When asking Which Religions Would Have the Hardest Time Accepting Alien Life, it’s always Evangelicals who hedge at ETs. Of course, Catholics have their share of extraterrestrial problems too. Believing that a Mind and Morals are behind the cosmos, rather than little green men (or tall silver anemones), will inevitably ruffle some secular feathers. This didn’t stop the Pope who, last Spring, made headlines when he said, if given the chance, the Church should baptize space aliens:
Pope Francis has said that he would be willing to baptise aliens if they came to the Vatican, asking “who are we to close doors” to anyone – even Martians.
In a homily yesterday dedicated to the concepts of acceptance and inclusion, Francis recalled a Bible story about the conversion of the first pagans to Christianity, according to reports on Vatican Radio.
He said Catholicism was a church of “open doors”, and that it was up to Christians to accept the Holy Spirit however “unthinkable” and “unimaginable” it appeared.
Describing how, according to the Bible, Peter was criticised by the Christians of Jerusalem for making contact with a community of “unclean” pagans, Francis said that at the time that too was “unthinkable”.
“If, for example, tomorrow an expedition of Martians came to us here and one said ‘I want to be baptised!’, what would happen?”
Clarifying that he really was talking about aliens, the Pope said: “Martians, right? Green, with long noses and big ears, like in children’s drawings.”
As expected, the Pope was applauded for his statements. Nonbelievers recognized it as a nod toward Science. Believers (of the more progressive variety, at least), recognized it as a gesture towards inclusiveness. After all, Martians are but one group in a long line of uncircumcised Gentiles which the Church should welcome with open arms.
Problem is, unless the Pope is skirting some of the doctrinal particulars of Catholic baptism, his alien friends will need to sidle up to the Gospel implications.
This guide describes Catholic Baptism as accomplishing five specific things:
It forgives all sins that may have been committed prior to a person’s baptism including original sin, mortal sins, and venial sins, and it relieves the punishment for those sins.
It makes the newly baptized person “a new creature.”
It turns the person into a newly adopted son of God and a member of Christ. Baptism incorporates one into the Church which is the body of Christ.
It brings someone into the flock of the faithful and brings them to share in the royal priesthood of Christ (1 Pet. 2:9-10). Catholic baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers and it also brings about the sacramental bond of the unity of Christians.
Last, but certainly not in the least, baptism leaves and indelible spiritual mark (character) of belonging to Christ on the soul. Nothing you can do will take away this mark even if you sin a million times. Those sins may not grant you salvation, but you will always carry the mark of a Christian on your soul, therefore making re-baptism impossible.
Catholics and Evangelicals differ on some important aspects of baptism. Either way, unless we consider extraterrestrials in the same category as infants, that is, spiritually naive, an appeal to their free will is necessary. Rarely — VERY rarely — does Scripture frame salvation as occurring apart from someone’s active pursuit and willing assent. Placing space aliens in the same category as infants goes against the common narrative of ETs as highly advanced life forms. I mean, if extraterrestrials are so darned smart, how could they not know about God, Christ, sin, and Satan? Unless, of course, you see such beliefs as optional. This also frames baptism as a magic wand which we wave over entire people groups to neutralize them against Original Sin. But that’s another story.
Here’s three areas that space alien baptism poses a potential problem for its supporters (and, well, space aliens themselves):
- Baptizing space aliens would be an admission that they are sinners — If ETs are “sinners” who need saved then they are products of the Fall, stained by Original Sin, and spiritually separated from their Creator. If they’re not sinners, then why baptize them?
- Baptizing space aliens would be an admission of Christ’s Lordship over them — Being baptized “in the name of Jesus” (Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48, etc.) is the ultimate surrender. In doing this, little green men (white, purple, and polka dot too) relinquish their autonomy to a new Leader.
- Baptizing space aliens would be an admission of inclusion in a universal Church — Membership in the Body of Christ forges a “sacramental bond” with fellow believers, making ET part of a “royal priesthood.”
While baptizing aliens sounds cool and all, the devil’s in the details. You see, many of those who hail the Pope’s words have big problems with things like sin, Christ, and the Church. Who are we to impose our archaic, defunct religious views on such highly evolved life forms? So while we applaud the Pope’s progressive stance, the implications are problematic. At least for Martians unwilling to admit they’re sinners like the lot of us.
Personally, I would be thrilled to embrace a green, tentacled, planetary pilgrim as my brother or sister in Christ. But the real question isn’t whether we should be willing to baptize space aliens should they appear, but whether we will compromise our beliefs for the sake of interplanetary inclusion.