It’s the awareness, curiosity about, and acceptance of the “Other” that is one measure of a maturing Christianity. One such growing awareness was reported last May in the Vatican’s official newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, with the pronouncement by the Pope’s astronomer, Jesuit Priest Jose Gabriel Funes, that aliens may very well exist, and that if encountered should be greeted as “our brothers” and “children of God.”
Consider Funes’ remarks in light of how far the church has come since the Middle Ages and after, when the “Other” included Arabs, Jews, Protestants, Celtic witches, many scientists, and New World tribal religions and cultures, to name a few.
Christians may take some pride in having come from early childhood to the middle teenage years in our expanding acceptance of Creation. The inclusion of aliens, at least in theory, is likewise a giant step toward understanding that the “Other” is both a telescope and a mirror through which to view the breadth, diversity and enormousness of God’s works.
From the Middle Ages onward, by the way, stories comparable to today’s reports of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, alien encounters and the like, commonly were considered to be the work of Satan’s minions — fallen angels who intended to harm mankind. And some Christians today would claim the same thing; that alien grays and devils are one and the same. But until more is known, the Vatican is telling us that Christians must approach the unknown with love rather than fear.
Why should we do this? Because evil and fear feed on each other and work hand in hand. For example, an article by New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof on Oct. 26 reported that an influential al-Qaida Web site urged support of John McCain’s candidacy for president. And why would al-Qaida urge support for their sworn enemy?
As Kristof explained: “An American president who keeps troops in Iraq indefinitely, fulminates about Islamic terrorism, inclines toward military solutions and antagonizes other nations is an excellent recruiting tool. In contrast, an African-American president with a Muslim grandfather and a penchant for building bridges rather than blowing them up would give al-Qaida recruiters fits.”
There is one scale we must all measure our spiritual health against, from time to time, and that’s the scale that runs from fear to love. The Bible reports that angels greet us with the words “Fear not.” Love drives out fear, and love is the stuff angels are about. Fear, hate and violence work together to man’s ruin, and are thus Satan’s tools. Even fear of the Lord is only the beginning of wisdom; the greater wisdom is the acknowledgment and reciprocation of God’s love.
Last Tuesday, my wife Charlene and I attended an Obama rally in Pittsburgh, Pa., on the first day he presented his “closing argument” speech, in which he describes and summarizes his approach as one of hope and cooperation, rather than of fear and isolation. As we left Mellon Arena, we fell behind two black men, and overheard the following exchange: “Today I’m nothing but proud to be an African-American,” said one, to which the other responded, “Forget the African part. I’m proud just to be an American. Just American. Just American.”
In the next few years, this country and our world look toward enormous challenges to our traditional ways of thinking. Our reluctance to change is costing us the planet, with one quarter of all mammal life endangered, the oceans’ stocks of fish nearing depletion, our drinking water supplies as challenged as our oil reserves, and the price of food rising as fast as the quality of food is going down.
Meanwhile, many Third World countries aspire to develop nuclear arsenals, even while their people starve, or die of treatable diseases. The world’s instability also is reflected in the gyrations of the economy — and it is, after all the chaotic gyrations, so unlike normal market cycles, that reflect the fear we seem hellbent on creating at every level of existence. When you stop to think about it, there is certainly a lot to be fearful about.
But if we let fear drive our decisions, then our worst fears will be realized. When everyone attempts to withdraw their money for fear of a banking failure, the banks must fail. When nations compete for every edible fish in the oceans, then no edible fish will remain. When every nation aspires to nuclear armaments, then worldwide nuclear war will be the ultimate result.
If seems to me that if there really are aliens hanging around Earth, watching what we do, it’s probably to see if we will learn the lessons of love vs. fear in time to save ourselves and our planet. The Vatican may know something we don’t about the future of the world, and the role of the “Other” in preserving it.
In the meantime, we should know by now that we cannot count on the politicians alone, or the economy alone, or the military alone, or technology alone, or our intelligence alone, or religions alone, or the capacity of the Earth to heal itself alone, to make things right. The one mighty tool we have in our arsenal is God’s love and our ability to channel it to one another, and to the living Earth.
Lee Witting is pastor of the Union Street Brick Church in Bangor. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.