A couple of weeks ago I was considering some effects of first contact on the church and the established belief systems of our planet. This was in the context of aliens arriving on Earth, but...
What if it happened the other way around?
What if humanity is not alone in the universe, but is the most advanced civilisation within it?
This kind of premise allows for science fiction tales to comment on the empire building, colonization and slavery that the 'civilised' European nations embarked upon centuries ago, but there is an obvious Christian angle to that - the missionaries who went (and indeed still go) into these far flung outposts of the Empire to spread the Gospel. (I touched on a similar kind of calling in Countless as the Stars, but for a different reason.)
If you assume a galaxy peopled with many diverse sentient species, each with there own deeply held set of religious beliefs, it opens up a huge scope to explore the nature of God, faith and organized religion; in sufficiently skilled hands it also allows for conflict between religions that could almost become topical...
Imagine, for instance, if instead of Starfleet, the Interplanetary Mission Project had gone to Bajor at the end of the Cardassian Occupation. Or for a less confrontational challenge, imagine being called to be a missionary among the logical Vulcans, or the hyper-capitalist Ferengi...
Right, I'm off to re-write Star Trek...
You've gotta read The Sparrow and The Children of God!!
Yeah all of it can make your head spin. :)
What I find fun is how earth/human centric most of these stories are. For obvious reasons of course.
Of course from my own viewpoint I ask, what makes us think that we would need to send missionaries to them? ;) (well other than the fact that despite knowing that the sun doesn't circle the earth, we still like to think we're the center of everything) :D
Would finding Someone Else be a blow to our beliefs? I don't think so.
Just consider Lewis' "Space Trilogy". Other planets, other life, maybe some have been redeemed long ago, maybe some haven't yet, maybe some didn't need it.
I think finding Someone Else would challenge the beliefs of some, confirm others (if only the UFO nuts) :)
Some might say it's more likely that aliens would send missionaries here - it's not unlikely that we are more in need of it than any other civilised world.
Elliot: Mary Doria Russel? She's on the ever expanding list...
Yeah, Russell. She's obviously thinking about the historic Jesuit missions and colonialism, but in the context of an alien species and planet.
Two very different short stories that address this are Ray Bradbury's Fire Balloons and R.A. Lafferty's The Name of the Snake.
There's a GREAT article on the religious implications of ETI here: http://www.firstthings.com/ftissues/ft0203/articles/heeren.html
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