Christianity in Space

Goofy title aside, this is actually a question for serious consideration.  Namely the question of what should the shape of Christian piety take as humans begin to step out into the broader universe that our Lord has made for us.  There will come a time when the vast majority of mankind will make its home among the stars, on various different worlds, and not on our beloved Earth.  As we will see, several questions come up that make for interesting consideration.

For starters, it is highly unlikely that we would ever find a planet exactly the same as the Earth in terms of the cadence of time (much less environment).  Certainly in the short term humanity is likely only to make permanent settlement on Mars, so lets take that as an example.  Mars has a day that is a little longer than the Earth’s, so that is not much trouble to deal with. Its year, though, is significantly longer at 687 days (669 sols (Martian Days)).  This means a Martian year is 1.88 Earth years.  How do you deal with the Church Year in this environment?

There are two obvious solutions.  The first would be to lengthen the Church Year to match the Martian year.  This has the advantage of matching the Church Year to the natural cadence of those who will be Mars natives (actual legitimate Martians).  Those Martians will never grasp the cadence of the Earth year for they do not live it and their seasons will differ substantially from ours here on Earth.  The natural downside to this is that for millennia now the Church has celebrated contemporaneously the Church Year, disagreements about the date of Easter notwithstanding.  Thus this divorcing from this practice of millennia will impact the catholic confession of faith which is the same in time and place, and planet.

The second solution is likely the better one, keep the Church Year fixed to the Earth calendar.  After all we already do this for those in the southern hemisphere here on Earth, namely we do not change when Easter or Christmas are to fit the natural season, so we have prior practice.  This also has the benefit of solving a tricky question: When is Easter?  Unlike Christmas, Easter is a mobile holiday that moves depending on when Passover is.  However Passover is tied to the Jewish Lunar Year.  What does the Jewish Lunar Year mean when you are on a planet with two moons that orbit in 7 hours and 30 hours respectively?  Even worse what if you are on a planet with out a moon, or are living on a moon of a larger planet, or on a space colony.  The cadences of celestial bodies that seem so natural to us here on Earth become meaningless to those on other planets.

This practice also has benefit of confessing that the planet Earth has a unique theological position in the cosmos.  It is on the Earth on which God first made humanity.  It is the planet on which Christ did His atoning work.  It is the world on which the Holy Spirit first descended on man at Pentecost.  For these reasons, and a host of others, that the natural rhythms of Earth should hold a special significance for the Christian.  Not that we are Gaia worshipers, but rather that structuring our theological lives around that rhythm of the Earth solves many problems for Christian piety.  For instance what do we do with Psalms that explicitly mention the Earth or the world?  What do we do with hymns that do so?  In some places they are explicit references to our lovely home world, in others it is short hand for the entire cosmos.  Certainly we would not want our future brothers and sisters on other planets to feel that they were not saved just because they were born and raised on other worlds (e.g. John 3:16).  Thus already Christians will need to take a more nuanced view of Biblical and theological terms than we have had prior.  It may even mean we have to adjust the language of our hymns to be more expansive, or alternatively (as we already do with hymns and psalms) understand the language in its context. Terms that say world and earth usually mean more than just our fair planet unless they very specifically tied to the planet Earth.

Anyways back to the topic of the Church Year. Frankly keeping the Church Year tied to the cadence of the Earth makes a lot of sense.  Beyond that we have examples of other years that do not line up with the solar year here on Earth.  We have fiscal years and school years.  We have the example of the Islamic heathens who follow a moving lunar year because Mohammad claims it to be a sin to follow a solar year (see Sura 9:36-37).  Even in Christianity the East and West keep slightly different calendars due to the debate over the date of Easter.  Thus having an independent calendar, that is even divorced from the natural cadence of the world you are on, makes a lot of sense and is doable.

