Quaker Universalist Conversations

The Salvation of Aliens

Reflections on Saving the Original Sinner by Karl Giberson

Two Christian theologians discuss, given God’s plan of salvation from the Christian tradition, whether aliens on another planet will need their own separate savior or whether Christ will be the savior for the whole universe. One theologian argues that aliens would need a savior of their own. The other says that Christ died once for all and “all” would include aliens.

Two Moslem imams discuss, given God’s plan of salvation from the Islamic tradition, whether aliens on another planet will need they own separate Prophet or whether Mohamed will be the prophet for the whole universe. One argues that aliens would need a prophet of their own. The other says that Mohamed is the Prophet for all and “all” would include aliens.

Two Jewish rabbis discuss, given God’s plan of salvation from the Jewish tradition, whether aliens on another planet will need they own separate future Messiah or whether the future Messiah will be the Messiah for the whole universe. One argues that aliens would need a Messiah of their own. The other says that the future Messiah will be for all and “all” would include aliens.

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The problem is the same for each religious tradition. The conversations are separate. The reality of the question comes closer by the year as the global space programs reach farther and human detection tools become more accurate. The day will come in human time when these theoretical discussions will become immediate pastoral issues for millions and matters of urgent public policy about how to address the new reality of life elsewhere.

The problem for our religious traditions is similar to the 19th century arguments in the Christian tradition about race and salvation, from which we humans can take a lesson looking toward our future discernment. These earlier arguments were focused on the question of whether more than one Adam was needs to account for the varieties of people on the earth, which were becoming so apparent and present to those in the discussion.

Following the then current cultural understanding of race, some argued that Adam was the ancestor of the white race alone and there should be other Adams for other races. This question disturbed standard Pauline theology about the relation of Adam and Christ.

Saving the Original Sinner:  Saving the Original Sinner How Christians Have Used the Bible's First Man to Oppress, Inspire, and Make Sense of the World, by Karl Giberson (2015) See Saving the Original Sinner: How Christians Have Used the Bible’s First Man to Oppress, Inspire, and Make Sense of the World by Karl Giberson (2015).

The implied question was whether Christian salvation did or did not extend to all the peoples of the earth and whether the other peoples of the earth were actually people for purposes of Christian salvation.

The real issue, below the surface, was race and how western empires should treat those under their control and those who opposed the empires.

The result of these discussions was a combination of agreement to the expansion of the scope of salvation to include other peoples and discrete withdrawal from the discussion. The former is a matter of faith regarding the scope of care. The latter is a matter of practice.

  • What can we learn? What is the answer to the theologians’ discussions of the scope of salvation?
  • Does salvation extend to aliens?
  • For that matter, does salvation extend to animals, plants, and objects in this world?
  • Are these theologians misunderstanding the nature and scope of salvation?

