Sunday, 23 October 2011

Theodor Returns

Theodor has returned. He is insistent that we answer some of his questions. We didn’t want to but we see that we haven’t posted for a while so we are going to answer his questions. Here they are:
A few odd but serious (or so I think) questions:
  1. What is the Orthodox Church's teaching/belief regarding intelligent/sapient (human-like) extraterrestrial lifeforms? Could the belief in their existence be in some way compatible with the belief in Christ (as true God and true man)?
  2. What on Earth were the “sons of God” and the “Nephilim” or “giants” mentioned in the Old Testament?
  3. And why used Jesus to call Himself the “Son of Man” rather than the “Son of God”?
  4. What would have happened if the Jews and the Romans would have refused to crucify Christ? I mean, was it really necessary that Christ should die on the cross and only on the cross?
If you have the time, please answer. Thank you.
Whether there are or are not sapient extraterrestrial life-forms is a matter of science. So far no positive evidence has been presented that is both public and scientifically confirmed. There are of course reports (some probably conscious fabrications given their provenance) of visits of alien spacecraft and the like. (We will return to this aspect of the matter below because it is important.)
As far as we know there has been no success with attempts by NASA to discern alien radio signals in the cosmic background noise and there has been no reply to Carl Sagan’s specially coded message to alien life-forms that he had put on an American satellite travelling into deep space.
As Enrico Fermi the Nobel physicist is said to have remarked on the subject of extraterrestrial intelligences, “So where are they?”
Moreover, there’s just an itty-bitty problem with the structure of the universe. Under the current cosmological model, the absolute maximum speed that anything can travel (in any frame of reference) is the speed of light. Some scientists using a cute trick (maybe they’ll get a Nobel for it) managed to photograph the youngest extra-solar planet known to date. It’s about the size and condition of Jupiter. No place that Theodor or we would want to live. How far away was that planet? 450 light-years. That’s a long way away. Under the current cosmological model it would take at least 450 years for aliens living on that planet to reach earth.
So is the current cosmological model valid? Who knows? Some guys think they may have discovered some neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light. Their evidence is being investigated. If the scientific community finally judges that in fact their evidence is valid and something was moving faster than the speed of light, it’s roll over Einstein.
It is certainly true that science is not a finished business and that one day Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity might be over-turned. But for the moment it’s all we have. Everything else is sheer speculation: worm-holes, extra dimensions etc. Using tricks like worm-holes or short-cuts through extra dimensions to visit that youngest planet just discovered is the stuff of science fiction. (Of course we all know that that youngest planet’s moon is Pandora and that there are mystical 12-foot-tall blue humanoids on Pandora.) We can’t even get an electron to do the trick. Moreover, there is absolutely no way to know whether a human being going through a worm-hole would come out the other end anything more than hamburger—after all we’ve never ever found a worm-hole in the cosmos to experiment with.
So one distinct possibility—subject to further discoveries in science—is that the universe is structured the way it is because that’s the way God wanted it to be: although there are sapient extraterrestrial intelligences they are so far away that we’ll never be able to meet. There’s simply no way to know given the state of science today.
As far as we know, there is no teaching in the Fathers on extraterrestrial life-forms. The world-view of the Fathers simply did not encompass that possibility. The Fathers do talk of angels and demons as spiritual realities but there is NO reason to conflate patristic discussion of spiritual realities with the scientific question “Are there extraterrestrial intelligences?”
So we are in a situation where Theodor wants to know whether something that is at the moment extremely hypothetical—there’s still a problem finding a microbe on Mars, Theodor—is going to interfere with his faith in Jesus Christ as true Man and true God; let us say with his faith in the Nicene Creed.
Theodor, don’t you understand that the question itself is the problem, not the answer? The question is the temptation. You might just as well get caught up in speculation, “Well what happens if a meteor strikes my village in Bulgaria?” Well yes it’s possible that a meteor might strike your village; we can’t exclude that possibility. But it’s never happened in recorded human history that someone’s village was wiped out by a meteor. So why would you want to spend all your time making preparations for the event?
Theodor, it is true that a Professor of Theology in the Faculty of Theology in your home-town university might want to deal with the issue in a study of dogmatic theology. Then again he might not. But it is simply too hypothetical for you to worry about. The temptation is that you accept to think about such things. These are the thoughts that make your head spin. If you want to get off the merry-go-round, stop thinking and start loving.
Theodor, the passages in the Old Testament that refer to the “Sons of God” and the “giants” and the “nephilim” are very intriguing and we suspect that if you refer to St John Chrysostom’s commentaries on the relevant passages, you will see what he thinks the terms signify. But the fact of the matter is that no one knows what exactly is being referred to. Scripture seems to be referring to actual realities but with such brevity that nothing concrete can be made of the references. However, if you are interested, you might wish to read some recorded homilies of Elder Porphyrios BaĻŠraktares (1906 – 1991). These are published in English as Wounded by Love. In these homilies, the Elder, who had very strong gifts of clairvoyance and prevoyance, discusses with a woman her finding ruins on Patmos which would correspond to giants. He also discusses the excavations of the house that the ancient Greek seer Tiresias lived in, with the archaeologist doing the excavations. However, Wounded by Love is the translation of an early edition of Bios kai Logoi, the Greek original, so some material might be missing.
Jesus called himself both “Son of Man” and “Son of God” depending on the particular Gospel. Since he was both true man and true God, this is reasonable.
Theodor, with regard to your fourth question, if you look at St Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Trinity, you will see a portrayal of the pre-eternal counsel of the Persons of the Holy Trinity concerning the creation of Man, the fall of Man, the incarnation of the Word and the earthly life of the incarnate Word, including his Crucifixion and Resurrection. (Incidentally, the angel on the left is the Father; the angel in the middle is the Word; and the angel on the right is the Holy Spirit.)

The point of looking at this icon of great serenity and transcendent beauty is to consider that God had it “all planned out from the beginning”. There is simply no possibility that Christ would not have been crucified. You are dealing with a hypothetical that couldn’t and didn’t occur.
Theodor, the problem is that you allow yourself to think about these things. As St. Diadochos of Photiki writes, when we have a simple faith we are calm but when we insist on investigating everything then we are agitated. The spiritual life is a life of becoming like a small child who loves its mother (one of the psalms portrays this) and its father (all the Gospels portray this). You will go to Heaven based on whether you had mercy, not on whether you knew the answers to the questions you are posing.
That is part of the problem.
The other part of the problem is that the topics you are addressing—the existence of extraterrestrial intelligences, mysterious references to mysterious beings in the Old Testament, what-if questions about what would have happened if those who crucified Christ decided to stone Him instead—are eruptions into your life of a demonic fantasy world. You would be far better off avoiding these issues and others like them.
It is hard to explain this. Even if we assume that these are valid theological questions—and we are sure that a Roman Catholic professor somewhere has addressed them—they are not for you. For although they are questions that might deserve a theoretical answer, the psychological and SPIRITUAL dynamic that you are living is such that for you they are temptations to take you away from reality. In the general case this is clear in historical reports of people taking trips on flying saucers. The people who have made such trips who are not outright charlatans have problems staying in contact with reality. Moreover, this is not just a psychological problem but a spiritual problem also. In addition to anything else these people might have a problem with, they are being tempted by demons. Keep your feet on the ground, Theodor, going to the church of your preference (we are not going to try to convert you to Orthodoxy) and emptying your mind of all such thoughts and questions. Try to be nice to someone instead of thinking about such things. Pray to God that he free you from these things.