Last Tuesday saw the re-arrival of V, the remake of an 80's sci-fi show that was vaguely about WWII as prosecuted by evil Nazi space lizards and casting the United States in the role of Occupied France. Apparently no body thought of Red Dawn, or how gun-toting middle America might react to an invasion by oppressive aliens from anywhere...
Honestly, I missed the new version (something about knowing the space aliens are lying from the beginning ruins it for me), but I know they've made a few changes to the human side of the story. I might also point out that Morena Baccarin (above) is smoking hot as the eeeeeee-vil alien leader, Anna -- but I digress.
One of those changes is that a Catholic priest is one of the principal human characters. Apparently he doesn't trust the "Visitors." I have to admit, I enjoy mixing my science fiction with religion. Often, there's no consideration for this basic human impulse in a high-tech science fiction background. When it's treated right, putting the two together can be very interesting -- say in the post-apocalyptic novel A Canticle for Leibowitz, or the subtle background of Firefly. And although I got a huge charge out of the ending of the new and improved Battlestar Galactica, I appreciate how it went way over the top for many viewers with a sudden literal Deus Ex Machina; an example of poor execution of religious elements in sci-fi. In some ways, the Mormon elements of the original Battlestar were better...
A basic question inherent in the current V scenario is obviously, "How does the proof of extraterrestrial life affect a priest's faith?" Does he hate them solely from a reactionary world-view? I don't know, maybe I'll watch to find out.
But I read, with great interest, an article that appeared in last Sunday's Washington Post entitled, "When ET phones the Pope." It seems that Vatican recently convened a conference of astrobiologists, legit scientists who examine the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.
Believe it or not, this isn't a new question for the Church. Giordano Bruno, a 16th Century Italian monk, theorized that other planets existed, and that intelligent life likely existed on them.
That much of his theory seems to be okay with the modern Church. Fr. Jose Funes, a Jesuit astronomer, was quoted in the article as saying that the possibility of "brother extraterrestrials" poses no problem for Catholic theology.
Really? Well. Why not?
Possibly for the inverse of the reason Giordano Bruno was executed back in the 16th Century. The second part of Bruno's theory was that Jesus Christ was incarnated on each of these planet supporting intelligent life and replayed his Passion appropriately. However the Church leaders considered the first part of the theory at the time, the idea of "multiple incarnations" was -- and still is -- too much.
Christ died -- once -- for our sins.
So, what the Catholic Church is really saying is that it has no problem with extraterrestrials so long as they accept that Jesus Christ was incarnated as a Homo Sapien and died for the sins of all sentient beings everywhere. I'm sure that some perfectly logical aliens will accept this...
...Assuming that aliens we meet follow human logic.
Who's to say that intelligent extraterrestrial life wouldn't have their own vivid religious life? Maybe they'll come to proselytize us! Consider that humanity has many instances of first contact between cultures, and in the most recent cases, the more technologically powerful culture tends to bludgeon the less technological culture into submission and erode the traditional cultural values. So what would really happen if mile-wide saucers appeared in the skies tomorrow? Would we convert the lizard creatures to follow the "Book," or would their ways slowly usurp our own?
While scientists point to the constants of math and physics as a common language between humanity and any alien space brothers, there is no guarantee that a universal constant exists for emotions or faith, both seemingly necessary for the religious experience. What if a devotion to cold logic is twisted in the extraterrestrial such that they regard humanity's religious enthusiasm as a flaw in the species?
Or a threat? I mean, no one could possibly look at the way religion has influenced the course of human history and see a threat -- could they?
My point is... we should pay more attention to HP Lovecraft's idea of cosmic horror: when we finally meet the alien, we must contend with the utter "alien-ness" of it. Given that we have such a hard time understanding each other here and now, maybe we aren't ready for that yet.
Just some thoughts...