Saturday, 10 May 2014

God and Alien in Anderson's Technic Civilization by Sean M Brooks

Originally published on Poul Anderson Appreciation, Tues 29 April 2014.

Anyone who has read Poul Anderson's Technic Civilization stories and novels (set in the eras of the Polesotechnic League and the Terran Empire) will recall how, from time to time, mention is made both of the continuing influence of Christianity and how some non human rational beings converted to Christianity.  Among other things, it means Anderson took as one of his premises the Church deciding that aliens could be baptized.  Some stories also show Buddhism becoming popular with various aliens.

I should cite some evidence to back what I said in the preceding paragraph.  In Chapter VII of A KNIGHT  OF GHOSTS AND SHADOWS, as Dominic Flandry was landing on the planet Diomedes, this is how the non human port master at the town of Thursday Landing was described: "He was an autochthon, a handsome creature by any standards.  The size of a short man, he stood on backward-bending, talon footed legs.  Brown-furred, the slim body ran out to a broad tail which ended in a fleshy rudder; at its middle, arms and hands were curiously anthropoid; above a massive chest, a long neck bore a round head--high, ridged brow, golden eyes with nictitating membranes, blunt-nosed black muzzled face with fangs and whiskers suggestive of a cat, no external ears but a crest of muscle on top of the skull. From his upper shoulders grew the bat wings, their six-meter span now folded.  He wore a belt to support a pouch, a brassard of authority, and, yes, a crucifix."

Note that last point, the Diomedean was carrying a crucifix, a very well known and prominent Christian symbol.  For any person to do so plainly means he believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  Almost certainly, this port master was a baptized Christian.  I also got the impression that Flandry did not think it unusually surprising, in context, to meet a non human with a crucifix.

A prominent character in THE GAME OF EMPIRE is the draco-centauroid non human from the planet Woden named Francis Xavier Axor, a convert to Christianity and Catholic priest. Fr Axor said he studied archaeology in his youth, mentioning off planet scholars coming to excavate the "Foredweller" ruins found on Woden. Axor and his colleagues in the Galilean Order then tied those archaeological excavations to speculations about the Incarnation of Christ occurring on other planets.

When I first read THE GAME OF EMPIRE in 1985, the Galilean Order immediately reminded me of the Jesuits, because of Axor's comment about the Galileans interest in the sciences.  The Jesuits have produced many scholars and scientists.  The Augustinians and Benedictines also came to mind.

Readers who have read the first chapter of THE GAME OF EMPIRE may be reminded of C.S. Lewis' essay "Religion and Rocketry," which can be found in the collection called THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT AND OTHER ESSAYS (Harvest/HBJ).  A few quotes from that paper seems in order.

From page 86:
If there are species, and rational species, other than man, are any, or all of them, like us, fallen?  This is the point non-Christians always seem to forget. They seem to think the Incarnation implies some particular merit or excellence in humanity.  But of course it implies just the reverse; a particular demerit and depravity.  No creature that deserved Redemption would need to be redeemed. They that are whole need not the physician.  Christ died for man precisely because men are not worth dying for; to make them worth it.  Notice what waves of utterly unwarranted hypothesis these critics of Christianity want us to swim through.  We are now supposing the fall of hypothetically rational creatures whose mere existence is hypothetical!
Lewis was absolutely correct to say that Our Lord became Incarnate as man NOT because of any merit on our part, but because of our depravity.  His comments reminded me of what Fr. Axor said in Chapter 1 of THE GAME OF EMPIRE:
"For see you, young person, some three thousand standard years have passed since Our Lord Jesus Christ walked upon Terra and brought the offer of salvation to fallen man.  Subsequently, upstart humankind has gone forth into the light-years, and with Technic civilization has traveled faith to race after race after race."
Many things are left unstated here, as part of a background both Fr. Axor and Diana Crowfeather understood and took for granted.  Knowledge of the existence of Christianity and its beliefs, a faster than light means of reaching the stars (else it simply would not be possible for mankind to both settle other planets and spread the Faith), the rise of an interstellar civilization enabling these things to happen, non human rational beings coming to believe in Christ, etc.

