Sunday, June 29, 2008

Converting aliens to Christianity

The possibility of alien life on planets other than Earth is a source of endless discussion, perhaps even more so now that the Mars lander has found that Martian soil has the requisites for organic life. I've always been fascinated by Christian perspectives on the idea.

I've talked to Christians who simplified the whole conversation by saying that of course aliens do not exist because the Bible never mentions them.

However, last month, according to the Times Online, Father Jose Gabriel Funes, who is the Vatican's chief astronomer, said that it is not against Christianity to believe in aliens; that it is perfectly possible
to "admit the existence of other worlds and other forms of life, even those more evolved than ours, without necessarily questioning faith in the Creation, the incarnation and the redemption of mankind".

At first, that sounds cool; the Vatican is open to such ideas. However, the chill crept into me a moment later when Fr. Funes continued by saying that like Christians, aliens would be able to benefit from hearing about Jesus and being redeemed by "the mercy of God".

So great. While it is ok for Catholics to believe in aliens, the aliens must also be able to be converted to Christianity. I just keep thinking about the masterful movie The Mission.

What's even more interesting is that in the comments at the end of the article, someone from the US has another common response that I've heard before:
This is why I am an Orthodox Christian, because we are still the same
and never changing like the Catholic church. Orthodox believe aliens
are demonic. Why would they work under the cover of darkness and be
able to manipulate time ans space and move through dimensions just like
the bad/good angels!

So it looks like the options for Christians regarding aliens are to
1) deny their existence
2) convert them to Christianity
3) fear them as agents of Satan, and, I'm guessing, go to war with them in an attempt to destroy them.

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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Boxing match between Obama and Dobson

Ok, stick with me here.  There have recently been jabs taken at Obama's take on religion, but Obama is jabbing right back. Through all the articles posted about it over the last couple of days, I've tried to find the actual passages being talked about.

Two years ago, Barack Obama gave a keynote address at the Call to Renewal conference about the role of religion in politics. It was recently found and discussed among the media.  The whole speech is worth reading, but he's said a couple of especially interesting things. First, here is his comment on morality and "leaving religion at the door".

In fact, because I do not believe that religious people have a monopoly on morality, I would rather have someone who is grounded in morality and ethics, and who is also secular, affirm their morality and ethics and values without pretending that they're something they're not. They don't need to do that. None of us need to do that.

But what I am suggesting is this - secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square. Frederick Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Williams Jennings Bryant, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King - indeed, the majority of great reformers in American history - were not only motivated by faith, but repeatedly used religious language to argue for their cause. So to say that men and women should not inject their "personal morality" into public policy debates is a practical absurdity. Our law is by definition a codification of morality, much of it grounded in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

However, the Religious Right is turning rabid at this part of his speech:

Moreover, given the increasing diversity of America's population, the dangers of sectarianism have never been greater. Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.

And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let's read our bibles. Folks haven't been reading their bibles.

Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal, rather than religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument, and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.

James Dobson, the crackpot head of Focus on the Family, reacted by verbally smacking Obama in the face.  Here are some of Dobson's quotes:

“I think he’s deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology”....

“… He is dragging biblical understanding through the gutter.”

“What the senator is saying is that I can’t seek to pass legislation that bans partial birth abortion because there are people who don’t see that as a moral issue,” ...“Now that is a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution. … We don’t have to go to the lowest common denominator of morality which is what he is suggesting. Am I required in a democracy to conform my efforts in the political arena to his bloody notion of what is right with regard to the lives of tiny babies?”

When asked the next day about Dobson's attack, Obama responded gave as good as he got:

"Either he didn't read the speech, or he's just trying to score political points," Obama said. "Somebody would be pretty hard-pressed to make the argument" that he was distorting the Bible.

“I think you’ll see that he was just making stuff up, maybe for his own purposes.”

I must say, I admire Obama's take on religion in American politics. Of course, he can't realistically call on everyone to leave their religion at the door. But he did give us secularists the best acknowledgment I've seen from a politician.

I'm also impressed that Obama seems to be holding his own in this presidential race against such bizarre attacks.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Obama and the KKK

I've long wondered what the attitude of the white Supremacists are doing and saying about Obama's rise to power and the Democratic nomination for president.

I recently saw that David Duke, the famous Neo-nazi and former head of the KKK, thinks that it is a good thing for America. Not because Obama is an acceptable guy, but because... well, here it is in his words:

Obama is like that big dark spot on your arm that finally sends you to the doctor for some real medicine. Obama is the pain that lets your body know that something is dreadfully wrong.
Obama lets the American people know that there is a real cancer eating away at the heart of our country...

Ok, I'll stop there. You get the idea.  Basically, Duke believes that America needs Obama to win in order for whites to realize that they've given up their country to blacks and to begin to take it back.

The Southern Poverty Law Center published an article quoting a forum comment on a Neo-Nazi website:  "He will make things so bad for white people that hopefully they will finally realize how stupid they were for admiring these jigaboos all these years."

Wow. And here I was, afraid that they'd just try to assassinate him. I'm so old fashioned.
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