From “Dear Padre”@2016, Liguori Publications. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Periodically, I wonder if I am actually the only one who thinks about this kind of stuff. It can feel like a rather lonely pursuit but then my spirits are buoyed when (after carefully feeling out my audience to intuit whether they might have even a passing interest ) , I bring it up and a lively discussion ensues. To be honest, this doesn’t happen often but it’s inspirational when it does:)
Something recently came my way and left me feeling somewhat validated in that there really are others out there who are thinking about this too. A close friend of mine passed on a short article that was included in her Church Bulletin ( a kind of newsletter ). She is a Catholic like me but attends more faithfully than I do. The bulletin from her parish contains a back section called ” Dear Padre” which answers various questions on matters of faith. The segment is sponsored by an organization called Liguori whom I contacted to obtain permission to reprint the short article by Father Bonk, CSSR, which they generously granted. I’ve been successful in my sometimes blundering attempts at uploading, the scanned copy will appear at the top of this post, with the copyright acknowledgement. Please take a few minutes to read. I will share my thoughts on this and hopefully, you will consider doing the same.
I am not an expert on the Bible. In fact–other than what I hear in Church ( when I’m listening ) I have never read the Bible. And full disclosure: I accept the Old Testament only as metaphorical and not literal, which I believe is the stance of the Catholic Church, although somebody please correct me if I have that wrong.
Fr. Bonk says right out of the gate that ” the Bible doesn’t specifically mention life on other planets which I was pretty sure was the case. His reference to other “important biblical principles” which may speak to the possibility not only completely resonated with me but mentions the very passage that I have often thought about. Most of us have at least heard of the lines from Genesis “ In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth”. The fact that the word “heaven” is plural has always struck me as a possible ( likely? ) reference to the Cosmos and all that it contains. Which is, as we now know, –lots!!Unfathomably lots- hundreds of thousands of other planets in our own Galaxy alone and we are only one Galaxy of hundred of billions. But the infinite number of possibilities are irrelevant here–it’s the principle of potential. Life sprung up here and in my admittedly very humble opinion, there is no reason to believe that it didn’t develop elsewhere when we know that the building blocks of life likely exist elsewhere in the Universe. But that is science. Religion may rule out any creation or development of life without Divine Intervention. What a dilemma for those of us with a foot in both communities!
I once had a discussion with a very engaging Catholic priest who was interested in and very knowledgeable about astronomy. He made a point of mentioning that the Bible was written thousands of years ago by men who had no education in or understanding of science and no way of conceptualizing the issues that we are now dealing with. Tongue in cheek here but—the Bible needs an update!
In this article, Father Bonk makes the excellent and logical point ( if you are a believer ) that any other life that exists in the Universe was also created by God. I interpret that as also saying that, as such, we should not fear other life or beings but welcome that as fellow creatures of God. This is a sweet thought and in stark contras to the fear based impression of so called “aliens ” pervasive in our pop culture. He closes his article by stating that, if there are other intelligent species, they would not present a challenge to our relationship to God because He came to Earth as one of us. But how do we know that he didn’t go elsewhere?
This whole blog is partially inspired by a question that was put to me by a dear family friend–a warm and intelligent gentleman in his early 90’s and now passed away–when he first read about the discovery of other planets in our galaxy. Knowing that I write about space exploration and my obvious interest in the topic, he asked me if I believed that life existed elsewhere . ” Absolutely! ” I responded, adding that I couldn’t conceive how there wouldn’t be. A devout Catholic, he concluded our discussion by asking me one last question. And it touched my heart when he asked “Would Jesus have gone to those other planets as well to redeem them? ” I told him that I don’t have the answer to that profound question nor, I doubt, does anyone else. But it moved me that not only was he open minded enough to consider this but that , in the twilight of his life, he was pondering the implications to his faith.
Because my knowledge is limited to my rather vague understanding of the Christian Bible, I often wonder what other religions have to say on this same question that was put to Father Bonk. Is there any reference in say—the Koran , the Torah or any other book of religious doctrine? Or are they, like the Bible, silent on the matter? Perhaps someone who is knowledgeable about these religions will join the conversation and give us their thoughts. In the meantime, I will do some research for future postings.