Astrotheology, or exotheology, is a branch of theology that engages questions on the relationship between extraterrestrial life and religious belief. Theologians would need to ask important questions should the human race one day discover that extraterrestrial life exists or if such life ever made contact with humanity (1).
In Christian theology, there has been speculative discourse on this topic, notably over whether or not God could have created other worlds with life. If so, did God create these beings with a spiritual nature? What is Jesus Christ’s role in the broader view of the cosmos? Would they too have a religious and/or spiritual condition that is sinful and in need of salvation? Theologians and academics have entertained questions like these and more. One could point to works such as John Haught’s Theology after Contact: Religion and Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life (2001), Hugh Ross’ Lights In the Sky & Little Green Men: A Rational Christian Look at UFOs and Extraterrestrials (2002), Thomas Keith Hoffmann’s Exomissiology: The Launching of Exotheology (for the Dialogue: A Journal of Theology, 2004), Ron Rhodes’ UFOS: The Truth About UFOs and Aliens – A Christian Assessment (2012), and David A. Weintraub’s Religions and Extraterrestrial Life: How Will We Deal With It? (2014). According to Haught,
“even the mere entertainment of the prospect of eventual contact—whether it ever actually occurs or not—is a wholesome expansive exercise for theology. And it seems appropriate even now to ponder some of the questions that an encounter with other worlds of intelligent beings would raise for theological thought” (2).
Certainly, Haught believes, the existence of extraterrestrial life and humanity’s contact with them would have an impact on many traditional beliefs regarding the concept of God, the nature and importance of human beings, and cosmic purpose.
It has not only been the religious who have had an interest and stake in this question. The possibility of extraterrestrial life is sometimes an exciting prospect for skeptics of religion, who are convinced that such a discovery would be inconsistent with the existence of God or at least organized religion. Of course, such a conclusion is no less speculative than the answers Christian theologians have provided on these matters. Answers remain speculative because extraterrestrial life has always proven elusive to discovery and no compelling evidence yet exists of such beings, despite much funding injected into the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program. The possibility of aliens existing and what such would require remains a point of debate within the academic community.
As we have noted in a previous entry examining UFO religions, the fascination with extraterrestrial life is not limited to Christian theology. Some alternative religions have been classified by scholars as “UFO religions” which take for granted the existence of alien life. Scholars note the emergence of these religions largely as an attempt to harmonize religion and science, and to incorporate modern scientific discoveries into a revised religious worldview (3). These religions make claims that extend far beyond the mere existence of alien as they also present narratives of personal encounters. In many instances, certain individuals are believed to be channels, messengers, or prophets chosen to relay messages to the human race. Aliens are believed to offer help to humanity and that by receiving them well humans will make great strides in both the physical and spiritual realms. Although these UFO religions are very small and unlikely to attract a large number of followers, they remain an interesting development in the religious experience of human beings and an example of human creativity in a changing world.
1. Saliba, John. 2006. “The Study of UFO Religions.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 10(2):103-123. p. 117-118.
2. Haught, John. 2001. “Theology after Contact: Religion and Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 950:296-308. p. 296.
3. Saliba, John. 2006. Ibid. p. 119.