Saturday is Columbus Day. The discovery of the New World hit the intellectuals of Europe like a bomb. They knew the world was round. They even knew the approximate size of the world, unlike Columbus, who thought it was much smaller -- which is why Columbus thought he'd found Asia, because according to his calculations he should've been there. But the intellectuals thought it was all vacant ocean between Europe and Asia. The idea that there was a huge landmass in the way -- with people! -- was a profound shock.
These people. Were they really human? Did they have souls? This was the biggest mindquake. Quickly, the Church decided that yes, they were really human, which meant they really had souls, which meant it was the duty of the Christians to evangelize them. The methods actually employed to evangelize the natives cause us some embarrassment these days, but you can't fault the desire to bring the Gospel to those who need it.
Anyway, I was talking last night with someone about the possibility of life on other planets. If we actually find signs of life -- especially if we find signs of intelligent life -- beyond our world, many people think that changes everything. It would especially change our thinking about God. How could we be so foolish as to imagine that our ideas about God could survive meeting other intelligent species who have their own ideas about God?
But really, how would it be different from the situation following upon the discovery of America? Look, we've discovered other intelligent people. They have their own religion(s), their own ideas about God, which have developed entirely independent of ours. Does this mean we've been wrong about God? Is it foolish and parochial to suppose that a religion founded upon events in the Middle East of the Old World could apply to people living completely out of contact with the society in which those events occurred? No doubt we could have been more sympathetic to the Indians' cultures generally, but the question is apt nevertheless.
If God is a universal God, then he is the God of all possible worlds. If the Son of God has been made incarnate as Man, then he has entered the created order and united it with his own nature, and all creation will be raised with him. If Christ is the savior of human sinners, he is the savior of all sinners, whatever worlds they were born on, whatever DNA is in their cells.
The problem is somewhat different if we imagine any aliens we meet as unfallen, as not-sinners. But after the first dazzlement of meeting them wears off, I imagine we would find they have their failings, too. On the whole, they might be better people than we are; they might also be a lot worse. But if they are people, then they need the Lord. And even if they far outnumber us, or are technologically superior to us, what then? Would we not be arrogant to assume there is anything we can tell them that they don't know, or to provide them with anything they need? Well, we would be no more arrogant to share our faith with them than were the first Christians, who as a tiny group -- a few hundred at best -- started out to convert all of mankind.