So what if they turn out to be green?

September 04, 1996|By FRANK R. HAIG

WHEN DR. DAVID S. McKay of NASA gave his press conference last month concerning a possible indication of life on Mars, many of the articles in the popular press raised the question of the theological implications of the event.

Would Christianity (or other religions but I cannot speak for them) have anything to say about intelligent life elsewhere in our universe, if that is where this announcement finally gets to?

Strangely enough, the issue is not a new one. From the very beginning Christianity insisted that it recognized no sacred place.

Many religions do. Islam regards Mecca as central. Judaism has a tight attachment to Jerusalem. But there has never been any obligation on the part of Christians to visit Jerusalem once in a lifetime, or Rome, or Lourdes, or any other site. Such pilgrimages are spiritually strengthening and to be encouraged, but they are optional. Space is not central in Christianity.

In fact, how wide the expanse of Christianity is to be has been a subject of constant development. Let me give an interesting example.

The unique importance of Patrick and his work among the Irish is that for the first time, Christianity moved beyond the Roman Empire. Peter the Apostle spoke mainly to his fellow Jews, with some notable exceptions. Paul the Apostle recognized that he was to extend the community to gentiles, but even he had to be specially nudged to move beyond Asia into Europe. And, when he did, he stayed within the Roman Empire.

Civilized world

For the early Christians, the Roman Empire was the civilized world. It seemed specially ordained by God to make the preaching of the gospel easier, no matter how long it might take to convince the government officials of this fact. Outside the empire there were virtually no cities, no people who spoke Latin or Greek, no culture to speak of. How could the gospel move into such regions? Before Patrick it did not. As the Oxford History of Medieval Europe comments, Patrick was embarking on ''an experiment without any real precedents.'' He carried it off.

So the Christian community has been through this extension process time after time. First, from the Jewish society to Asiatic gentiles, from Asiatic gentiles to Europeans, from citizens of the Roman Empire to the barbarian world, from the Old World to the New. Who cares if the Martians turn out to be green? We have been through it all before.

Frank R. Haig, S.J., teaches physics at Loyola College.

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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