Each week in the course of life and ministry, I engage in a significant conversation with family members, friends, parishioners, and sometimes strangers. Depending on the week, the conversations can be more or less involved. No matter what the week, I find my understanding and compassion expanding with each encounter.
This past week I had an engaging conversation with my two daughters, about the nature of Jesus, Christianity in relation to other world religions, and human discovery. In the course of the conversation, one daughter remarked, “What about when human beings encounter alien species? Who will Jesus be to them?”
This may seem to some to be quite trivial, and perhaps a question to be avoided. However, the question does present the fact that most human expressions of faith have to do with the world as we know it, rather than the experience of things that are not of this world. In answering the question, I commented that all world religions would have to reevaluate and reinterpret their understandings in light of contact and interaction with sentience beyond this earth. In short, we could not or would not expect there to be a Jesus salvation figure off this earth. Many other worlds may have the story of their world’s redemption, there salvation narrative. It cannot be that of Jesus of Nazareth, that is our story.
This does not negate the reality of the differing narratives of faith and salvation and redemption in the world. It does not negate the reality that my belief shows for me, and the community that I am intertwined with, that Jesus is front and centre. There is precedence for this, as various contemplatives, theologians, and pastors have offered commentary and dialogue on the place of Christianity within the context of other world religions.
I uphold the writings of both C.S. Lewis and Hans Küng in this matter. Lewis, in the last installment of the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, has Aslan, the Jesus figure, encounter Emeth (Hebrew word meaning truth). In the conversation that follows, Emeth finds that the service he believes he is offering to a God of war and destruction is in fact being offered to Aslan (God of love and truth and redemption) because of the nature of the offering and the intention of the individual.
Hans Küng, in his theological treatise, On being a Christian, outlines the mistakes that Christians have made over the generations, in expelling and destroying other religions and differing expressions of the Christian expression, all for the sake of a ‘superior ignorance.’ He deals well with the realization that Christians live within a vast marketplace of encounters, where faith, religion, practice and actions differ. The context of this living also demands interaction and a sense of accommodation for the differences that will be present within so many parts of society.
What occurs then, when we are given space to dream, as my daughters did? Will humanity’s encounter with alien species be devoid of meaningful religious and spiritual dialogue? Will worlds encountered be all about living out René Girard’s writings of mimetic desire and the myth of redemptive violence as lived out in the stories of Star Wars, Star Trek, superheroes, and others?
As I encounter each new question, whether it be of or beyond this world, I pray that I make the time to consider my place, God’s place, and the place of those around me.