No, We Are Alone

No, We Are Alone

We are alone in the universe because our religions will not tolerate otherwise.

We are alone in the universe because it is impossible to reconcile our religious beliefs, laws and systems with the existence of other sentient beings.

For a moment, take into consideration the primary religious myth of the Western world, Christianity. In its grand cosmology, God the Father (being one person in the triune godhead) reconciles the chasm between himself and humanity by dispatching his only begotten Son (the second person of the Trinity) to die for the sins of mankind. Having accomplished this feat through a gruesome, expiating death on a cross, the gap is bridged and humanity may now enter into a full relationship with the godhead rather than risk eternal damnation.

If there is an extraterrestrial intelligence in the vast universe, in one of the hundreds if not millions of galaxies and billions of stars like our own, orbited by innumerable planets resting in the habitability zone, does this mean that God the Father must send his Son to die again? If the civilization is older than ours, or even younger, is the drama of redemption (requiring the death of an innocent man) re-enacted throughout the universe?

Or, does the Christian drama stand true for all sentient beings in the universe? Is the incarnation of God on planet Earth, a world so hidden from the rest of our own galaxy, just a one-time event that will stand true for all other intelligent life (read intelligent souls) needing grace to be saved from hell?

The issue is, surprisingly, not new, but the answer cannot be reconciled to our religious myths no matter how hard we try. Our religions speak to our seemingly innate wonder at what else is out there, to order the unknown. Religion, no matter the creed, answers the most terrifying of all questions: what happens when we die? Judaism, Christianity and Islam have posited a supreme being who makes humans in his own image and who acts decisively in human affairs. He makes deals with the patriarchs that their offspring will inherit a rather small piece of land in perpetuity provided they follow his laws; he suspends the laws of biology to perform parthenogenesis to bring forth his son to die an agonizing death on a piece of wood to save all of mankind; he speaks to the husband of a successful business woman in the mountains to (re)found a religion that spreads faster than any other in history.

There is no way to reconcile these competing claims with ourselves, so how much so with the existence of aliens?

But nothing succeeds like failure, and religion on the whole has failed to deliver mankind from any earthly problems; cured diseases, ended poverty, insisted slavery was wrong or detailed celestial mechanics. Still, it’s entirely possible that in some fertile mind, a theology of wrecked theology has been worked out, calibrated, waiting in the wings for the latest crisis that often to shake religion to its core. Yet no amount of solipsism or self-justification will escape the central fact: our religions place man at the center of the universe and we can tolerate no other. In a perverse way, while God has instructed his believers that there is him and only him and will not brook a rival, so mankind has replied with the same statement only in reverse: there is us and no others.

There are no aliens because our religions cannot explain them away.

Even though religious fundamentalists rail and rage about how science and secularism have denigrated mankind, it is they with their priests, rabbis and mullahs who have denigrated the potential existence of other sentient beings in the universe with a theology that God prefers our species. Fights battles on behalf of our men, impregnates our women and dies for our sins. Fundamentalists accuse secularists of placing man on a pedestal, when it is they who have forced God’s hand (so to speak) by insisting that God is a man, or at least behaves like one, when they really want to place humanity as the pinnacle of creation. Religion is supposed to worship the deity; fundamentalism makes man the object of God’s desire. It is a form of idolatry by other means.

At the core of the West’s central myth is the resurrection of Jesus. This event, as the Church has taught, is unique and unparalleled in human history. For a moment, let us ignore the resurrections of Mithras and other divine superheros and take this claim at its face value: it happened decisively at one point in time and will never happen again. Yet what of those other worlds? If there is life out there, perhaps a few thousand years behind us, are they not in need of salvation that requires not only the death of the divine Son but also his resurrection? Not to mention future civilizations that may occur when ours dies out.

But if salvation through death on a cross occurs on Earth, then we have to argue that its implications for the universe at large means there can be no other sentient life forms out there. If God reveals himself and his laws to human beings, then does he demand that other civilizations refrain from eating shellfish or wearing clothes made of two types of material as well? In the Christian universe, does this mean that parthenogenesis, resurrection and eventual parousia (the re-appearance of Jesus) is not unique to our world?

And what of the end of the world, and the establishment of the new Jerusalem (the kingdom of God)? What implications does this have for the entire known universe? It seems deeply unfair that when judgement comes to Earth and the world is destroyed and replaced by a different one, that other civilizations far from us will not witness this event or cannot be privy to “salvation” by dint of the fact that they are ignorant of such activities. Should the entire universe now be subject to the religious language and imagination of human beings on Earth? Will the universe be destroyed and all life in it to accommodate our vision of the End?

To avoid this, we must deny that there was, is or ever will be life in the universe. We must be alone, because our theology will fail because of it. With the exception of the hardcore fundamentalists, most people acknowledge how small and puny the Earth is in relation to our galaxy and the universe at large. We accept this as a physical reality, but not as a religious reality because it would make or break our faiths. As previously mentioned, there are those who will scour scriptures to adjust to the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence (“In my father’s house are many mansions,” John 14.2) or concoct a hodgepodge of different religious systems to synchronize everything. Such exercises are nonsense, of course, because religions posit their validity on having received God’s laws. The rules of the supreme being must be true throughout the universe, no matter who receives them; otherwise they are mere suggestions, not laws.

Thus if God expresses his divine will to humanity, it either must be repeated with other civilizations or there are no other potential receptors for the divine word. Because mankind has never re-evaluated his religious language for the universe at large, any intelligent life out there cannot not co-exist, or must become victim to the human salvation scheme of things. So the word of God is only given to human beings, not to the twelve-fingered sentient life form whose origins are a methane lake.

Aliens do not exist because our religions cannot explain them away. At least this way, we do not have to worry about their immortal souls.