Of course there are a host of other interesting questions that come up with our expansion into space.  How do Christians date things when other planets may have independent calendars tied to their natural cycles?  How do we as Christians prevent ourselves from treating those who are born on Earth as privileged over those in on other worlds?  How do we stem the tide of Gaia worship that is bound to crop up as we find more and more worlds that are desolate and lifeless showing the uniqueness of Earth?  How do we deal with those of humanity that never took a Christian pastor with them and thus live on worlds that have never heard of Christ or of Earth because all knowledge of both has died away?  Should we as a Church start prepping for the day when every colony ship will need a pastor or missionary to go with them to spread to word of Christ?  All these questions may seem like science fiction now, but as history has shown questions of science fiction soon become science fact (see the discussions about what to do about the Native Americans when America was discovered).  Contemplating them now will give us a leg up when our children or their children go off into the wide universe that our Lord has commanded us to fill and subdue.

18 thoughts on “Christianity in Space

  1. Not too make little of your points, but I think it may be helpful to put this conversation in the category of “Things that may change how we understand ourselves as Christians if Jesus lets us do that” or “if Jesus doesn’t come back before”.
    Other than that, I really appreciate the thought that went into this article.

  2. I think we should talk about how we live the Christian life when apes take over the earth.

  3. As long as we’re asking big creative questions…

    So how would Law and Gospel apply to sentient aliens that aren’t children of Adam? In other words… Do we evangelize the Vulcans when we encounter them? As far as we know, the Son didn’t take on Vulcan nature, nor is it certain we could even tell if they’re sinners as both our natural law and special revelation might be at a loss on the question.

    The Space Force needs to know.

  4. @ Matt Cochran #?

    Yes, but the real creative question is whether we’ll find any aliens ‘out there’, sentient or not. As you know, the idea of aliens on other planets and ‘other life’ than what is on earth, is an evolutionary one, derived from the pagan assumption that since life evolved here on earth it must have evolved somewhere else in this vast, vast, universe. The idea does not come out of Scripture. I mean, really, we’re just a pale blue dot in the immensity that is our universe, and there must be life elsewhere, right? We shouldn’t limit God to only have created life here on this planet, should we? We need to get our minds firmly grasped around and within Scripture, what it says and what inferences we can draw from it, and your repartee above clearly brings this point out. Law and Gospel make no sense to those not children of Adam.

  5. This article is very thought-provoking. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s 1958 essay, “Religion and Rocketry,” which dealt with some of the same issues.

    I’m not sure there will ever come a time when most of humanity will live on other planets. I’ve read that there are several major health obstacles to overcome before crewed missions can even travel to Mars safely (radiation, loss of bone density, etc.). However, there’s no way to predict future technological advances, so it’s certainly possible colonization of other planets could happen.

    I also think Elon Musk has a good point when he argues that humanity should colonize other planets to reduce the damage to the race an asteroid impact could cause. Sort of a back-up plan.

    Whether or not humans living on other worlds will still follow the church year is up to them. It is, after all, an adiaphoron. Christians here on earth don’t all follow the same customs, but we are still united by a common faith. I really don’t care if Christians on Mars celebrate Easter at the same time as Christians on Earth. Millions of Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter on a different date than we Western Christians, and that’s fine. You can be a perfectly fine Christian without celebrating Easter at all!

    Just for the record: I like the hymn, “Earth and All Stars.”

    As far as the question of “aliens”—we don’t know if they exist or not. Maybe God created intelligent life on a million worlds, and only on Earth did it fall into sin (as Lewis speculated in his space trilogy of novels). Maybe God has a different form of salvation for each fallen race. Maybe Alice Meynell’s poem “Christ in the Universe” is true, and we will “…in the eternities…compare…[a] million alien Gospels…” We just don’t know. Space is vast and God is incomprehensible.

    It is fun to think about, though!

  6. @ James Gibbs,

    Whether or not humans living on other worlds will still follow the church year is up to them. It is, after all, an adiaphoron.

    I’m not sure how you are trying to define ‘adiaphoron’ here. If, ‘a matter having no moral merit or demerit’, then I think perhaps there is plenty of disagreement in our Lutheran assemblies for the moral blessings and advantages to our faith, of following the church year.