Fr. Axor goes on to say:
"About such independently space faring beings as the Ymirites, one dares say nothing.  They are too alien.  It may be that they are not fallen and thus have no need of the Word.  But painfully plain it is that every oxygen-breathing species ever encountered is in no state of grace, but prone to sin, error, and death."
I disagree with Fr. Axor's comments about the Ymirites.  The way a Ymirite tried to kill Dominic Flandry (see Chapters IV and V of WE CLAIM THESE STARS!) on the planet Jupiter makes me extremely doubtful Ymirites are un-Fallen.  I do agree that hydrogen breathers living on high pressure/gravity worlds like Jupiter are too alien for oxygen breathers to easily or often interact with.  And the comment about every oxygen breathing race encountered by mankind being "prone to sin, error, and death" has many theological implications.  Which led me to the next quote from Lewis' essay "Religion and Rocketry" (page 86 of THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT AND OTHER ESSAYS).

If all of them (and surely all is a long shot) or any of them have fallen have they been denied Redemption by the Incarnation and Passion of Christ?  For of course it is no very new idea that the eternal Son may, for all we know, have been incarnate in other worlds than earth and so saved other races than ours.

And this ties in with Fr. Axor's quest as he explained to Diana Crowfeather.  I mean his search for evidence that Christ became incarnate to other races than mankind. It's interesting to note how Lewis' comment about Christ becoming incarnate on other worlds is "no very new idea."  The essay I've been quoting from was first published in 1958--which means SOME speculative theologians have wondered about such ideas before then.  Again, I'll quote Fr. Axor (Chapter 1 of THE GAME OF EMPIRE).
"Now Our Lord was born once upon Terra, and charged those who came after with carrying the gospel over the planet.  But what of other planets? Were they to wait for human missionaries?  Or have some of them, at least, been granted the glory of their own Incarnation?  It is not a matter on which most churches have ventured to dogmatize.  Not only are the lives, the souls, so different from world to world, but here and there one nevertheless does find religions which look strangely familiar. Coincidence?  Parallel development?  Or a deeper mystery?"
I would argue that the command of Christ to preach the Gospel to ALL nations in Matthew 28.16-20  includes as a legitimate interpretation the inclusion of non human rational beings on other worlds who have fallen.  And I realize this means first getting a FTL method of reaching the stars.  Fr. Axor's comments above brought to mind these remarks of Lewis in his essay "Religion and Rocketry" (pages 87-88 of THE WORLD'S LAST NIGHT AND OTHER ESSAYS):

It might turn out that the redemption of other species differed from ours by working through ours.  There is a hint of something like this in St. Paul (Romans 8.19-23) when he says that the whole creation is longing and waiting to be delivered from some kind of slavery, and that the deliverance will occur only when we, we Christians, fully enter upon our sonship to God and exercise our "glorious liberty."

On the conscious level I believe that he was thinking only of our own Earth: of animal, and probably vegetable, life on Earth being "renewed" or glorified at the glorification of man in Christ.  But it is perhaps possible--it is not necessary--to give his words a cosmic meaning.  It may be that Redemption, starting with us, is to work from us and through us.

These words caused me to wonder if someday, assuming a FTL drive is invented (as I so strongly hope happens!), that the Catholic Church might preach the Gospel to aliens whose races have fallen.  Fr. Axor commented above that all known oxygen breathing species are "prone to sin, error, and death."  In other words, fallen.  I've also wondered if Poul Anderson read the essay by C.S. Lewis I've been quoting.  Much of what Anderson has Fr. Axor saying in Chapter 1 of THE GAME OF EMPIRE parallels Lewis' comments.

It is my thought that certain texts in the Bible could be interpreted as supporting the idea Christianity can be rightly preached or offered to fallen aliens.  One being Matthew 28.16-20.  But I wish to take a closer look here at Romans 8.19-23: "For the eager longing of creation awaits the revelation of the sons of God.  For creation was made subject to vanity--not by its own will but by reason of him who made it subject--in hope, because creation itself also will be delivered from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God.  For we know all creation groans and travails in pain until now.  And not only it, but we ourselves also who have the first fruits of the Spirit--we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the redemption as sons, the redemption of our body."

