The religious reaction to First Contact would be interesting to say the least. Some religions might be able to expand their horizons to embrace the notion of extraterrestrial life. Others may not take it so well. The big issue is not even so much which religion you believe in, but rather how you view the world in general. Fundamentalism cuts across religion and culture. It exists among Christians, Jews, Muslims and Hindus. It is a world-wide phenomenon and it could have a big impact on the world reaction to First Contact.
From Wikipedia: fundamentalism refers to a "deep and totalistic commitment" to a belief in, and strict adherence to a set of basic principles (often religious in nature), a reaction to perceived doctrinal compromises with modern social and political life.
Would fundamentalists consider the acceptance of extraterrestrial life to be a doctrinal compromise? And if so how would they react? With violence? With civil unrest?
If the reality of extraterrestrials is proved by science it would seem tough for any religious group to deny the fact. However, we know that is exactly what can happen in fundamentalist groups. Science can be denied and reality shunned. It’s hard to predict which group would be most likely to react this way. It could just as easily be Christians as Muslims.
In one sense it doesn’t matter. It is unlikely that First Contact will require any human to do anything differently in their lives. To a certain extent it will be a matter of choice. If you are a physicist your career and lifework would change greatly as new scientific principles unfold. If you are a computer manufacturer or a teacher, there will be much you have to learn and new opportunities to explore. Many people, though, will not have to change what they do for a living. A man selling spices in a market or a woman serving as a nurse in a hospital will probably find that little of their day to day life changes due to First Contact. So, for fundamentalists they will most likely be able to choose to ignore the reality of extraterrestrial life if they so wish. And if this is all that occurs, a portion of humanity denying the reality of First Contact, we would probably be doing well.
The other possibility is the aforementioned civil unrest. Fundamentalists could press nations to go to war. They could commit terrorist acts against extraterrestrial visitors and the governments that aid them. It could be a new age of terrorism, unlike anything we have ever seen. It all depends on that reaction. If extraterrestrials are viewed as “devils” or as a sign of apocalypse there could easily be trouble. It should be expected that some groups will take this view. The real question is how many groups and what percentage of the population.
There is no easy answer to this problem. Outreach and inclusion are probably the only hope. All religious groups and cultures need to be included in the First Contact conversation. It will take some bravery on the part of extraterrestrials and their human hosts, but there needs to be an active effort to travel to all portions of the globe and visit with many different groups. It is much easier to deny something that is viewed at a distance. Once a conversation is started at home it takes on new levels of understanding. The actual words may not even be that different from what has been heard before in the mass media. The very action of being in the presence of other beings may be enough to turn the tide.
This outreach and inclusion needs to start quickly. In a sense the proposed world welcome trip around the globe would be the start (as outlined in the proposal section of this blog). World leaders need to understand the fundamentalist reaction and be prepared to counter it immediately. Those who think the worst of First Contact will not hesitate. The fear is that without control entire nations could be plunged into chaos. This is a real danger and one that must be risked. If extraterrestrial life is out there and those beings want to say hello, quite frankly we are all just going to have to deal with it.