Not this blog series. At least, I hope none of you think that. But I’ve noticed a pattern. Whenever I sit down to write one of these columns, NASA announces that they’ve found more extra-solar planets. Case in point: yesterday NASA announced they found two planets that are the same size as Earth but are outside their stars Goldilocks zone. It’s like NASA wants to help me prove a point: there are a lot of planets out there. Could some have life? Maybe, maybe not.
So far in this series, we’ve covered whether the Bible precludes alien life (it doesn’t, in my not-so-humble opinion) and whether or not aliens could have souls (better to assume they do). But a master of Christian fiction once asked a more provocative question: if we ever do encounter aliens, would they need to hear the Gospel or not? To put it more bluntly, he asked this question: should we assume that all aliens have fallen as humans have?
Who is this great theologian with aliens on the brain? Why, none other than the master himself, C. S. Lewis. In the book The World’s Last Night, Lewis included an essay entitled “Religion and Rocketry,” in which he discusses the whole alien question pretty thoroughly. As a matter of fact, while reviewing the essay Tuesday afternoon, I realized that pretty much anything I have to say on the subject, he does it better and in less space than I could. I was almost tempted to tell all of you to just go read the essay and be done with it, but then, I’d have nothing for these columns. I’d have to come up with something else and, truth be told, I’m a little lazy, so there.
Anyway, Lewis goes over the whole possibility of alien life business (pointing out that the existence of alien life is no real threat to Christianity), and then he asks a series of questions that he calls “formidable.”
Today I wanted to bring up his third question (we’ve covered the first two already):
If there are species, and rational species, other than man, are any or all of them, like us, fallen? This is the point non-Christians always seem to forget. They seem to think that the Incarnation implies some particular merit or excellence in humanity. But of course it implies just the reverse: a particular demerit and depravity. No creature that deserved Redemption would need to be redeemed. They that are whole need not the physician. Christ died for men precisely because men are not worth dying for; to make them worth it. [p. 86]
Lewis brings up a good point: how would we even know if intelligent alien life is sinful and fallen or not? And if they are sinful, how did they get that way? Did they fall with us? Or did they fall on their own?
While Lewis doesn’t go into great detail on those questions in his essay, he did play around with them in his Space Trilogy. Specifically, he explores those ideas in the first two books, namely Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. In those stories, Lewis dances on the edge of a theological tree branch over the whole question of how sin would relate to alien life. And while he never states this explicitly, if you read carefully between the lines you can suss out his theological underpinnings, which are basically as follows:
1) Every sentient race is given an “Eden” period, a time of childhood, so to speak.
2) In this Edenic period, they are given a moral rule of some kind. On Earth, it was don’t eat the fruit. On Venus (in Perelandra), the rule is to not spend the night on solid ground.
3) If the race overcomes the temptation, they “grow up” as a race and become adults. If they don’t, they fall into sin an need redemption.
4) The sins of one race doesn’t cause others to fall (although they can poison another planet from a distance).
This last one is pure supposition:
5) If a race has fallen, God will send His Son to sacrifice Himself for that race’s sins in a way that is significant for them.
Lewis touches on this point in his essay:
[I]f we knew that Redemption by an Incarnation and Passion had been denied to creatures in need of it—is it certain that this is the only mode of Redemption that is possible? . . . There might be different sorts and different degrees of fallenness. We must surely believe that the divine charity is as fertile in resource as it is measureless in condescension. To different diseases, or even to different patients sick with the same disease, the great Physician may have applied different remedies; remedies which we should probably not recognize as such even if we ever heard of them. [p.87]
This could be fertile ground for speculative fiction, but I suspect that, as Christians, we’d have a hard time of dreaming of different “medicines.” At least, whenever I read Christian spec fic and there’s a redemptive sacrifice, death and resurrection are almost always involved.
Nevertheless, this presents one possible cosmology: each alien race, isolated on their own planets, at least one fallen, some possibly not. Perhaps different salvation stories cherished and treasured by those who encountered Christ in their own way. The conflict would come when a fallen race meets and unfallen one, which was the basis for Lewis’s trilogy.
As much as I appreciate Lewis’s theological ruminations, I once had fun playing with the opposite idea. But that’s a story for two weeks from now. In the meantime, have a blessed Christmas and remember, Christ became incarnate, not because we deserved it, but precisely because we didn’t. Is it any wonder we keep coming back to C. S. Lewis?