Extraterrestrial Religion

The only people who think that religion will die with the discovery of extraterrestrial intelligence are the nonreligious. The actual surveys of religious believers that have been made find that believers are undisturbed by the concept. They don’t see it as a threat to their religion at all. Quite the contrary. Despite the thought among those who believe that religion is fading practice among humanity, the reality is that over ninety-five percent of the human race retains a belief in the divine. There has been little change in the numbers over the years since that has been measured. Given the long history of humanity and the near universal belief in religion throughout that history, it seems to me that we are likely to find religion is important to the extraterrestrials that we might eventually come across.

So my question is this: what elements of religion will we find common among intelligent species? Is there a universal content to it just as there is to, say, language? All languages are made of morphemes, a limited number of phonemes, a verbal system, nouns, adjectives—even the grammar falls within a certain limited range of possibilities. So for instance, religion when it is analyzed, has certain things in common, regardless of the religion. For instance, the concept of sacrifice is very common. Why? Sacrifice grows from the basic biological requirement that in order to continue living, something else must die. We consume previously living matter, whether we are vegetarians or not. Life lives on death and so the concept of sacrifice—a living being taking the place of another, the shedding of blood in order to placate the gods, or feed them—is widely seen in one form or another in all religions.

So, will the same thing obtain for non-human sentient species elsewhere in the universe? The nature of life is universal, I would expect, and so the concept of sacrifice will probably be universal as well. So does that mean we will find religions out among the stars that bear striking resemblances to Earthly religions? Will those earthly religions then believe that finding an analogous belief system then proves their religion is “true”? Will we see the development of an academic discipline of comparative Christianity, comparative Buddhism, comparative Islam, as a subset of the current academic discipline of comparative religion?

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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