Monday, October 11, 2010

Armageddon Thinking and First Contact

I like to think about First Contact from an extraterrestrial perspective. Granted, it’s a human trying to consider the extraterrestrial perspective, and that’s probably pretty flawed. Still, I think there are a few basic things we might expect in how they would view a Direct First Contact event.

In a Direct First Contact scenario, where an extraterrestrial civilization comes to Earth to say hello, our reaction is going to be important to them. An extreme reaction could lead to violence or unrest. Extreme thinking can lead to extreme reactions. So, I think it would be safe to say that aliens would have an interest in the possible extremist reactions to extraterrestrial First Contact.

I’ve discussed fringe religious and political reactions to First Contact. And yet there is a much larger group that could be of concern: Christians.

A focus on the Book of Revelation and the rapture is integral to beliefs in many Christian denominations, including the born again movement. What does all of this have to do with First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization? Armageddon thinking among Christians will be a huge challenge After First Contact.

You might think that only a small group of Christians believe that we are near Armageddon times. Not true. A 2002 Time/CNN poll found:

“Fully 59% say they believe the events in Revelation are going to come true, and nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the Sept. 11 attack.”

If you can tie 9/11 into events discussed in the book of Revelation, then why not alien visitation?

And it’s not just the general public. The belief in Armageddon can be found in the upper levels of the United States government.

The most public example of belief in the apocalypse may be the “Left Behind” series of books that rose to popularity in the late 1990’s. They portray a vision of the Rapture, the New Testament belief that Christians will ascend to heaven at the end of the world. How politics and government ties into this was made clear during a 60 Minutes television show interview with “Left Behind” author Reverend Tim LaHaye.

“We believe that God has raised up America to be a tool in these last days, to get the Gospel to the innermost parts of the earth.”

LaHaye was a close supporter of President George W. Bush and there has been plenty of speculation about the President’s thoughts about Armageddon. The latest talk is of Sarah Palin and her apocalyptic beliefs. The Christian fundamentalist movement has been picking up steam in American politics for the last 30 years. That fundamentalism carries with it some degree of belief in the rapture and the American role in Armageddon.

Author Marci McDonald says it doesn’t stop at the borders. Her recent book “The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada” says that the belief is held by many in the Canadian government.

I don’t propose that a belief in Armageddon is a problem in and of itself. It is a problem when people mix that belief with world politics and current events and make important decisions based on those beliefs. And it seems likely that if we were to ever have contact with an extraterrestrial civilization, Armageddon thinking would be a real issue.

So, how do you hope to deal with such beliefs? I think the only answer is with the rational weight of the rest of the world. First Contact would be a real test for many religions and believers. How they react is likely to be influenced by the greater majority. If the entire world is thrown into chaos it will be tough to keep the Armageddon talk from gaining followers. If things remain relatively calm, the majority may be able to keep the scared minority for gaining strength.

I think the first steps have already been taken. The Catholic Church has been proactive in taking a lead role in discussion of First Contact and its impact. They appear to be trying to incorporate the possibility of extraterrestrial life into Catholic faith. You would hope that other world religions would follow. The Christian faith has many different churches and beliefs and perhaps more of those could incorporate the concept of extraterrestrial civilization into a larger view of god and the universe.

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