us or merely thousands of years more advanced, we have no way to compare them to God. As with human children when they are considering all adults of every age, to us, those super advanced beings and God are all “old,” in the same category of obscure maturity to us, and beyond our ability to comprehend correctly.
One particular thing seems certain to me. Beings that are billions of years ahead of us will never make personal contact with us. As I said, we would not even be able to comprehend them. Beings who are many, many steps down the hierarchy from them will be the ones who actually visit us. They will be so advanced and so powerful that they will have means of transportation that will have brought them from many light years away, but they will be enough like us that we will be able to comprehend their presence and their intentions. They will be more like the advanced aliens depicted in our science fiction films, like Star Trek and Star Wars. Some may be friendly and benevolent, while others may be predatory and bent on our subjugation or destruction. Regardless of how far beyond us they are, that they are advanced enough to travel from another star system makes it certain that they will be advanced enough to overcome us.
One cannot help but wonder in awe, what such beings must be like in form, intellect, knowledge, and ability. To what stage would they have evolved? Perhaps they have become special guardians of young civilizations such as ours, serving a role far lower that the godlike beings envisioned above. They must, at least, be observers and students of anthropology if they take notice of our existence at all. While they may be the ones who come to shepherd a civilization like ours to the next stage of development, above them may be beings that are in charge of large sections of our galaxy. And above them may be beings that supervise whole galaxies, and others who are at the level of guiding each parallel universe in an infinitely larger multiverse. We may have perceived a being as Almighty God, because he is the one in charge of our universe, whereas, that being may be way down the ladder from the true God of all that is; the one who is over the infinite number of parallel universes that make up all of God’s inconceivably large Creation.
It’s possible that clues in all of our religions and mythologies that stretch back to prehistoric times, could provide us with a better understanding of the real hierarchy among planets, star systems, galaxies, and maybe even universes. When the Bible speaks of Yahweh, and the incredibly powerful angels he assigns to this or that task on Earth, it could be a hint of an interstellar chain of command. Michael, Gabriel, and other angels (known mainly in extra biblical literature, but referred to impersonally in the Judeo Christian Scriptures), may be responsible for much more than what we read about in the Christmas stories of Luke and Matthew, and in other places such as Daniel and Revelation. Revelation mentions a battle between Michael and his angels and Satan and his angels, which would fit right into any science fiction or fantasy scenario about extra terrestrial beings.
Keep in mind that the Bible indicates there are an untold number of angels whose individual names we’re never told (in the books of the Bible Canon). Just as an example, Jesus said at one point that he could call twelve legions of angels to come to his rescue with just a word. Elijah helped Elisha to see that the mountains surrounding them on their journey were covered with angels who were looking over them. In the Exodus story, one of the plagues against Egypt was that “the angel of death,” also called “the destroyer,” came upon the land and killed every first-born son.
What if angels are the same beings that UFO groups are talking about as extra terrestrials? What if angels are simply a more advanced species of beings, from somewhere else, that are assigned by the powers that be, to keep order on Earth? Along with that, the ancient mythological literature from Greece, Rome, Norway, and multiple other places out of humanity, are replete with the names of powerful beings who were labeled as gods, but may have been advanced beings from other planets, solar systems, or even other galaxies. They may have been the same beings that the Bible refers to as angels. We live in an incomprehensibly large Universe that is, in our current understanding, 13.5 billion years old. Modern physics speculates that there are perhaps an infinite number of similar universes making up what they call “The Multiverse.” How much is out there that we don’t know? The correct answer is so close to 100% that you may as well round it off to that.
If civilizations that have advanced millions or billions of years beyond ours have been observing us since our beginnings, what have they witnessed? What do they know about our origins, our development and our religions? Did they observe the Buddha in his meditations? Did they watch Moses receive the Law? Did they record the daily activities of Jesus of Nazareth as his ministry took him through crucifixion and as his followers lived through the days and years beyond that event? Did they record the Resurrection? Were these universal watchers viewing Mohammed as he received the Koran? Did one of them (Gabriel) dictate it to him as it states in that book? What did they actually see? What could they tell us about ourselves? Is our own record of our personal history accurate, or is it more myth than reality? Are these beings actually the ones who were the “supernatural” players in all of the above-mentioned significant, formative events from our history?
If there are interstellar civilizations that are billions of years old, and some prominent scientists admit the probability that there are, what will they reveal about humanity when they finally reveal themselves to us? What can they tell us about God? Which earthly gods will they absolutely expose as hoaxes or, at best, noble legends, or misunderstandings from observing advanced beings accomplishing necessary things in our infancy-level species? Surely all religions cannot be correct in every detail. Perhaps none are. Which ones will fall victim to the truth recorded on sophisticated technological equipment aimed at Earth thousands of years ago?
Theology considered from a viewpoint outside of this physical planet, that is, theology based on the presumed existence of other physical worlds inhabited by thinking, living creatures, is the relatively new field of study called exotheology. As the human race ventures more seriously into space through the use of telescopes, radios, and space ships, those of us whose minds dwell on spiritual and esthetic thoughts are compelled also to bring along our philosophies and theologies.
