Re: Fragility and tendentiousness

From: Dr. Blake Nelson (
Date: Thu Sep 18 2003 - 17:14:33 EDT

  • Next message: D. F. Siemens, Jr.: "Re: Post-Empiricism Science: A little surprised"

    --- Steve Petermann <> wrote:
    > Blake,
    > Thanks for the exposition. I guess I *am* ignorant
    > of some of this
    > theology.
    > >So, ETs provide a writ large
    > > question of what about other religions, etc.
    > Missions
    > > to the stars seem of little difference to me than
    > > missionary work here on earth. So how is your
    > problem
    > > any different than missionary work and other
    > religions
    > > on earth?
    > This particular option, "once for all", is what I
    > assumed was the party
    > line. If that is the case it seems problematic
    > because it presupposes some
    > sort of preferential status to earth bound homo
    > sapiens overagainst the ET's
    > of the universe.

    Well, only if 1) the aliens have sinned and are in
    need of redemption, and 2) news of the redemptive act
    of Jesus is the only way that redemption can be

    As was noted I think by D.F. Siemens in his post, it
    is possible that there may be a totally different
    approach to salvation that may be used there,
    preserving the once and for all aspect of Jesus.

    > > The other relationship to Gods on other worlds
    > view is
    > > one that has been suggested by theologians like
    > E.L.
    > > Mascall in his 1956 Bampton Lectures. He believed
    > > that if there were other parts of the universe
    > where
    > > rational beings have sinned and are in need of
    > > redemption (something that your fragility seems to
    > > assume) that the second person of the Trinity
    > either
    > > has or will some day unite his divine Person to
    > their
    > > nature as occured in Jesus of Nazareth.
    > This seems more reasonable. I do wonder how
    > compelling this would be to
    > critical thinking individuals. For instance, is it
    > essential that there is
    > only "one" Christ per planet or can there be more
    > that one? What about
    > solar systems, do they need one "Christ" per planet
    > or is one per solar
    > system enough? Also is the salvation attained by
    > the death of a specific
    > Christ localize to that planet or is it more global?

    These discussions seem akin to the scholastic debates
    on a similar issue -- you can play the same game with
    Jesus. Could the Incarnation taken the form of a
    cucumber, etc. Such questioning in trying to
    understand the incarnation did take place in
    scholasticism. Somehow, we don't much care about
    those debates in theology any more.

    I think the simple answer is that you cannot look at
    salvation as a mechanistic sort of thing that you can
    describe like physics. I can hypothesize any number
    of answers to these questions, but would have to say
    that I obviously don't know. These questions shift
    the ground.... usually the ground under which the
    first question arises -- what about ETs are they saved
    by Jesus? Is a way of being tendentious that shows
    ignorance of christian theology. The first answer is
    that the revelation we have of God is for mankind and
    it may be fruitfully shared with any other sentient
    life we might meet who may or may not be need in
    salvation. The second answer I think is that the
    question often confuses Jesus as the historical person
    we know as the eternal Word of God, the Son, the
    Second Person of the Trinity. The two are one in
    Jesus of Nazareth, but when you think of the cosmic
    action of Jesus, one is really also thinking about the
    cosmic action of the Word of God, and that it is the
    Second Person of the Trinity through which *all*
    creation relates to God. So, we have a category error
    of sorts -- if we focuse too much on Jesus of
    Nazareth, the Christ as the historical person -- which
    He is -- and forget the Word of God -- which He also
    is, we become confused. When you think of the
    salvific action of the Second Person of the Trinity it
    opens up the possibilities more clearly and also
    avoids the rather tendentious arguments made by
    atheists along these lines of Jesus hopping all over
    the universe. In one sense it is true, but not in the
    trivial and ignorant sense in which the comment is
    often made.

    Third, the salvific actions one might expect as a
    result, even if in multiple incarnations, will vary
    according to the nature of the ETs and what their
    relationship to God and to one another should be. One
    would hypothesize that whatever salvific action occurs
    will be effective in the way it is intended. I
    suppose we could hypothesize all sorts of different
    scenarios and speculate -- but since there is only
    one incarnation for human beings, one would expect
    should an incarnation be necessary for some other
    species that one would be effective as well for them.
    Perhaps in some areas where more than one sentient
    species exists, one evangelizes to another, who knows?
     But, this takes the question the further step from
    its intended effect, which is "well, wouldn't ETs
    throw a spanner into the works of christianity?" The
    answer is "no" and here's a bunch of reasons why.

    To come back and demand an explication of how
    salvation occurs for species we dont know about is
    like asking why Genesis doesn't spell out the human
    genome -- it is a Carl Sagan-esque expectation for a
    "valid" religion -- i.e., one that tells us hidden
    facts about the most important thing to Carl Sagan,
    science. Even if there are multiple incarnations or
    multiple salvific acts, the one that is important for
    us -- until we meet some other species that has
    something to tell us about God -- is Jesus of
    Nazareth. We have to profess humble, but
    understandable ignorance on what for salvific action
    by the Second Person of the Trinity may take in other
    galaxies. But the basic answer is that ETs and their
    religion poses no real concern for the rationality of

    > I promise I'm not
    > trying to be obnoxious about this. It just seems to
    > me that the cascading
    > of questions like this borders on the ridiculous.
    > I guess the critical question in all this is this
    > notion that a *particular*
    > unique life is essential for salvation. When that
    > is posited, and ET is out
    > there, the strange extrapolations mount.

    Yes, I think when one sees Jesus of Nazareth just as
    an historical person, without also seeing Him as the
    Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, the
    confusion mounts.

    > Personally I have no problem associating the life of
    > Jesus as an important
    > revelation of God or the Word. I just don't think
    > that a life like that is
    > unique even to this planet. Most assuredly the ET's
    > out there have a sense
    > of God as well. And I would suggest they also have
    > exemplars of a communion
    > with the sacred. If Christianity can embraces that
    > view of Jesus I think it
    > has a much better chance of being compelling in the
    > coming centuries.

    I see no reason why it can't understand that other
    sentient races would presumably have experiences of
    God and that those experiences of God are by virtue,
    in Christian understanding, of the Second Person of
    the Trinity. And it is through the Second Person that
    salvation and redempetion occurs -- of all creation
    and that it is possible that it may be or have been
    necessary for the Second Person of the Trinity to
    unite His divine person with the nature of other
    rational beings.

    > God be with you and yours in the hurricane,
    > Steve Petermann

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