Opinion Putting Down Roots

How might Easter be reinterpreted in light of climate change?

A Hubble photo is but a small portion of one of the largest seen star-birth regions in the galaxy, the Carina Nebula. Towers of cool hydrogen laced with dust rise from the wall of the nebula. Captured here are the top of a three-light-year-tall pillar of gas and the dust that is being eaten away by the brilliant light from nearby bright stars. Photo courtesy of NASA, ESA, and M. Livio and the Hubble 20th Anniversary Team (STScI)

(RNS) — There’s a new hashtag game called #ExplainEasterToAnAlien.

Funny stuff. But it got me thinking: How will we explain Easter to an alien?

As I recently wrote for the BBC, the discovery of extraterrestrial life, as leading scientists tell us, is more a question of when, not if. If these scientists are right, then at some point in the future Christians may find themselves having to explain their most cherished beliefs to intelligent extraterrestrial beings.

But before we reinterpret our Easter stories to make sense within a galaxy far, far away, we need to make sure Christians can make sense on our own 13.8 billion-year-old star home.

These days, they don’t always. The Easter story was received and interpreted within a world that was believed to have been created fully formed a few thousand years before Jesus’ time. That, as we now know, is no longer an accurate view of the world. But it’s possible to rethink the Easter story with fresh eyes to learn how we might make sense of it today.

If you ask the average American Christian what Easter is all about, they’ll probably tell you something like this: God sent Jesus to die and rise again to save human beings from their sins. If humans accept Jesus’ sacrifice, they get to go to heaven when they die. The emphasis is on human beings, the progeny of Adam and Eve.

It was easy to believe this version of the story when humans thought they were the center of a very young universe. It’s harder to accept that story now. We now know that our very old species is just one of millions crawling across a small planet spinning in a tiny section of a huge universe. We’ve been repositioned as one part — perhaps an important part, but a part nonetheless — of a larger interconnected whole. We don’t play the starring role in the universe that our ancestors believed we did.

The problem is, many of us still act as if we’re starring in that role. Such anthropocentrism has had negative effects on our planet. Over the past 130 years, for example, the global temperature has increased 1.5 degrees F, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the force behind global warming, is, as NASA notes, higher than it’s been in the past 400,000 years.

Most scientists accept that rising global temperatures can be somewhat attributed to industralization. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change study concluded it was “extremely likely that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”

Some climate experts believe that if this trend isn’t corrected, the Earth’s surface temperature could be 8 degrees warmer by the year 2100. As the climate warms, sea levels rise, extreme weather events happen, less fresh water is made available, ecosystems change, and species go extinct.

This should sound like bad news. But many Christians seem uninterested. A political scientist who analyzed more than 20 years of relevant polling recently concluded, “Christian identity tends to be negatively associated with environmental concern.”


RELATED: For Christians, the green revolution is stalling — and politics may be why


No wonder Pope Francis wrote an entire encyclical calling people to think about “how we are shaping the future of our planet.” After explaining that climate change has a lot to do with human behavior, Francis reminds Christians that the New Testament teaches that Jesus has a “loving, tangible” relationship with the entire world. In fact, he says, “the very flowers of the field and the birds which his human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence.”

“Who is my neighbor?” someone once asked Jesus. The answer: a fellow human being. But as theologian Elizabeth Johnson points out, your neighbor is also that whale and that bumblebee and that ocean and that supernova.

You might be wondering what any of this has to do with Easter. And the answer is: everything! Although Christianity has interpreted the Incarnation in a narrowly anthropocentric way, the New Testament witness is clear that God stands in solidarity with the entire created world.

Many Christians cherish the belief that God became human, but the Bible never says that. It says the Word was made flesh. Johnson argues there’s no reason why Christians should limit this to human flesh. “The sarx (Greek for ‘flesh’) of Jesus of Nazareth was a complex unit of minerals and fluids, an item in the carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen cycles, a moment in the biological evolution of this planet,” she writes.

God, in the Jesus event, became one with the entire created, evolving, unfinished universe. Sure, that includes humans — but it also includes quarks, eroding shorelines, animals on the verge of extinction and every other planet in the universe. Easter is a celebration of God’s solidarity — God’s at-one-ment — with the universe.

So how would we explain Easter to an alien? We can start by expanding our vision and admitting that Easter is about God’s relationship with the whole world — not just human beings. We can think about what resurrection life means beyond planet Earth. We can think about bunnies and the green fields in which we hunt for colorful eggs; the factories where our dinner hams were raised and slaughtered; the gases our cars emit as we drive to church; and the lilies that adorn our altars.

And yes, maybe even extraterrestrials.

(Brandon Ambrosino is a writer and dancer based in Delaware. He lives in Delaware with his husband and is a doctoral student in theology at Villanova University. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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21 Comments

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  • If the god of the bible is THE god of the universe I’m sure those alien civilizations needed a savior as well since god couldn’t get his first two human Earthlings to obey him (nor a third of his angels) and only a handful prior to the flood. Really, the article is silly in many ways.

  • The subject isn’t silly–changing people’s perception of the universe and their place in it.

    I am bothered by the use of the word “word” for the Greek word Logos in John 1.

    Logos was translated as word but to the man that invented logos, logos referred to those inanimate processes at work in the world–processes we now call gravity, the weak and strong atomic forces, the laws of thermodynamics, etc.

  • I agree with your last sentence there, for sure.