Comments

Larry, what is the nature of salvation for these discussions? Is salvation the same for all? Does it have to do with the soul and afterlife or the spirit in this life?
There is no evidence to suggest that we Chinese have any direct link to Adam except, perhaps, in the four classical elements of heaven, earth, water and fire, which might trace back to the Tower of Babel. There is study on the Chinese written characters which tell the Genesis story, but that cannot prove the Genesis story is related to the Chinese people. I can only identify that the Chinese Laws or teachings based on conscience are similar to the Scripture, such as being courteous, just, humane, wise, and saintly. I think most Chinese are happy to be judged by their consciences. Maybe one can argue that our consciences or the knowledge of right and wrong are the only proofs of being the descendants of Adam, for whom the Salvation of Jesus is applicable. Thus the question should be: Have aliens or descendants other than Adam any sort of consciences similar to the descendants of Adam? I think this question is also applicable to plants and animals.
Yun, Thank you. These are excellent points. There appears to be a common thread here pointing in the same direction. The consciences test is very interesting. What is your thought about plants, animals and objects regarding the consciences test? What are the practical results for your conscience in practical daily life?
Hi Larry, Thank you for the question on the testing of conscience. The writing of Confucius suggested that a superior person has neither stress (worry) nor anxiety when examin[ing himself] internally and finding nothing wrong. The standard for examination is "Do not do unto others what you do not want done to yourself." There are differences between the concepts of fear, stress, worry and anxiety. Animals exhibit fear and aggression in time of danger, but it might not be possible to ascertain worry, stress and anxiety [in animals]. From a Google Scholar search, the following article might be relevant: "Views on Animal Conscience by Darwin: Darwin’s Descriptions and Specifications of the Animal Conscience,"SHU Yuan-zhao (College of Public Management, Hunan Normal University, Changsha 410081, China), Journal of Hunan City University 2007-02 [computer translation from the Chinese]. Charles Robert Darwin tried to explain thoroughly...the origin of human beings' consciences in his book of the Origin of Humankind. It is [certain]...that he traced [it] to the origin of the animal conscience. Although he stressed that only human beings are the real moral animals, he also pointed out that human beings and animals are both of some social instinct. This instinct can produce conscience or something alike [to] conscience with high-speed development of wisdom and capacity.... [Group] choice played an important role in the course of the form[ing] of animal conscience. There are cases of feral children which might be of interest in the establishment of animal conscience, but very little is known [about them] at this stage. Quakers have the light of Jesus, and a comparative study with the inner light world be a very interesting topic of discussion. In my view, following the light of Jesus is much more than just following our consciences. I mean, it is easy to love others as yourselves, but it is not the same to love one another as Jesus love us. Note: Minor edits were made to this comment for clarity.
Yun, Regarding animals and the capacity for consciousness and conscience, I truly concur in the direction of your reflection and that of Darwin. What troubles me is that I seem unable to link this conviction about the reality of our world in the consciousness and conscience in animals and plants to my daily practice. I see the positive trend in raising standards for treatment of animals in vegetarianism, slaughter, and abuse, but this is clearly to me not sufficient to conform to the realization of actual consciousness and conscience in plants and animals. My faith and practice are not in line. How do you manage this disjunction? Larry
Hi Larry, I do not know your faith and practice. In my case I cannot prove it, but deep in my conscience there is a kind of responsibility according to Genesis 1:28-30. I think you need to differentiate [between] the situation in the Garden of Eden and outside of the Garden of Eden. Outside the Garden of Eden humankind [is] facing death and all kinds of environmental hardship, etc. Maybe this sort of justifies the consumption of meat for energy needs. Further changes took place after the Flood, [when] Noah and his sons were told of their responsibility and that everything that lives and moves will be food for them (Genesis 9:1-7). I think it is good to have a strong conviction in feeling responsible for the welfare of animal, even though there is very little we can do in the wild. I do not think it is a kind of disjuncture but a conviction in our consciences to do more. Yun
An interesting conversation, Yun and Larry. Without trying to resolve the questions you both pose, I think it is important for us to be mindful of the distinction between "conscience" and "consciousness." Both terms derive from the Latin com "with" + scīre "to know" (that is, "to separate one thing from another," "discern"). However, their distinctive meanings arise from their different histories. [Source: Online Etymology Dictionary] "Conscience" is the older word: early 13c., from Old French conscience “conscience, innermost thoughts, desires, intentions; feelings” (12c.), from Latin conscientia, “knowledge within oneself, sense of right, a moral sense.” Sometimes nativized in Old English/Middle English as "inwit." "Conscious" came into English usage about 400 years later: c. 1600, “knowing, privy to,” from Latin conscius “knowing, aware,” from conscire. A word adopted from the Latin poets and much mocked at first. Sense of “active and awake” is from 1837. For me, the poetic distinction is something like "knowing together" versus "knowing alone." What I call "my consciousness" has to do with my waking awareness of a personal point of view, a "self." What I call "conscience," though, is not strictly personal. It is at its core a sort of "knowing" which I share with all beings. That is, conscience is a collective knowing shared by the whole of Creation. In the sense in which I propose using these two words, we have no way of knowing whether other animals than human beings have "consciousness," or, if they do, what it is like. However, we can say that all beings share "conscience." It is the voice of this "conscience" which tells us when we are aiding or doing harm to ourselves or to other beings. This is obviously analogous to the original sense in which George Fox and other first Friends spoke of "that of God" within. There is not a separate "piece" of God in each person. It is the same "that of God" in every single person. Blessings, Mike
In the Old Testament there is the integrity of my heart (Genesis 20:5). In Mengzi there is the heart of benevolence and righteousness or the goodness of the mind (Gaozi I: Chapter 8). Does this make us human and not otherwise?
Friend Yun, The key for me is that all creation is of one piece. Hence, when I settle into the integrity of my heart, into benevolence, righteousness or goodness, it is because I am part of creation, not only because I am human. Blessings, Mike
Friend Mike, Because we are human, we are accountable for the well being of the creation. My concern is how we should exercise as if we were in the Garden of Eden. It is just the teaching of Confucius of take care of yourself first, then manage the family, then govern the country, and then bring peace to the world. Maybe we should add to it with the care of the creation. We are accountable because our conscience told us so. Blessings,Yun
You speak my mind, Friend Yun. What I wrote previously arises from a leading that “conscience” really does mean “knowing together.” All of creation "knows together" that we are responsible for each other. Blessings,Mike
Psalm 8: 6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. Does that including aliens?
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