Can ET And Christmas Co-exist?

Until ET decides to talk with usand share the insights of other lifeforms, we are stuck with our ownpurportedly received insights.  Maybethose are important.

In the meantime, we can havedelightful hypothetical discussions such as the following article and bookpitch.

Otherwise, Christianity as knownserved to rescue Western civilization from a continuing treadmill ofinstitutionalized barbarism one painful step at a time.  Those values, however masked, are now doingthe same everywhere else.  Was that thewhole purpose?

All I am sure of is that I am notgoing to the coliseum to witness and cheer blood sports with realcasualties.  Nor am I keeping slaves toprove my importance.  All that took twothousand years to accomplish and we have now reached a state that we can almostlook in ET’s eye and not be trembling in guilt.

I do think these thoughts are nowtimely.

December 22, 2010

Imagine there's intelligent life somewhere out in the universe. Thenthink about the message of Christmas.

The essential Christmas story is that Christ came in human form to liveamong us on Earth to save all sinners here. What if there are intelligentbeings out "there?" Do they have Christmas too?

If the question sounds silly, some people take it very seriously.

In a soon-to-be published book, First Contact, The Washington Post's Marc Kaufman quotes Gary Bates, thehead of Creation Ministries in Atlanta,who says he is deeply uncomfortable with the notion of extraterrestrial life.

"My theological perspective is that ET life would actually make amockery of the very reason Christ came to die for our sins, for our redemption,"he told [Kaufman]. Bates believes that "the entire focus of creation ismankind on this Earth" and that intelligent, morally awareextraterrestrial life would undermine that view and belief in the incarnation,resurrection and redemption drama so central to the faith. "It is a hugeproblem that many Christians have not really thought about."

Oh, but they have. And not only Christians.

There could be other beings, also intelligent, created by God.

-        Jesuit astronomerJose Gabriel Funes

Epicurus, long, long ago, proposed that life exists on other celestialbodies. Aristotle proposed the opposite: that life is here and nowhere else.Aristotle's view was taken up by the Church. In 1600, philosopher GiordanoBruno was burned at the stake for, among other things, believing in a"plurality of world," so this question is old, contentious andsometimes dangerous.

But doctrines can change. A statue of Giordano Bruno now stands in Rome, near the Vatican. Two years ago, thedirector of the Vatican Observatory matter-of-factlyreferred to potential life in the universe as our "extraterrestrialbrothers."

"As a multiplicity of creatures exists on Earth, so there could beother beings, also intelligent, created by God."  said Jesuitastronomer Jose Gabriel Funes. "This does not conflict with our faithbecause we cannot put limits on the creative freedom of God."

That remark got a lot of attention, from, among others, the alwaysalert TV comedian Stephen Colbert (himself a Catholic) who invited a Vaticanastronomer from Arizona,Brother Guy Consolmagno, to come on the show.

Brother Guy, (previously trained as a physicist at MIT) told Colbertthat the Church has always recognized extraterrestrials, beings with wings wholive in a zone that is near but not of Earth. They are called"angels."  "The whole mythology of angels in the Jewish andChristian tradition shows that the Church, the religious people, the peoplethat wrote the bible, were not afraid of other intelligent creatures who arealso worshipping God," Guy said.

Colbert, speaking tongue-in-cheek but for many in his audience,wondered "Doesn't this upset our place at the center of God'screation?"  Quoting the catechism, about how Jesus was "born ofthe Virgin Mary and became man," he wondered if other intelligentcommunities have their own saviors, also sent by God, and if it turns out thereare multiple Christmas stories, doesn't that somehow diminish our own?

I know Colbert is a comedian, not a theologian, but he's obviouslysmart, sensitive and maybe even a believer. More important, he knows how topress a point. Though he pushed Brother Guy pretty hard, thephysicist-turned-monk seemed very comfortable with the idea of extraterrestrialChristmases.

WhenColbert went all the way and asked could there be different saviors ondifferent planets across the universe, to the audience's astonishment, BrotherConsolmagno didn't  object. Instead he smiled and said, "I'm notthere, I haven't found out.'

So that's the question: What happens to Christmas when there are notone, but two, three or 40,000 civilizations across the universe?  Can thebaby Jesus and ET share the holiday? No, says Gary Bates. Yes, says BrotherGuy. This is not a real question yet, because the only intelligent life we knowis here. But if that changes, will Christmas change too?

Marc Kaufman's new book, First Contact: Scientific Breakthroughs in theHunt for Life Beyond Earth (Simon and Schuster), will be published inApril, 2011. Brother Guy Consolmagno's book on astronomy is called TheHeavens Proclaim, Astronomy and the Vatican. Stephen Colbert'sconversation with Brother Guy Consolmagno — based on an article Marc wrotein the Washington Post, can be seen here. Myown contribution to this theological discussion, a Christmas cartoon fablecalled Santa and theSpace Nicks describes an intergalactic gathering of Santa Clauses.

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