A few months ago, Scientific American published an article about Christianity vs. the existence of aliens entitled “Did Jesus Save the Klingons?” It’s not a new idea. It’s not even an original title; a few years ago, The Times published an article called “Does Jesus Save Aliens?” People have been talking for years about the theological problem posed to Christianity by sentient, alien life.
For myself, I don’t know why aliens should be a theological problem for Christians. I don’t know why they should be any kind of problem for anybody. If aliens do exist, we could be faced with problems much more urgent than a complex theological dilemma, particularly if the aliens arrived at Earth with death-rays and a will to conquer. And yet, you don’t see the Pentagon drawing up contingency plans for an alien invasion. There’s nothing more purposeless than deciding what to do about beings whose existence is entirely theoretical and whose nature, even if they do exist, is totally unknown.
As a matter of practical reality, there is no theological problem. Even as a matter of pure theory, I don’t see the conflict between Christianity and aliens. But what most interests me about the Christianity vs. aliens debate is not the reality, nor even the theory. It’s the sense that some of the people engaged in the debate actually think they’ve found a new question.
The whole business of aliens is a demonstration of Solomon’s maxim that there is nothing new under the sun. For thousands of years, humanity has been telling itself stories about races other than ourselves. We’ve had a thousand different names for them; fairy is only the best-known. Once people really believed they were next door – under the earth, in the wind, hiding in houses, living in the thick, ancient forests.
Eventually that belief died, or maybe it was only transmuted. Science, the long exploration to Earth’s farthest corners, and the unifying of the world convinced people we don’t share this planet, but what about the other planets? The idea of intelligent, alien life was pushed beyond our planet and now – commensurate with science’s increasing scope – it has been pushed beyond our solar system. Apparently, we can’t get over the idea.
Just as in Faerie we find the concept of rational, inhuman beings, so too we find the question of their souls and salvation. Folk tales do, on occasion, mix Christianity and Faerie (often with an explicit enmity between the two, but before too much is drawn from this, let it be remembered that the old tales also tend to assume hostility between Faerie and mankind). I’ve read stories that directly took on the question of whether Faeries could share Man’s salvation through Christ – and answered it both ways.
Did Jesus save the Elves? Did He save the Klingons? This makes a fascinating conversation, but it’s at least a thousand years old.
To enlighten the conversation, we should consider the one rational species aside from humanity, at whose fall and eternal destiny the Bible hints. Yes, I mean angels, who are generally discounted from these discussions, probably because angel is a religious term. Maybe if we called them by a sci-fi term, like fourth-dimensional beings …
Whatever the specifics of their nature, angels are rational, inhuman beings, and so Christianity has already come to grips with the notion of other races, and of whether Jesus will save them. And the answer, in this case, is no.
No one knows why, as the Book of Hebrews states, it is not angels that He helps. No account of the angelic fall is provided, and angels, though a consistent presence in Scripture, are also a peripheral one. This much is clear: Some angels – the “holy angels” – are sinless; they don’t need to be redeemed. Others have sinned and fallen – these are called demons; they won’t be redeemed. And we can only wonder why.
“Did Jesus save aliens?” is not as earth-shattering a question as some writers seem to think. But maybe it’s a more complex one. Perhaps aliens, if they exist, never fell and don’t need to be saved. Perhaps, if they fell, they fell like humans, or perhaps they fell like angels. Maybe God can and will apply Jesus’ blood to their account, or maybe it’s not aliens that He helps. We cannot possibly know.
And this is why, even apart from the fact that aliens could well be nothing more than a figment of human imagination, that I don’t worry about the supposed theological quandary of alien life. Christianity is limber enough to handle the question.