    You can be a perfectly fine Christian without celebrating Easter at all!

    On what basis do you make this claim? I find it hard to imagine that a Christian who understands 1 Cor. 15:12-19 would say that not celebrating Christ’s resurrection “at all’ makes you a ‘fine Christian’.

    As far as the question of “aliens”—we don’t know if they exist or not.

    We ‘can’ use logical inference from Scripture to eliminate this possibility. We ‘can’ understand the origin of ideas coming from the minds of unregenerate men and weigh their legitimacy against Scripture. Wild speculation based on ideas from pagan minds, and not those found in Scripture, do not honor God.

  7. By adiaphora, I mean things neither commanded nor forbidden by God; i.e., human traditions. Following the Lutheran church year is a fine tradition (I follow it myself), but not following it isn’t a sin, because God never commanded it. “Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath,“ as Paul wrote in Col. 2:16.

    By “not celebrating Easter,” I meant just that: not celebrating the annual festival we all call “Easter.” Nowhere does God say, “Thou shalt have an annual festival commemorating the Resurrection of Christ.” I did NOT mean “not believing in the Resurrection.” You can hold to the doctrine without celebrating the festival.

    I once worked with a lady who was a devout member of the Church of Christ. She most definitely believed in the Resurrection, but, to her denomination, every Sunday is a commemoration of the Resurrection, and she said they don’t do anything different on Easter Sunday. That’s what I mean by, “You can be a perfectly fine Christian without celebrating Easter at all!”

    You think Scripture rules out the possibility of intelligent alien life on other worlds. Sorry to disagree, but the Bible is utterly silent about life on other worlds. Maybe it exists out there, and maybe it doesn’t. Only time will tell.

    I also think we need to avoid telling people “The Bible rules out extraterrestrial life.” What if NASA finds some? Those people we tell will have their faith in the Bible shaken!

    As far as ideas coming from “unregenerate men” and “pagan minds”—C.S. Lewis was a Christian, and so was Alice Meynell. And there have been lots of great ideas that have come from unbelievers. Euclid laid out the principles of geometry. Aristotle gave us the law of non-contradiction and the four cardinal virtues. Newton was an Arian, and Einstein was a pretty secular Jew–but both men laid the foundations of physics.

    Plus—this whole subject is speculative, and I’ve said so. No one is trying to establish doctrine about aliens, as far as I can tell.

  8. Thank you James, for your clarifications.

    You think Scripture rules out the possibility of intelligent alien life on other worlds. Sorry to disagree, but the Bible is utterly silent about life on other worlds.

    Yes, and that’s the point. It’s silent because there is none.

    I also think we need to avoid telling people “The Bible rules out extraterrestrial life.” What if NASA finds some? Those people we tell will have their faith in the Bible shaken!

    Sure, the haunt of alien hunters everywhere: ‘Where is everybody?’; aptly called Fermi’s Paradox. A question wrapped up in an enigma, with no apparent solution.

    Aside from the fact that your statement is a slippery slope fallacy, the Scriptures don’t even hint that God created other life ‘out there’. The earth was His focus, a beautifully created habitat specifically designed for the biodiversity of life and the pinnacle of His creation: Man; for it is here on this planet that His plan of creation, redemption, and restoration will play out. The search for extraterrestrial life, failing miserably so far, comes out of a mindset that rejects its Creator, searching in vain for a hope that isn’t there.

    Astrophysicist Frank Drake, the formulator of the Drake Equation, ties up the connection to evolution and the search for extraterrestrial life when he says: “In many, many places, evolution would produce intelligent species capable of making things,” he said, sitting in front of a mug of coffee in his California home, up the road from the beach amid millennium-old redwoods near Santa Cruz. “They will make technology we could detect from a great distance. That will be a common event. They will first make [primitive machines] and eventually radar transmitters, and once they make a radar transmitter, we can discover them.” Drake barely blinked.