How will it affect our civilization if the first aliens to land publically confess Christ as the Lord of the Universe? On the other hand, what will it say to the Earth’s largest religious faith if Christ is not known to the beings of any other world, or if they know him as a Prince of the Ruler of this galaxy or this universe, which is only one of the infinite number of universes created by the Almighty God of all that is? Will that inspire an evangelical movement toward the stars or will it weaken the tenets of a great faith, or will it be communicated in such a way that we understand fully that Christ is still Christ and God is still God, but that the whole subject is far larger than we ever imagined imagining?
Those of us who sincerely believe in God and in a personal relationship with God must be prepared with open, inquiring minds when the ships from the stars arrive. True spiritual life/faith cannot be destroyed by new evidence, but grows in maturity and fullness as the truth continues to be fulfilled.
Visitors from other stars will undoubtedly bring evidence that will change our conceptions of the universe, of God, and of ourselves. We can no more prevent this next stage of human experience than we could have prevented the discovery of Earth’s physical position in space by Copernicus and Galileo. What Christian of the twenty-first century would be so foolish as to argue that the sun revolves around the Earth? Yet, when Galileo discovered concrete evidence that the Earth revolves around the sun, the Church authorities, in outrage, excommunicated him and had him imprisoned. He remained excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church until the twentieth century, long after his death. The slow, but eventual acceptance of this new knowledge has not reduced our belief in God. On the contrary, as we realize the greater limits and deeper complexities of the Universe God has created, our respect for God increases, and our awe is more profound. Instead of attempting to suppress new knowledge when it is revealed, let us be prepared to grow in grace by faith through such revelations.
Human beings have apparently always believed in God or in gods of one kind or another. There is evidence of this from the most primitive societies in our history.8 Evidence of this kind does not prove the existence of the spiritual world nor of God. Likewise, humankind’s growing understanding of the natural laws that are behind the physical universe does not disprove the existence of a spiritual world and a Creator of all that is.
Brilliant human beings over the last couple of centuries have made heroic efforts to show that many of the Scriptural statements from the major, ancient religions are not logical, and, as far as reason can show, are not true.9 These efforts have not disproved the existence of God or the spiritual world. If anything, they have proved that God cannot be imprisoned by the faithful in lifeless pages of literature, nor analyzed away through the application of human logic employed by the faithless.
For the last two thousand years or so, quite sophisticated arguments and logical syllogisms have been rendered in defense of and in attack upon the concept of the existence of God. In all those years the ultimate proof has not evolved. It remains a matter of faith for those who believe and principle for those who do not.
The next major step in humankind’s search for God may be through exotheology. As we learn more about the beginning of the universe, and as we understand more about the origins of our species, we shall grow in our perceptions of God. But the next explosion in theological thinking will most likely be when those creatures from civilizations beyond our solar system first come to witness their concept of God to humanity.
Notes from the Introduction
- Clarke depicts the aliens as nonreligious and religion as part of humankind’s childhood fantasy that must come to an end. He seems hostile or at least antagonistic toward religion and makes many criticisms against it in this work.
- Such as Kip Thorne, George Wald, Richard Berendzen, Carl Sagan, J. P. T. Pearman, Melvin Calvin, Sir Bernard Lovel, and Harrison S. Brown to name just a few.
- National Geographic, May 74, p. 624
- Sullivan, p. 4
- Hawking, The Grand Design, p. 124
- Calder, p. 119.
- Sagan, Dragons of Eden, pp. 88-89
- For example, John B. Noss reports the findings of an eighteen thousand year old skeleton (of a 25 year old man) that was painted red, perhaps symbolic of blood and life. Rods and rings made from mammoth tusks and seashells, all painted with the same red ochre, were found with the skeleton, perhaps symbolic of food for use on the journey to the other world. (Noss, p. 38)
- Voltaire, Hume, Rousseau, Russell, Charles Bradlaugh, Brand Blanshard, G. J. Romanes, Bronislaw Malinowski, and others.
National Geographic, “The Incredible Universe,” Kenneth F. Weaver and James P. Blair. Vol. 145, No. 5, May 1974. Pp. 589-625.
Thorne, Kip S., Black Holes & Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1994.
Sullivan, Walter. We Are Not Alone, The Search for Intelligent Life on Other Worlds. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co. 1966.
Hawking, Stephen and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design. New York: Bantam Books, 2010.
Calder, Nigel. Einstein’s Universe. New York: The Viking Press, 1979.
Sagan, Carl. The Dragons of Eden, Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence. New York: Random House, Inc. 1977.
Noss, John B. Man’s Religions. London: The Macmillan Company, Collier-Macmillan Limited, 1949 (original copyright), 1972 (sixth printing).
Voigt, Andrew George. Between God and Man. Columbia, SC: The United Lutheran Publication House. 1926.
Ellwood, Robert S. Jr. Many Peoples Many Faiths: An Introduction to the Religious Life of Mankind. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1976.
Sagan, Carl. Broca’s Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science. New York: Ballantine Books. 1974
Plato. The Republic of Plato. Cornford, Francis M. (Translator). New York: Oxford University Press, 1945. (Originally published in England, 1941).
The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1903-1904.
The Holy Bible, New International Version (NIV). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1978.
The New English Bible. Cambridge: The University Press, 1972.
Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time from the Big Bang to Black Holes. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.
Clarke, Arthur C. Childhood’s End. New York: Ballantine Books, Inc., 1953
Metaxas, Eric. Miracles. New York: Dutton, 2014.
De Chardin, Teilhard. The Phenomenon of Man. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1959.
De Chardin, Teilhard. The Divine Milieu. New York: Harper and Row, 1957