March 21, 2007 12:52 AM   Subscribe

I have a question regarding the religious response to extraterrestrials...

Recently I was reading the Wikipedia article about James Blish's novel A Case of Conscience which mentions that a Catholic reader sent Blish a copy of the Church's general guidelines for dealing with aliens. I poked around, but all I could find on Google was Monsignor Corrado Balducci, a Catholic theologian who has said that alien encounters are real, and a paper and a book by Marie I. George.
However, these seem to be more about whether or not aliens exist, and what effect they would have on the Church if they did. So, a few questions:

1. Does anybody have know where to find what the Wikipedia article refers to (official Catholic guidelines on dealing with ETs)?
2. Do other religions have guidelines of their own for such an event? I realize that other faiths and Christian denominations are not lead by a single head like Catholicism, but, for example, perhaps a Rabbi or Imam has written on this topic somewhere.
3. Building a little on the stuff I did find, what have the thoughts been on how non-human intelligences would relate to/affect Catholic teachings, both currently and in the past? Perspectives of other religions on this matter as it relates to them would also be appreciated.

And as long as the topic has been broached I might as well throw in, does the US government, or any government, have official guidelines, policies, etc in place in case of alien contact?
posted by Sangermaine to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Hmmm... Religion tends to be reactive, rather than proactive. For example, they tend to help victims of an atrocity, rather than trying to stop the atrocity happening in the first place.

In other words, if aliens landed tomorrow, the church(es) would develop a policy. Until then, they keep quiet about the matter.

You also have to factor in religion's quiet ignorance of science. They really don't want to start talking too much about other worlds, because that raises difficult questions about our world, and how it might not be the centre of God's universe.
posted by humblepigeon at 3:56 AM on March 21, 2007

To answer your last question, The Extra-Terrestrial Exposure Law (Title 14, Section 1211 of the Code of Federal Regulations) made it illegal for people to come into contact with ETs.
posted by Fat Guy at 3:57 AM on March 21, 2007

No, FatGuy, it governs the quarantine process to be established by NASA for people who come into contact with an extra-terrestial object of any kind - think moon rocks, meteorites, etc.
posted by yclipse at 4:13 AM on March 21, 2007

Notwithstanding that Catholic doctrine tends to be directed by the Pope of the day (and near-inviolate until the weight against becomes overwhelming), the church has long been surprisingly scholarly and scientific.

They have one of the oldest astronomical observatories in the world, and operate quite a fine - if small - 2m telescope in Arizona. And they have, at least non-doctrinally, pondered the question of extraterrestrial life.
posted by Pinback at 4:22 AM on March 21, 2007

Not sure on any specific elements of religious doctrine, but there are some interesting speculations in other science fiction books - Rendezvous with Rama (Arthur C. Clarke) and Unto Leviathan (Richard Paul Russo) are two that spring to mind, and also to a lesser degree, the Ender books (Orson Scott Card)...
posted by Chunder at 4:41 AM on March 21, 2007

re 3., you should check out Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and Children of God - Jesuits in Spaaaaaaceeeeee.
posted by longdaysjourney at 4:56 AM on March 21, 2007

Notwithstanding that Catholic doctrine tends to be directed by the Pope of the day (and near-inviolate until the weight against becomes overwhelming), the church has long been surprisingly scholarly and scientific.

OK, point taken, but what you say is true only up to a point. The church pretty much backed-out of science when it went beyond simple observation and started to threaten their position and doctrine. Nowadays, anything the church says about the matter is measured and deliberate.

If what you say were true, then we'd expect church involvement in major scientific discoveries. That's just not the case at all. Church and science are chalk and cheese in our day and age.
posted by humblepigeon at 4:59 AM on March 21, 2007

Michael J. Crowe might have some pointers.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:09 AM on March 21, 2007

Would You Baptize an Extraterrestrial?

An interview with Brother Guy Consolmagno, the Vatican astronomer, who has thought deeply about this issue.
posted by lukemeister at 6:02 AM on March 21, 2007

Whilst by no means an authority on Buddhism, I imagine for most schools it would present no doctrinal issues whatsoever, as the philosophy posits nexuses of dharmas/dhammas arising rather than individual beings with abiding souls. I expect they'd have no problem seing them as yet more of the myriad phenomena of the chiliocosm.
posted by Abiezer at 6:05 AM on March 21, 2007

Hmm, this is only tangentially related to #3, but my friend Davey wrote a song titled “Blessed Flying Object” for his band The Visitations (available on their self-titled album,) the theme of which is the concept that people who have had “close encounters” with extraterrestrials describe the experience in ways similar to those who’ve been visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary (B.V.M.)

The idea is that these are possibly the same events, the interpretation of which is distorted by an individual’s own “cultural lens.” I believe he said this was inspired by Robert A. Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger, or possibly Art Bell’s Coast to Coast radio show.
posted by ijoshua at 6:15 AM on March 21, 2007

Ah, here’s an interview with Davey where he talks about the song. (There’s also an mp3 download on the next page.)
posted by ijoshua at 6:22 AM on March 21, 2007

Fat Guy, unless it's all a cover-up, it would seem that snopes and the feds beg to differ.
posted by mds35 at 6:45 AM on March 21, 2007

There was an interesting article about this in the September 2003 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. E.T. and God by Paul Davies. The online version is subscribers only, but you can find the back issue in your local library.
posted by matildaben at 10:28 AM on March 21, 2007

The most interesting Christian response to the possibility of extraterrestrials has been that of C. S. Lewis. See his Space Trilogy for fiction or his essay The Seeing Eye for nonfiction on this point, although it's all over a lot of his essays.
posted by koeselitz at 12:28 AM on May 20, 2007

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