  9. Mr. Drake, you are welcome for my clarifications.

    I don’t understand how you can argue from the Bible’s silence about extraterrestrial life to saying “there is none.” The Bible is silent about lots of things, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. North and South America are nowhere mentioned. Microbial life is nowhere mentioned. The fact that the earth goes around the sun is nowhere mentioned. The purpose of the Bible is to save souls, not touch on every possible topic—how could it, given it’s a book of finite length?

    As far as the Fermi paradox, there are all kinds of conjectures—the Wikipedia article alone lists 23 different ones. No one knows, and that’s OK! Btw, the current issue of Scientific American has an interesting article about this, “Alone in a Crowded Milky Way.” You may find it interesting.

    I’m not sure what you mean (and which statement you mean) by saying “slippery slope.”

    Yes, the Bible focuses on earth, because it was written to humanity, and it’s where we live. Just as most of the Bible was written to the Hebrews, because God gave the Bible and the Savior through that particular people. “The Bible was written for us, but not to us” is a good insight. But that doesn’t rule out anything God may have done, is doing, or will do on worlds literally beyond our ken.

    Again—I think it unwise for Christians to say EITHER “The Bible rules out life on other worlds” OR “The Bible teaches there is life on other worlds.” If we bind people to a particular notion about ET supposedly drawn “from the Bible,” and future scientific discoveries (perhaps centuries hence) contradict our “Biblical” teaching, we are setting people up for unnecessary crises of faith. We simply don’t have enough information, either from the Bible or science, to make a definite statement on the subject—that’s all I’m saying.

    As far as a link between evolution and the search for ET, look…there are people who use evolution to “explain away” God, or who use supposed aliens as a “God substitute.” There are also nutty Christians who think UFOs are “Ezekiel’s wheels” or that Jesus was an extraterrestrial. The Raëlian Movement is an entire religion built around a lot of UFO pseudo-science. So people can definitely be led astray by this stuff.

    However, it is certainly possible that God created (without evolution, that is) races of intelligent beings on other worlds, and that humanity may make contact with these beings in the future if and when the human race spreads out to the stars.
    And I don’t think a certain amount of speculation on the subject is harmful for well-informed Christians.

  10. Mr. Gibbs,

    I don’t understand how you can argue from the Bible’s silence about extraterrestrial life to saying “there is none.”

    Well, I guess I don’t understand how you can argue that because the Bible is silent on other life ‘out there’, that therefore we can jump to a conclusion that it is still a possibility and NASA shouldn’t stop searching for it. I don’t understand given Fermi’s Paradox: ‘Where is everybody?’, and the premise of that paradox between the lack of evidence for extraterrestrial civilizations and various high estimates for their probability, that you can still say we shouldn’t rule it out. I don’t understand how we can claim the possibility of extraterrestrial life, given everything in Scripture concerning Man, this specifically designed planet for Man, the promise to Man given to him after the Fall about a Redeemer to come, the fulfillment of that promise in Christ’s incarnation and death for Man, the promise to Man of Christ’s return in judgment to execute His wrath on those who do not know God and those who do not obey His gospel, and the promise to Man for this same Christ to restore all things and create a new heavens and a new earth. From all of Scripture, we can then logically deduce God’s focus is ‘us’, on this planet. I don’t understand how you cannot see the connection between evolution of life on this planet, and the belief in extraterrestrial life evolving on other planets. This idea comes out of a materialistic or naturalistc view of beginnings, but not out of a Biblical and scriptural view of beginnings and I don’t understand why you cannot see that.

    “The Bible was written for us, but not to us” is a good insight.

    This is incorrect. For that statement to be true, you would have to claim book by book that it was written to a certain group of people only, without the overarching providence of God and in His almighty wisdom intending it ‘for’ and ‘to’ all people; all classifications of human beings without distinction throughout all generations. It is dangerous to say that Scripture was not written ‘to’ you, because it certainly is, and you are to live and breathe it. Yes, the various books of the Bible’s first audience were the Hebrews, or the Galations, or the Corinthians, or the Romans, but God in His wisdom preserves His Word and intended it to be an everlasting Word ‘to’ and ‘for’ all people everywhere.

