According to the Washington Post and Catholic News Service, our view of the universe as a gated community may be crumbling.
The Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences recently held its first major conference on astrobiology, the new science that seeks to find life elsewhere in the cosmos and understand how it began on earth. The attendees primarily focused on the scientific aspect, but it's certainly not too soon to ponder the theological impact of discovering life on other planets.
Churches would have to do a lot of adjusting if we ever started mingling with these hypothetical extraterrestrial. Most of us aren't ready to hear someone gush, "Gimme eight bingo cards -- one for each tentacle." Community outreach programs would have to teach EML (English as a Millionth Language). Soup kitchens would ring with shouts of "Hey, there's a fly in my soup! Got any more?"
Deacons would have to learn to calm down the over-eager. ("I know it's called a church bowling league, but we don't really bowl with church buildings. Now set it down gently.") Snoozing during the sermon would go high-tech as members used suspended animation chambers borrowed from their alien brethren. Youth ministers would become envious of one another. ("Oh, you're lucky. You got the cocoon-stage class. I got all the raging hormones of the semi-mature crystalline class.")
Of course some sincere religious leaders take an earth-centric view and denounce all this speculation about life on other planets. ("God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and E.T.! Genesis doesn't say anything about flying saucers...or North America or...uh, I think I left my iron plugged in..."). They lump astrobiology in with evolution as one of the heresies that can undermine the faith of their followers. Perhaps, but people find their own ways to undermine their faith. ("Agghh! My red-letter edition Bible has started fading to pink. Guess I'll have to stay home and watch football and drink Bud Lite. Doggone it!")
(I understand that some religions are more open to the idea of extraterrestrials. The Koran supposedly mentions life on other planets. So I guess the suicide jockeys at Roswell, New Mexico got their 72 little green virgins.)
I guess the main issue is how would aliens fit into our picture of sin and redemption? What kind of sins would aliens even be capable of? ("You're a hypocrite. You pretend to be something you're not." "Of course, you moron! I'm a Venusian shape-shifter! That's what I do!")
Yes, if we do discover aliens and the consensus is that they should be preached to, the confessional booth would hear some strange stuff. ("Uh, to tell you the truth, my son--I'm assuming you're a male of the species-- I'm not sure I can identify the beverage, curse, or bodily orifice mentioned in your confession -- but if you've got room for a semi-trailer of rosary beads....")
Let's hope the aliens don't take umbrage at our missionaries and declare intergalactic war. If a confrontation erupted, we would see the unleashing of forces that make the atomic bomb pale in comparison. And that's just the Catholic school nuns.
No matter how all-encompassing the war, some people will still be in denial. ("Uh huh...so you're the emperor of Alpha Centauri. Right. Stop staring at me with your eyeball stalk and produce your birth certificate. I think you're from Kenya.")
Note: Danny Tyree welcomes e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.