Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Sunday 29 November |
Saint of the Day: Bl. Bernardo Francisco de Hoyos
home iconLifestyle
line break icon

Would You Baptize An Alien? Maybe, If They Exist

Jason-Scragz-CC

Russell E. Saltzman - published on 03/31/15

Answers to questions from the Vatican Observatory's in-box

Never have I had an intimate one-on-one relationship with an alien. If they don’t bother me, I won’t bother them. Besides, I would be very upset if one of them unannounced started messing with my REM sleep cycle. 

I’m talking about the alien guys you find lurking around Area 51, swapping stories. They get featured on television reality shows, like Ancient Astronauts and UFO Hunters. As with all reality shows, things are hardly ever real and besides, who lives like that, anyway?

But real extraterrestrials, the ones we never hear from, I don’t mess with them either, not anymore. Not because I’m not interested; once I was quite fond of them. But after them snubbing me for all these years they’ve become more of a laid-aside hobby than a quest. Sadly, I doubt there are any authentic not-of-earth intelligences that look up into the sky and wonder if we exist. That’s pretty much because the weight of evidence, as I read it, means they don’t exist. And if they do, but haven’t been in touch with us, that’s a separate problem. We’re all hanging around, waiting for a blind date that never shows, and doesn’t even phone with an excuse. Rude, is what it is.

It was Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series that first fixed me on aliens. Sagan had this marvelous notion of an Encyclopaedia Galactica, a depository of intergalactic information. It envisioned extraterrestrial civilizations sharing their stories, organic chemistries and, a gesture of touching trust, revealing the locations of their home planets.

This was my go-to television series from November 1980 to its conclusion that December. Under Sagan’s lash—and, okay, Star Trek’s—I once memorized the Drake Equation. Even before Cosmos, I read his 1966 Intelligent Life in the Universe (co-authored with Russian astrophysicist Iosif Shklovsky). He spent a chapter discussing “paleocontact” between humans and aliens visiting earth. He speculated later that he had inadvertently set off the entire chariots of the gods gobbledygook. Thanks, Carl.

Pope Francis hasn’t been of much help lately, either. “If tomorrow,” he speculated a year ago, “an expedition of aliens from Mars arrives and one of the green ones with long nose and big ears, like those which children draw, comes and says, ‘I want a Baptism!’ What would happen?” 

Very little, probably, due to the distinct possibility that when it comes to galactic intelligence, we’re all there is. Tweak the Drake Equation one way—and perhaps the only way—it all comes down to us, lonely us. The chance of us being here, now, is so incredibly small it makes the absence of extraterrestrial intelligence even more likely. The excuses made for E.T.’s Great Silence are wearing thin.

So why bring it up it? Pope Francis posed the question to assert God’s openness to all humanity, asserting a radical love for human beings that should be found as well within the Church. Using an alien, he exaggerated for effect. And it was not the first time theologians have wondered about it, and the wonder is always in relationship to God’s relationship to human beings. 

That is pretty much the way we always think of aliens, in science and in science fiction. Without actually encountering one, they inevitably become our own projection of us. We are always searching for hints of ourselves, of what human is, and we find “us” lodged somewhere within the Other. 

That is how things are handled in Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?, written by two scientists at the Vatican Observatory, Br. Guy Consolmagno, SJ, and Fr. Paul R. Mueller, SJ. It’s a breezy book, but don’t let that fool you. They grapple with big subjects; all framed as “questions from the astronomer’s in-box at the Vatican Observatory,” so the subtitle has it. They range over the landscape of science and faith: Genesis and the Big Bang (and the bearing art has on a discussion of both), Galileo and the Vatican (like Wagner’s music, it’s not as bad as it sounds), what was the Christmas Star of Bethlehem (whatever, it “beats looking at a glowing Santa”), the heat death of the universe, and in the last chapter, aliens.

  • 1
  • 2
Tags:
Books
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
LUXOR FILM FESTIVAL
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful...
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to t...
FIRST CENTURY HOUSE AT THE SISTERS OF NAZARETH SITE
John Burger
British archaeologist confident he has found ...
PRAY
Cerith Gardiner
12 Things we can be grateful for this Thanksg...
EARTHQUAKE
Bret Thoman, OFS
Two earthquakes couldn't stop these Italian n...
CATHEDRAL OF THE SACRED HEART
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
6 Questions to determine if your heart is har...
VATICAN POPE GOOD FRIDAY COLOSSEUM
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Learn to pray with the early Church and to di...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.