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Monday, September 26, 2022

Brother Henry, The Cross Of Jesus, And Alien Salvation - Vaudevillian Evangelism In The Big Tent

Sightings of alien space ships, abductions and personal ‘borrowings’, time travel to Alpha Centauri and beyond have been common for over a hundred years.  H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds was perhaps the first novels to suggest that the time had come.  We were definitely not alone, and those visiting Earth were not friendly.  The meme has continued, and few science fiction tales involve tame, complaisant, compassionate aliens.  Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, was of a different ilk.  Alien intelligence had evolved far past interstellar conquest and was godlike – an ineffable, universal presence whose only interest was to make itself known to other intelligences, no matter how immature, and to subsume them within its all-encompassing being. Denis Villeneuve’s movie Arrival was made in the same vein – the presence of a benign intelligence contacting others – but in the main science fiction has remained the purview of shoot-em-up action thrillers.

Image result for images h.g wells war of the worlds

None of these comic book scenarios interested Brother Henry, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Christ, Reformed, televangelist, and host to ten thousand weekly congregants in his church in Las Vegas.  Brother Henry’s vision was wider, more encompassing, and more evangelical.  If Jesus Christ was indeed Lord of the Universe, Redeemer of Souls on Earth and beyond, hope and glory for untold numbers of desperate individuals everywhere, then his mission was to minister to that flock.

It might seem odd that with more than enough sin to go around on Earth, evangelists and theologians are considering extraterrestrial salvation.  Yet for those within the religious community, the issue is not trivial, for it goes to the heart of the nature of God and Jesus Christ.   If God is omnipotent and omnipresent, and if he saw fit to send his only begotten son to save a race of human sinners, how could he be so indifferent to the needs of others?  If Jesus Christ is in fact the incarnation of God; if he did indeed suffer for mankind on the cross; and if he is the only hope for eternal salvation, then how could his sacrifice be so limited?

Image result for images jesus on the cross

Perhaps more essentially, If God can save alien races without Jesus, then what does that do to the notion of the uniqueness of his earthly divinity?   It is hard for many Christians to accept the fact that Christianity is but an incidental occurrence – important but simply one of billions of configurations.

Those who insist on the primacy of Jesus Christ can only conclude that he must have appeared – or will appear – to alien races for the same spiritual reasons.  Those who prefer the primacy of God the Father (a  non-orthodox belief dismissed once and for all at the Council of Nicaea in 325) assume that salvation can occur without Jesus; but no one who calls themselves a Christian today can deny the mystery of the Trinity – one God in three divine persons – and based on that belief, Jesus is central to salvation wherever it may occur.

When NASA came as close as it ever had to confirming the sighting of an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO) over Nevada, Brother Henry felt the time was now to act.  While indeed there were many in his congregation who might wonder why he was turning away from their pain and suffering, their loneliness and need for redemption, there were many more who saw in his universal evangelism a higher calling.  It was one thing for Christian missionaries to bring the Word of God to the primitive tribal cultures of Africa, curing them of tom-toms and totemism, ridding them of human sacrifice and cannibalism; another thing altogether to bring the salvational message of Jesus Christ to aliens.  It would be evangelism writ large, a muscular Christianity not seen since the Crusades, a loud, enduring cry of Christian faith to resonate far beyond our solar system.

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The existence of sin, the importance of suffering, and the redemptive power of grace are all tenets of Protestant Christianity. To dismiss them as irrelevant would be to deny the foundations of the Church.  Yet what if aliens are not humanoid at all and exist in some non-corporeal form, perhaps just as an intelligence suffused throughout the universe which makes itself known to lesser races from time to time? Or perhaps the first aliens that visit Earth have long since been saved, and are examples of a post-sin evolution.   While Jesus and his disciples never promised a heaven on earth, but assured only an after-death salvation; perhaps alien races took their words more to heart, followed the lessons of the parables, walked in the way of the Lord, reformed themselves, defeated Satan, and transformed themselves into a Christian utopia.  Jesus would never have spent so much time preaching about the dangers of sin and the benefits of right living if he had not at least hoped for a reform of Jews and pagans before the Apocalypse.

Christian Weidemann, a German Protestant theologian took a somewhat different tack suggesting that  perhaps extraterrestrials aren't sinners, like humans, and therefore aren't in need of saving.  But given the fact that all known intelligent beings (human beings) are sinners, it is likely that all other intelligent life in the universe would also be.

Assuming that the latter argument is true – all intelligent life must sin – than God may have incarnated himself multiple times according to the particular configurations of sin and intelligence on other planets.  Clara Moskowitz, a journalist writing about space and religion reported on another of Weidemann’s speculations:

Another possibility is that God incarnated multiple times, sending a version of himself down to save each inhabited planet separately. However, based on the best guesses of how many civilizations we might expect to exist in the universe, and how long planets and civilizations are expected to survive, God's incarnations would have had to be in about 250 places simultaneously at any given time, assuming each incarnation took about 30 years, Weidemann calculated.

Non-issues, said Brother Henry.  One way or another, evangelical Protestantism and his particular Southern Baptist faith would resonate with newcomers.  Besides, he could speak in tongues and communicate in the ancient languages of Syria, Babylonia, Mesopotamia, and Palestine.  Alien language would be no different, a question only of assimilation – the automatic, instinctive opening of the human soul to other souls.  No, speaking would present no problems; and more to the point, the Cross, the iconic, holy symbol of Jesus Christ himself would be transformative.  As soon as the aliens saw the Holy Cross and the image of the Savior crucified upon it, they would understand.  Billions of interstellar miles would be breached in a moment of divine revelation.

Image result for images speaking in tongues

“A bit dodgy”, confided one of Brother Henry’s colleagues after hearing his plans for first alien evangelical contact, and of course once the national press got wind of his oratory and plans for fabulist encounters of the third kind, there was no let up. Far from the understanding, reasonable reaction he expected, he was treated to a chorus of vaudevillian jokes and late night television satire.

Dealing with the issue of alien salvation is particularly problematic for Christians whose  concept of the Trinity, the nature of each of its divine parts, the nature and meaning of the Resurrection and a hundred other doctrinal points have been debated for 2000 years.  Evangelism to aliens brings into question the tenets of the faith far more than other religions for whom salvation is not the be-all and end-all of belief.

While this debate may seem silly to most secular observers concerned more with the practical benefits that might accrue from contact with a superior intelligence or with the dire consequences of a hostile, predatory alien race than any question of salvation, it is far from trifling to Christians who know that their very Earth-centered story of Jesus may be thrown into question or even dismissed entirely.

It was unfortunate that the issue reached the fore thanks to this religious huckster.  Brother Henry had no appreciation of the finer points of theology or theoretical consequences of alien contact.  He was a trickster, a charlatan, and a side show host who cared only for the hoopla and ceremony which would attend his first alien conversion.

The NASA confirmation went unnoticed in America.  The millions who believed that aliens had already visited the United States knew that this news was old news; and millions more who believed that such reports only diverted attention away from issues of diversity, inclusivity, identity, and becoming.

Unless aliens actually landed and showed themselves, evangelism would remain theoretical; and Brother Henry would always be a universal evangelist manqué. So he returned to his pulpit, transmogrified and re-energized about the glory of Jesus.  His sermons were magnificent – tales of universal salvation, suffering, sin, and redemption all tightly woven within an oratory of faith.  The idea of aliens always made his congregants turn their heads to the rafters, imagining what such creatures might be like; but in their marvelous fantastical reveries pictured Jesus alongside them, preaching to them, saving them.

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