The search for extraterrestrial life has always fascinated me. The numbers alone make it a virtual certainty that something is out there. Repeat after me, Carl Sagan’s “Billions and billions.” Note how that rolls off the tongue. More importantly, note what it does for the odds. Come on, now. With numbers that big, something has to be out there.
The operative question, then, becomes this: Are they more advanced than we? Or are they struggling to keep up/catch up to us? In either case, the disparity creates a serious problem for the civilization lagging behind. What do we know for sure about the clash of civilizations? Yes, the superior takes advantage of the weaker. Happens among brothers and sisters, happens when “civilized” encounters “primitive.” Remember the smallpox-infested blankets our European settlers foisted on Native Americans? You fail to do so at your peril.
Another intriguing question also crops up: How would such an encounter impact our belief systems? How do we re-calibrate our belief/non-belief in a higher power? Ross Andersen, writing in The Atlantic, suggests that Buddhists would get off the easiest: “Their faith already assumes an infinite universe of untold antiquity, its every corner alive with the vibrating energies of living beings.”
Similarly, he says that Hinduism, Islam and Judaism are big enough, flexible enough to withstand the concept of “Wait, it’s a lot bigger than we thought!” Christianity, on the other hand, had a hard enough time grappling with a non-earth-centric universe. How’s it going to handle something this big? “There is a debate in contemporary Christian theology as to whether Christ’s salvation extends to every soul that exists in the wider universe or whether the sin-tainted inhabitants of distant planets require their own divine interventions. The Vatican is especially keen to massage extraterrestrial life into its doctrine, perhaps sensing that another scientific revolution may be imminent. The shameful persecution of Galileo is still fresh in its long institutional memory.”
The optimist in me wants to say that contact with another life form will benefit us immensely in terms of accepting one another at face value and according value to all forms of life, on this planet and on others. The realist in me wonders if that’s just a pipe dream. What do you think?
THAT’S JUST COLD
Long-time Philadelphia Eagles fan Jeffrey Riegel, who died last August at age 56, had as one of his final wishes the request that eight members of the Eagles football team act as his pallbearers “so that the Eagles can let me down one last time.” Cold. Really cold.
©2017 Richard Paul Hinkle