Chewbacca doesn’t talk much – at least not in English – but the Big Guy, clearly, is one intelligent alien.
Ditto for the menagerie of other smart creatures who inhabit the “Star Wars” universe, the latest installment of which, “The Force Awakens,” is on pace to become the most popular movie of all time.
Which got us here at OC Catholic to thinking:
If intelligent life a la Chewy were to be discovered on another planet – a life form with an intelligence akin to that of a human – what would that mean for Catholics and the Catholic Church? What does doctrine say?
Long before the hype about the latest “Star Wars” flick went into hyperdrive, Pope Francis made headlines when he said, during a morning Mass, that if Martians came to him asking to be baptized, he wouldn’t turn them away.
The pope, during that Mass in May 2014, went on to tell a story of inclusion from the Acts of Apostles in which Peter sees a group of non-Christians receiving the Holy Spirit and later is criticized by non-Christians for consorting with them.
The pope’s point was that Catholics should have an open-door policy when it comes to Church teachings.
Right, but would the same apply to intelligent life forms from another planet?
Guy Consolmagno, a research astronomer and director of the Vatican Observatory, echoed Pope Francis when, in 2010, he says any intelligent entity has a soul and therefore could be baptized a Catholic.
Some guidance on the issue can be found in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. The teachings – reflected in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” – make it clear that Jesus’ offer of salvation is universal:
“Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery.”
Again, all good – but what about intelligent aliens from a distant planet? Would “all men” apply to them, too?
For some clarity, OC Catholic turned to Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., founder and president of the Magis Center of Reason and Faith (magiscenter.com). The Magis Center is a non-profit housed on the campus of the Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove that develops educational materials on the complementarity of science, philosophy and faith.
Spitzer says he would be “shocked” if alien life forms aren’t discovered in the countless exoplanets (planets that orbit a star other than the sun) believed to exist – but he was referring to non-intelligent life forms such as single-cell organisms and algae.
Intelligent life forms – aliens who, like humans, could do things intellectually that defy the limits of physical processes; that would have, as Spitzer put it, a “transphysical soul” that yearns for such things as perfect love and perfect beauty – well, that would be another story.
If such beings ever are discovered, Spitzer says, it would mean that God would have created them – and, therefore, the Catholic Church would have absolutely no problem with them.
Nothing in church doctrine says God put limits on his creation – that God limited his creation to Earth alone, Spitzer noted. Therefore, he says, God’s offer of universal salvation would extend to any intelligent being found in any galaxy– even a 7-foot-tall furry creature with the ability to copilot a space ship.
“Our yearning for God is built into our soul,” Spitzer says. “And any alien life form that would be found to have an intelligence comparable to ours also would have a soul and would, like humans, also have a heart and mind that would be yearning for God and yearning for redemption from darkness.”
Human intelligence, Spitzer says, cannot be reduced to physical or evolutionary processes – proof, he says, that God created us. So if intellectual life exists elsewhere, God created that form of life, too, he says.
And God’s intention to save is universal, he added.
“Therefore,” Spitzer says, “if we ever met one of these creatures, our first obligation would be to evangelize them, and our second would be to baptize them in the Catholic Church. There would be no issue to debate.”
Wow, this may even be a lot for Chewbacca to, err, chew over.