What Would Happen to the Idea of God?
Certainly, at the very least, an encounter with alternative
intelligent worlds would be one more in a series of great occasions modern
<!g>cosmology has provided for theology to enlarge its sense of God and divine
creativity. But contact with ET's would
also provide an opportunity for theology, on its part, to display the unitive
power of radical monotheism. Any other
intelligent cosmic provinces in this universe would obviously be grounded in
the same creative principle that our earthly monotheisms posit as the source of
all things "visible and invisible."
Radical monotheism - with its belief that all things, all forms of life,
all peoples and all worlds have a common origin and destiny (in a God who
creates and encompasses all beings impartially) - is still the surest ground we
have for embracing that which at first seems alien. To learn to love what God loves is the
vocation and the constant struggle to which our greatest religious prophets
have already called us. Of course,
tribalism and ethnic hatred, as well as disregard for nonhuman forms of life,
still tragically persist here on Earth, but an argument could be made that this
is so only because radical monotheism, which emphasizes the <!g>ontological unity
underlying all diversity, still has too tenuous a hold on human awareness,
including that of religious people themselves.
Many people do not yet really
believe in the ultimate unity of all beings even here in our own world. And so, the discovery of other intelligent
worlds would be a wholesome new challenge to radicalize monotheism.
Viewed theistically, all galaxies and all universes are rooted in
an ultimate unity of being; so our travels could never bring us into an
encounter with anything completely alien to us. Nihil alienum. Theology's relevance to SETI lies most
fundamentally in its conviction that all possible worlds have a common origin
in the one God. And by virtue of the
omnipresence of the one God we too would have an extended home in all possible
worlds to which we might eventually travel.
At the same time, the fundamental unity of being implied in the
notion of divine creativity would tend, by its very nature, to unfold in an
unlimited diversity of ways, and
possibly a multitude of different "worlds." In the <!g>Summa Theologica
St. <!g>Thomas Aquinas poses the childlike question as to why God created so many
different kinds of beings. His answer:
so that what is lacking in one thing as far as expressing the infinity of God
is concerned can be supplied by something else.Diversity in creation, in other words, is appropriate precisely because of the
nature of an infinitely resourceful creativity. The basic <!g>theistic belief that the reality of God has already
become partially manifested in the extravagant multiplicity of non-living and
living beings on our own planet should already have prepared the religious mind
for a disclosure of even richer diversity elsewhere--and in ways completely
unfamiliar to us now. Perhaps there is
no better way for religious people to prepare themselves for
"exo-theology" than by developing here and now an "eco-theology"
deeply appreciative of the revelatory richness of the variety of life-forms on
Contributed by: Dr. <!g>Jack Haught