On the potential influence of ETs upon the world's religions

Let’s assume for the sake of this argument that there are extraterrestrial civilizations.

One of those civilizations sends a “Welcome Wagon” our way, and the human race on this planet now has incontrovertible proof that we are not the only sentient species in this universe.

What would our religious leaders say about this? For instance, how would the doctrines of Christianity apply to these extraterrestrials? This question has occurred to me because more than once I’ve heard the saying that God created man in his own image, and since it is probably safe to assume that extraterrestrials will not be a dead ringer for humans, what then would be the explanation for this situation?

And what do you think is the most likely reaction by the majority of the world’s religious leaders to an event like this?

I would assume it would be something like the movie Contact (espically the scene in the desert). Some of the members would assume the aliens to be messengers of God/Gods or in fact even a specific deity of their religion or sect (depdening on the likeness of the aliens) Some would consider them deamons out to destroy us,and still others wouldn’t know what the heck to think.

I beleive it would depend more on the interaction with the aliens,espically if happen to have a religion of their own.

A more intresting thing is what about the UFO cults and what kind of bragging rights would they use(See,I told ya all along!)

Tell us more about these aliens and their course of action a little more descriptively. Depending on what they are and what they say the reaction would be different.

If they say they seeded the planet (zoo theory) the answer will be a little different then if they say they just randomly evolved and don’t know how life starts either. If they can tell us how life begins (break it down mechanically) and can creat life themselves (genetic design of new lifeforms - a tech we are just about to have in our grasp), then the reaction would be interesting to say the least.

DaLovin’ Dj

Hmmm…there’s thius sci-fi book by Arthur C. Clarke (I believe) called “Rama” about an alien spaceship entering the solar system. One of the main charachters, a member of the team sent to explore the ship, is a deep catholic believer. He asks to meet the pope before the departure to ask him what could be the consequences, from a religious point of view, if the existence of an intelligent ET life was proven. Basically, the pope said that in this case, necessarily, this ET specy would also be concerned by the original sin and would also have been visited by the savior.

You’re going to say…That’s just a sci-fi book. But…
I read it roughly when the NASA made an announcment about this meteor found in the antarctic which could be an evidence that there could be life on Mars. My favorite newspaper printed a long article on this topic and more generally about ET life. And I was amazed to read that there has already been a sort of think tank of theologians who have debatted this issue in Rome. And their conclusions were the same than in the Clarke’s novel I just finished reading! That the existence of a race of intelligent ET wouldn’t contradict the catholic doctrine, and that they would be guilty of the original sin and would have been redempted by the savior.
Well…it is said that the catholic church is bent on the past, but apparently extremely efficient when it comes to prepare the future too…

[Inigo Montoya voice]I do not think that means what you think it means[/Inigo Montoya voice].

Remember that God is infinite and formless, so when he creates man “in his own image” it’s not referring to physical form. It’s talking about free will and intellect.

As to the remainder of the OP, I think it would be curious to find out which religion would learn the ETs’ language first in order to go proselytize.

I’m not so sure it would really affect any religion out there.

shrug I know it wouldn’t mess with my faith if ET came strolling down the street. I can’t see how it would shake a devout Muslim, or Buddhist, or Jew, or any other religion either.

It wouldn’t directly contradict any of the religions that I know, so they’d get used to it. As for “in his own image” they can just use the old “it was all a metaphor” trick.

I’m currently reading Sundiver, by David Brin, in which aliens have made contact with humanity. I’m not done with it yet, but thusfar the only comment on religion has been that once the ETs showed up, most of whom had no religion, organized human religion largely died out (unless you want to consider the Von-Danikenite Chariots-of-the-Gods cult a religion.)

IMHO, Dr. Brin underestimates the tenaciousness of religious thought.

Then again, there are hints that religion will play an important role as the book unfolds, so my judgement may be premature.

Some strains of fundamentalist Christians believe in UFOs–or rather, believe that they are demons, or demonic projections, or somesuch. Alien contact would probably cause all sorts of rumbles and ugly things in those fringes; schisms would pop up convinced that post-Contact was the End Times, now that the demons openly walk the earth.

Less fringe elements would pretty much keep on keeping on, as already well covered.

The question though is what religion would the ET’s be? Would they believe in a God or a creator? Assuming they would have more knowledge of the universe than we do, would they* tell us* how we were created?

They don’t need to use any tricks. The phrase does not refer to physical image. The only way that the ETs would not be formed in God’s image would be if they didn’t have free will/intellect/etc.

Lastly, the whole question on this phrase makes no sense. Cats aren’t formed in God’s image. Pigs aren’t. Trees aren’t. So just because a few ETs aren’t either, that suddenly throws everything into a tizzy and requires an explanation? Nonsense.

I was under the impression that humans were nothing more than non-sentient animals until after what some call the “original sin.” So…could anyone clear up what exactly is meant by the whole “created in own image” thing is supposed to mean?

You’re of course right, Neurotik, and I’m sure mainstream theologians would back you up if the ships ever landed. That said, the confusion over that phrase in this thread would also be seen in the real world if strange creatures ever made contact. Many sects would undoubtedly consider such beings “ungodly” despite what the folks in the vatican and the local seminary were saying.

Another interesting question would be in how such creatures interacted with religious morality. How do religious commandments on sexuality apply to a race that (for example) is sexually active only once every few years, and has three genders?

What would happen if they screwed openly in the streets, popped out their young, and then abandoned them to communal nurseries? Even atheists would blush at that, since I’d guess that we’d try to hold intelligent creatures to our own, human standards.

What if the race was completely alien to us, to teh point where they had trouble understanding death, let alone the afterlife.

Yes, those are indeed valid points, Mennochio. And I’m sure there would be no shortage of folks that would act on the idea of image of God being physical. However, I just didn’t want to allow that little idea to propagate here on the board.

Mandos, humans were always sentient in the Bible. At least, sentient enough to speak and understand language. That, IMHO, implies sentience.

And then there might be the ones whose species had never even developed the idea of a Divine Creator.

Would they embrace religion? Laugh at it? Be frightened of us because of a belief in what cannot be seen or measured? Try to “cure” us of a perceived mental illness?

I think it’d be even more interesting if an ET showed up and said something like, “Oh yeah, the [one particular religion/sect] have it right.” That would put a lot of pressure on believers of other theologies–at least for awhile.

Tossing in the Catholic perspective–

The Church has repeatedly said (I don’t have the Catechism in front of me, but you can look up “extraterrestrials” in the index) that their existence has no bearing on Catholic theology. If God made 'em, great. If he didn’t, great.

If they were sentient, what did they gain from the fruit?

The ability to have an inherent knowledge of right and wrong.

What I would find interesting would be if space aliens understood the concept of God, but a different family and social structure.

Sure would play havoc with Freud’s idea of God as an idealized Father figure.

Can’t remember the sci-fi story where a Catholic missionary goes to Mars to proselytize the natives, and approaches their main city with some of his fellow astronauts. This is the first contact with Martians, and they all hear some strange language being broadcast from the towers of the city. The missionary hears it, and falls over in a dead faint.

The others revive him, and ask what the problem is. The missionary tells them that he understood what the strange language said from the city.

“There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is His prophet.”

C.S. Lewis, in his Out of the Silent Planet, deals with the question of alien religion. It turns out that they are all Christian. The next book of the trilogy, Perelandra, is sort of a re-telling of the story of the Garden of Eden, reenacted on Venus.