The diversity of the human race seems to be boundless, especially when it comes to the widely differing views and beliefs of the many world religions. A comment on my last post from a friend of mine, who happens to be Jewish, really got me thinking (see comment section). I was reflecting on Ed Langlois’s article ” What if we’re not alone?” ( from an Oregon Catholic newsletter –see previous post) which raised that pesky confounder for the Christian religion on this issue- incarnation. If Jesus redeemed earth, would the same apply to other planets that are populated, or is incarnation a single event for us only?
My friend commented that, as a Jew, this concept doesn’t muddy the waters for her as Jews don’t believe in God in human form , as Christians do. She also added, with a great deal of insight I must say, that if God created us in his image and we are going to expand our understanding of sentient life to include non humans, then we must also expand our concept of God. Now there is something to think about!
I live in a small city in Northern Canada where there is no visible Jewish community to speak of. As a matter of fact, and it took this development for me to come to this realization, my friend Susan is the only Jewish person that I have known in my entire life and she lives in Boston ! We not only have vastly different backgrounds and a border between our countries, but we met under rather synchronistic circumstances and bonded over being fellow writers , star gazers and seekers of the answers to the Big Questions 🙂 So, naturally when she offered to post my request to talk to some folks of the Jewish faith about this on a Jewish forum message board, I jumped at it. I received seven very thoughtful replies from both orthodox and secular Jews and, as I mused at the opening of this post, there is most definitely a variety of views and interpretation on whether there is life elsewhere in the Universe and how we respond to that life.
One of the first thing I learned from a very enthusiastic responder is that Carl Sagan, the late and great astronomer who brought astronomy to the masses and space science down to earth, was a Jew-although she points out that he was a secular Jew. There isn’t an astronomy buff or space enthusiast alive, including me, who doesn’t admire Carl Sagan. I did not know that he was Jewish and I cannot help but wonder, were he alive today, what he would have to add to this particular conversation.
And predictably, this particular responder was quite open to the concept of ET life and mentioned that Jewish people are very “welcoming of strangers” which is always nice to hear. Many among us, I suspect, would be far more wary.
As for the theology, which seems to me as an outsider to be quite complex, there is for sure a wide variety of interpretation. A responder who is a Rabbi was kind enough to provide me with some references from Rabbis who have written on the subject and who support, or at least are open, to the concept of ET life. Of particular interest was the introduction of Rabbi Norman Lamm, who has written extensively on this subject and has asserted that should the existence of ET life be confirmed, religious scholars must reverse previous assumptions to the contrary. In doing further research, I learned that Rabbi Lamm is a trained scientist who has a strong interest in this topic and addresses it in his 1971 essay ” The Religious Implications of Extra-terrestrial Life”, which is definitely going to be added to my reading list. From what I gleaned from the Wikipedia summary , Rabbi Lam, who is an orthodox Jew, writes that ” most highly respected scientists who are eminent in their field do believe that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the Universe”. He goes on to say that no religious position is served by ignoring what he calls “annoying theories” which may turn out to be factual and asserts the importance of what he describes as “the Torah of the Truth”. Rabbi Lamm is currently 90 years old and retired but I’m sure that he is following the current developments in astrobiology with great interest and that his writings will inspire further rigorous debate on the topic.
In speaking to other orthodox members of the faith, I found that a common thread is the belief that the Universe was created for humanity and that we are the only beings in the Universe. However, in speaking to a responder who was orthodox and kind enough to spend some time discussing this with me, I noted that there is an openness to humans becoming a space faring race one day and populating other planets. But because God created the Universe for humanity only, we would be the only species existing on other planets. I suspect that this may be the view of some other religions as well and accepted as the direct word of God. But it seems that some verses and scriptures in the Torah, as in the Bible, are metaphorical and therefore open to interpretation. There is that pesky word again- interpretation. And because interpretation is generally in the mind of the person doing the interpreting , we have seemingly vastly different points of view and no “bridge” to connect them.
However, another responder who is a Rabbi , pointed out that while Judaism has been traditionally anthropocentric , he believes that it is not without the theological resources to expand that view to a universe that may be teeming with other life and perhaps see “more than one core purpose to God’s creation.” This reminded me of Father Chris Corbally’s statement in the video that I previously posted, “We don’t make God big enough.”
So many thoughtful points of view! It makes one wonder how scholars will ever come to agreement on this but one thing I have observed with some delight- Jewish people love a lively debate and my thanks to all of those who responded to my questions, openly shared their thoughts and gave me a brief glimpse onto their world.
We obviously don’t have all the answers but it’s important to ask the questions. Please join the conversation at any time and keep this discussion going.