    However, it is certainly possible that God created (without evolution, that is) races of intelligent beings on other worlds, and that humanity may make contact with these beings in the future if and when the human race spreads out to the stars.

    See my above concerning all of what Scripture does say and the overarching plan of God in Creation, Redemption, and Restoration for man on ‘this’ planet. Speculation about intelligent beings on other worlds does not honor God. It takes the focus away from what God has done on this planet for Man and his sin problem. It takes the focus away from Man’s responsibility to God in the here and now on this planet. It channels the mind away from what Christ has done here, for Man, and what man’s responsibility is to this Christ.

  11. I wrote a wonderful reply to you, Mr. Drake, but I tried to post it and it wouldn’t post. Oh, well…

    Nice to know we could finally have a polite interaction with each other.

    Good luck to you.

  12. Mr. Gibbs,

    May I suggest, perhaps, that we pick one point of disagreement from each other’s posts, and shorten our answers and comments to that one or two points? And then go back and forth with short replies and/or questions from there? We are obviously on two different sides of the creation/evolution debate, and can argue these points as they arise. I think this is important as I’m sure you agree your position is important.

    May our polite interactions continue.

  13. Thanks for the offer, Mr. Drake, but I didn’t want to debate creation/evolution. I just wanted to talk about Christianity, space, and (hypothetical) aliens. I have always loved C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy of novels–you might enjoy them too: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.

    No one on this website wants me to talk about creation/evolution anyhow, and that’s fine.

    The whole origins debate has made me kind of weary, to tell the truth. I need to find some other outlet for my thoughts. At this point, I don’t think I will find that outlet inside the LCMS. Wish me luck.

    Good luck to you in the future.

  14. James,

    Not to be disrespectful, but “Woe is me”, again? I thought we were past that.

    No one on this website wants me to talk about creation/evolution anyhow,

    That’s because evolution, God-directed or not, is a false, unbiblical idea. They (this website) are right to not want false teaching to permeate here. If you were asking questions, seeking clarification about aspects of the Creation doctrine within Scripture, with a spirit of humility, seeking to learn, and not pushing the TalkOrigins or BioLogos standard line, then I think you might have better reception. Just sayin’.

    The whole origins debate has made me kind of weary, to tell the truth. I need to find some other outlet for my thoughts. At this point, I don’t think I will find that outlet inside the LCMS. Wish me luck.

    I don’t believe in luck, and I don’t think you do either, as it acknowledges no Supreme Being, but I will pray for you in your search. Blessings.

  15. When I said I didn’t want to talk about origins, I meant just that. I just wanted to talk about space.

    I. Just. Wanted. To. Talk. About. Space.

    But you apparently can’t just let it go, can you?

    “Not to be disrespectful, but…”–that sentence should’ve ended with the word “but.”

    With “‘Woe is me,’ again?”, “false teaching,” and “spirit of humility,” you’re right back to calling me a self-pitying, arrogant heretic. I thought BJS didn’t want anyone’s motives questioned? What a joke that policy is.

    Mentioning “luck” is just a common expression. You have to make an issue out of everything, apparently.

  16. “I. Just. Wanted. To. Talk. About. Space.”

    Space is a created entity, therefore part of the Creation doctrine specfied in Scripture. It is not called the Evolution doctrine, and therefore any discussions about space fall within the Creation doctrine purview.

    With “‘Woe is me,’ again?”, “false teaching,” and “spirit of humility,” you’re right back to calling me a self-pitying, arrogant heretic. I thought BJS didn’t want anyone’s motives questioned? What a joke that policy is.

    No one can see inside your head and question motive. What condemns you is the written words you have posted and the mockery of God’s Word you have displayed, in promoting the false and unbiblical view of evolution.

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