Religions have surprisingly diverse approaches to the issue of possible extraterrestrial life, David Weintraub found. Below, a quick survey adapted from his book “Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal With It?” and interviews with the author.
Rifts have emerged among Roman Catholic theologians in trying to understand whether all sentient beings in the universe suffer Original Sin, whether all require redemption, and how God will offer it to those in need. Depending on how these issues are resolved, Catholicism might make sense but also might make no sense on a Klingon world.
Judaism offers a set of rules for humans on or from Earth that encourages them to develop a relationship with the God of the entire universe. Judaism is not for the Klingons, unless the Klingons wish to live on Earth, though Judaism could continue to make sense as a religion for descendants of humans living on other planets.
In multiple places, the Koran asserts that other rational, intelligent beings exist on other worlds. Furthermore, those creatures worship and are accountable to Allah. The religion practiced by followers of Mohammed is only for humans on Earth. Other worlds would have their own prophets and their own prophetically revealed religions.
Hindus would embrace and not be at all surprised by the discovery of extraterrestrial life. The only concerns for Hindus would be where those creatures fit into the hierarchy of living beings, which extends from plants to animals to humans to gods. Hindus could practice their religion anywhere in the universe, and any sentient being anywhere in the universe could practice Hinduism.
Buddhism imagines a universe that is unimaginably large and complex and beautiful. Life forms beyond the Earth must exist in such a universe, whether we are able to find and identify them or not, and Buddhism works everywhere in the universe.
For evangelicals, the discovery of advanced extraterrestrial life has the potential to be devastating. Humans, in the view of most evangelicals, are the singular focus of God's creative attention and Christianity is the universal religion. Therefore, other advanced intelligences cannot exist.
Members of the UU Church embrace no single set of beliefs or sacred scriptures. The discovery of extraterrestrial life would trigger no issues.
Mormon scripture leaves no doubt that other worlds exist and are inhabited by sentient beings who are "begotten sons and daughters unto God.”
The Church of Christ, Scientist, appears to have nothing to say one way or another about extraterrestrial life.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Earth is here is to provide a home to those faithful to Jehovah. Extraterrestrial life, whether in advanced or primitive form, does not exist.
Chris Wright is a writer and editor living in London.