Religion has always been an emotive subject, and never more so than when introducing the idea of extra-terrestrial life to the devout. For some reason, most organised religions on the planet have rejected the idea of off-earth life forms as being somehow blasphemous.
Why God, who or whatever you believe Him to be, would exclude those from other planets seems incomprehensible to those with a more liberal mindset; this conviction still appears to prevail, however, as a recent article published in The Catholic Truth magazine appears to confirm:
"It is unlikely we have been visited by intelligent beings from elsewhere in the universe," states the article. "The theological implications of their existence are untenable and incompatible with Scripture."
The piece goes on to say that those who believe that they have encountered such entities are in fact being tricked by the Devil;
"Humans have an appetite for the spectacular, and so it is little wonder that the Devil entices us through the age-old trick of conjuring luminous phenomena in the atmosphere," suggests the article." It is clear aliens and flying saucers are just another one of his tricks with the overall intention to lead souls away from their heavenly destiny."
This, though an interesting perception, is not necessarily indicative of the views of all Catholics or indeed any other pious individuals, and thankfully it appears that the current Pope does not share this limited perspective.
In a homily dedicated to the concepts of acceptance and inclusion, Pope Francis declared that he would not turn anyone away from the Catholic Church, which he described as a church of "open doors," and said that he would be more than willing to baptise aliens.
Pope Francis made reference to the Bible story in which Peter was judged harshly for communing with "unclean" pagans and converting them to Christianity, an act that at the time was also considered to be "unthinkable."
He said that Christianity had struggled from its inception against the urge to dismiss “the living presence of God” in unfamiliar guises, but that it was a Christian duty to accept the Holy Spirit in whatever form it came, however “unimaginable” it had previously appeared to be.
“If, for example, tomorrow an expedition of Martians came to us here and one said ‘I want to be baptised!’, what would happen?” asked the Pope? Confirming that he really was talking about extra-terrestrial life-forms he added: “Martians, right? Green, with long noses and big ears, like in children’s drawings.”
The Pope said that it was not our prerogative to pick and choose how or with whom the Lord's work should be done:
“When the Lord shows us the way, who are we to say, ‘No, Lord, it is not prudent! No, let's do it this way’. Who are we to close doors?”
The Pope's comments are consistent with a growing flexibility and more expansive approach that has been emanating from the Vatican in recent years.Back in 2010, similar views regarding extra-terrestrials were expressed by one of Pope Benedict's astronomers who said that aliens might have souls and could choose to be baptised if they wished. Guy Consolmagno explained that the traditional definition of a soul was to have intelligence, free will, freedom to love and freedom to make decisions.
"Any entity – no matter how many tentacles it has – has a soul," he declared.
When asked if he would be prepared toe baptise an alien, he replied:
"Only if they asked."
Consolmagno said he would be "delighted" if intelligent life was found but thought it unlikely.
"The odds of us finding it, of it being intelligent and us being able to communicate with it – when you add them up it's probably not a practical question," he said.
Nevertheless, it is encouraging to note that the Catholic Church is so forward-thinking and tolerant of this possibility; Pope Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict, was instrumental in paving the way for this new outlook, encouraging religion and science to work in harmony:
"The world needs good scientists, but a scientific outlook becomes dangerously narrow if it ignores the religious or ethical dimension of life, just as religion becomes narrow if it rejects the legitimate contribution of science to our understanding of the world."
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