    Side note to all readers : if you are standing close enough to an Alien, UFO, Bigfoot, or Ghost to have a rational discussion of the meaning of Easter, your derriere is in huge trouble already.

    So if you don’t wanna get a free all-expenses-paid pass to Easter Abduction, Easter Experimentation, Easter Mutilation, or Easter Disappearance, (and those are the more charitable alien options!!), you better run and pray like a 100-percent Bible-Believing Christian on steroids!

    You start talking to those alien Whatnots like this RNS writer talks, you gonna become Easter Stew with Alien Carrots!!

  • Many Christians cherish the belief that God became human, but the Bible never says that.

    He forgot several other scriptures: 2 Corinthians 5:19 “It was God in Christ Jesus reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them.”
    and
    Philippians 2:5-8 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross.

  • The best thing Pope Francis could do to help restore our planet’s health is rescind the horrendously stupid, damaging 1968 ban on contraception and abortion. After all, it is human overpopulation that is driving climate change. — Edd Doerr

  • If overpopulation is the source of “Climate Change,” why stop at killing “potential” human beings? There are already “too many” of us – and it’s the full grown ones who are creating the problem (not the fetuses). They are the ones you need to start killing.

  • From the CIA Worldfacts Book,
    World historical TFR (1950–2015)
    UN, medium variant, 2010 rev.[2]

    The total fertility rate (TFR), sometimes also called the fertility rate, period total fertility rate (PTFR) or total period fertility rate (TPFR) of a population is the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime if
    1.she were to experience the exact current age-specific fertility rates (ASFRs) through her lifetime, and
    2.she were to survive from birth through the end of her reproductive life.[1]”

    Years TFR
    1950–1955 4.95
    1955–1960 4.89
    1960–1965 4.91
    1965–1970 4.85
    1970–1975 4.45
    1975–1980 3.84
    1980–1985 3.59
    1985–1990 3.39
    1990–1995 3.04
    1995–2000 2.79
    2000–2005 2.62
    2005–2010 2.52
    2010–2015 2.36

    TFR Europe, 1.59 (2009)

    TFR USA, 1.894 (2011)

    TFR, most of Africa, 4-6 (2012)

  • Saving Christians from the Infamous Resurrection Con/

    From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15: 14, Paul reasoned, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

    Even now Catholic/Christian professors (e.g.Notre Dame, Catholic U, Georgetown) of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

    To wit;

    From a major Catholic university’s theology professor’s grad school white-board notes:

    “Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
    Jesus and Mary’s bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

    Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

    Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus’ crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary’s corpse) into heaven did not take place.

    The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

    Only Luke records it. (Luke mentions it in his gospel and Acts, i.e. a single attestation and therefore historically untenable). The Ascension ties Jesus’ mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus’ followers.

    The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary’s special role as “Christ bearer” (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus’ Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary’s assumption also shows God’s positive regard, not only for Christ’s male body, but also for female bodies.” ”

    “In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him.”
    http://eternal-word.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2HEAVN.HTM

    The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

    With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

    An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,

    p.4

    “Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God’s hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus’ failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing.”

    p.168. by Ted Peters:

    Even so, asking historical questions is our responsibility. Did Jesus really rise from the tomb? Is it necessary to have been raised from the tomb and to appear to his disciples in order to explain the rise of early church and the transcription of the bible? Crossan answers no, Wright answers, yes. ”

    So where are the bones”? As per Professor Crossan’s analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, covered with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

  • It is easy to confuse rational thinking based on superstitious belief with sound argument. Didn’t I read somewhere about a foolish man building his house upon sand?

    Logic applied to nonsense fails to change nonsense – merely to obscure the silliness under a dollop of reason. It’s rather like multiplying any number by zero – the answer, however beautifully and with what complication the question is framed, is zero.

    I doubt many alien life forms would think our superstitions superior to theirs after all, if they are advanced enough to find us, they may have long discarded illogic.

    Demonstrate a rational evidence-based need for your superstition and there may be a discussion to be had – until then such matters are intellectual candy-floss – interesting, clever and fun occasionally but always a distraction from true intellectual progress.

  • Strange article. If extraterrestrial beings exist, they would know that God exists, too. God is the God of the universe, not just of this world only.

  • If it were from anyone else I would accuse you of being sarcastic. But I am pretty sure you are serious about doing that to a number of classes of people.

  • TFR is a function of education, gender equality and prosperity. Birthrates go down whenever expectancies and quality of life metrics are highest. Quality of life included access to birth control and family planning.

  • Not many conservative Christians/ Catholics around when
    it comes to birth control .

  • Yeah – you’re “pretty sure” about a lot of (wrong) things. I’ll add this one to the list.

  • But are they “fallen,”or “unfallen?” That is the question.
    If they are “unfallen,” they’ll be proclaiming God. If they are “fallen,” they’ll be denying Him. Wait for the message.

    That is, unless the “aliens” are extra-dimensional creatures – in which case, they may already be among us … and already preaching their message!

  • I would assume that if extra-terrestrials exist (and they probably do, IMHO), they would only be allowed to come to this earth and to interact with the beings of this earth if God allowed it.

  • I’m with you on that one. But it’s worth remembering that God “allowed” various judgments to befall the disobedient, beginning with Adam and Eve…and then there’s the Book of Revelation, depicting the ultimate delusion and destruction to befall the whole disobedient globe, a judgment provoked by ourselves, executed by ourselves — and allowed by God.

    So I’m guessing that all options are still open.

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