It can easily be seen how Lewis could speculate that this text from Romans could be interpreted as meaning that a fallen creation (cosmos) awaits the revelation from Earth of the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and Redemption wrought there by Christ.  And that deliverance from this slavery to corruption awaits the offering to aliens of the Gospel of Christ.

It is necessary to immediately stress that this, like the Incarnation of Christ coming among men, does NOT mean any special merit on our part.  As Lewis immediately said after the text I quoted above: "This would no doubt give man a pivotal position.  But such a position need not imply any superiority in us or any favouritism in God."  No, it would mean an ADDITIONAL duty laid on the Church.  Lewis was also careful to speculate in his essay that the vast distances of the other stars and planets from Earth might be a means of quarantining mankind from un fallen non human races--so fallen mankind could not corrupt them.

As Brother Guy Consolmagno wrote in his booklet INTELLIGENT LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE? (Catholic Truth Society: 2005, pages 33 and 37), the authors of the Bible did not have trouble accepting the existence of non human rational beings.  After all, the angels are not human and they certainly are intelligent!  Dr. Consolmagno uses Psalm 89.6-7a as one example: "The heavens praise your marvels, LORD, your loyalty in the assembly of the holy ones.  Who in the skies ranks with the LORD?"  And Brother Guy quotes John 10.14-16: "I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, even as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for my sheep.  And other sheep I have that are not of this fold.  Them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd."  Which makes it easy to think that the sheep not of this "fold" (Earth, mankind) could be intelligent beings on other worlds who have fallen.

I hope readers will be patient as I bring in yet another quote here!  This being from the "Quick Answers" section of the July/August 2000 issue of THIS ROCK (page 45), a Catholic apologetics magazine.  And NO, I was not the one who sent in this question!
[Q] Is the Catholic Church meant only for the human race?  What if we encounter other intelligent beings in the universe at some point--are we to spread the Catholic faith to them?

[A] It would probably require an ecumenical council to answer your questions.  While the whole area is awfully speculative, here are some considerations you might find useful.  First, there would not seem to be anything wrong with sharing the Christian faith with aliens--that is, telling them what God did on our planet (e.g., becoming incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth).  Conversely, there would seem to be nothing wrong with them sharing with us what God has done on their planet--though we would have to look to the (human) Catholic Church in determining the authenticity of their claims, since it is this Church which has our pastoral care.

Second, any species we encounter may not need the sacraments, since its members may never have fallen from grace.  Or God may have made provisions for their salvation in another way.  Or they may be psychologically configured the way angels are, such that if they fall they are incapable of repenting.  The big question is whether baptism--the gateway to the other sacraments and to membership in the Church--can be given to non-human rational beings.  We haven't had to face this question because on earth we are the only rational beings.  Before arriving at a decision on this question--and in emergency situations only--the Church might allow conditional baptism.  That is, if a dying alien professed belief in Christ and a desire to be baptized, one might use the formula, "If you are capable of receiving baptism, I baptize you in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
This is far too brief a treatment of the subtle and respectful way Poul Anderson treated religion in his Technic History stories.  Especially when I consider how, due to his skill as a writer, that Anderson was able to bring in such ideas without them overwhelming the rest of the stories he set them in.  For example, I have not discussed how Anderson speculated on what might happen as humans and non humans alike affected each other as their different religious ideas and beliefs made contact in stories such as "The Three Cornered Wheel," "The Problem of Pain," or "The Season of Forgiveness."  This essay should be understood as showing how, centuries later under the Terran Empire, speculations of the kind discussed above might reasonably spring from the initial contacts described in the stories I listed.  First, that Christianity might be offered to non humans; second, that both humans and non humans might then wonder whether Christ became incarnate on other worlds besides Terra.

Sean M. Brooks

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