Perhaps it seems like a far-fetched question, but I wonder about the future of all faiths when our species transcends terra. [I’ll get back to faith in a bit, I promise.] I say when because I am certain humans will eventually inhabit other planets. Maybe it’s the sci-fi fan in me, but more likely it’s the instinct to survive as a species — which is in all of us — that makes me confident we will colonize other planets. And the science is there, too. Maybe not the technology, but scientists have theorized how to terraform, how to make an inhabitable planet habitable by our species and the flora and fauna we need to survive.
For example, much has been written about terraforming Mars, in science fiction and it science academia. One of the major proponents for pursuing Mars as a human settlement is Rubin Zubrin, founder of the Mars Society. I know, I know. You are humoring me about this whole terraforming business because you are a R/Loyal Reader. But there is serious scientific postulation going on here. Zubrin is no whackadoo that tweets from his mother’s basement. He has a masters in Aeronautics and Astronautics, and a PhD in Nuclear Engineering. Zubrin thinks it will take about 1,000 years to fully transform Mars to a point where humans can wander the surface without protective gear. But that estimation is based on today’s technology. The singularity is coming (the technological creation of superintelligence)…and who knows what we will accomplish beyond that.
Mars is the most earthlike of all the other planets in our Solar System. Indeed, it is thought that Mars once did have a more Earth-like environment early in its history, with a thicker atmosphere and abundant water that was lost over the course of hundreds of millions of years.” — Wikipedia
So, as I see it, our “curious” mission to Mars is not just an amazing feat for NASA* or the opportunity for a monumental learning curve for scientists. I think Curiosity** will help us figure out if terraforming Mars is feasible. This mission is the first step in a long line of steps to the expansion of the human race to other planets, to other worlds that until recently in human history were only conceived as celestial bodies.
There are other heavy questions to be asked about inhabiting Mars (or any planet) such as the ethics of terraforming and human cost of colonization (lots of people will have to leave Earth forever in order to colonize). But the question I find myself asking is how humanity will reevaluate its philosophical place in the world once we do colonize other planets. And we’re back to faith, just like I promised!
If I had to guess, I suspect all faiths will undergo some transformation when we expand to other planets. I could be wrong (and often am), but much of our worldview is shaped by this world. Living on another planet would have to impact our perspective on faith, whatever that might be. I’ll talk about what I know here rather than conjecture how Christians, Jews, Muslims and anyone else might shift their beliefs (or not) with planetary colonization.
Most Pagans (constructed or reconstructed) follow an earth-centered path spiritually. We recognize changing seasons, changing moon phases, and other shifts in our planet as meaningful and important. We are tied to these changes because they represent our whole and complete dependency on this earth. If we are not on this earth, that connection will be severed. I think if (or rather when) we have Pagans on other planets <cue Muppet skit…Pagans in spaaace!> they would remain Pagans. But they would forge a new connection with the new planet and the shifts it experiences across time. I’m assuming seasonal changes would vary on another planet. Heck, I’m assuming there will be seasons! What if there aren’t? What if time is measured differently and passes so slowly that you only experience each season once in a lifetime? Woah. My mind is starting to bend. What would Paganism look like if we could settle on a static or near static planet?
Let’s assume, for now, that we expand to a planet with seasonal changes in a time-frame comparable to our year. What about our gods and pantheons? Would they still be meaningful? We identify them with the sun and moon and with the planting and the harvest. What if we end up on a planet with multiple suns or multiple moons? Or with multiple planting and harvest seasons? Would the pantheon change and expand to include more gods? Or would the relevance of pairing gods with celestial bodies or seasonal changes diminish?
How would we reimagine our creation stories? I would wager they’d have to expand to include the newly colonized planet(s). I don’t think I would be interested in an origin story that didn’t include my planet, my home. This same thought can apply to apocalyptic stories, which are really stories of regeneration. If humanity is to be saved or reborn, won’t that have to include humanity everywhere?
I imagine the only connection that won’t be lost will be the connection we have to other people. The connection to nature will change because the natural world will be different on another planet. But the connection to each other…won’t that be the same.? I know this connection varies by Pagan faith, so what I’m asking is — will people still be the same essentially? This is a tricky question. If we settle Mars (for example), the gravity there is less…gravitas, less heavy. We will weigh less there. Will babies born on Mars grow up to be different kinds of people than babies born on Earth? If not right away, what about generations down the line? We don’t know what exposure to less gravity will do to body composition across generations. What will the connection between people be like if humanity changes, as a race and as a quality, on other planets?
These are just some of many philosophical questions we will ask with expansion. And this doesn’t even touch upon the possibility of finding life on other planets — an event that used to be improbable, but is now understood as at least possible. Whew. Finding life on other planets would surely throw a kink into the works. Not just because we’d have to reconcile that life, but also because — if that life is sentient — they may have their own faith stories to tell!
This is fascinating stuff to me. And great fodder for the science and science fiction lover in all of us. What do you think readers? Will we eventually colonize other planets? What do you think will happen to our faith and philosophies if we do? Are you tired of me asking questions, yet? 🙂
* And an amazing feat it was! Curiosity left our orbit on November 26, 2011 and touched down on Mars on August 6, 2012. Landing that puppy was no easy task. Kudos to NASA and everyone who had even the smallest contribution to this accomplishment. <cue national anthem>
** Curiosity was named by a 6th grader. She entered NASA’s essay contest and won! Clara from Kansas, I royally proclaim you “princess”!
+ Featured image, the first photo of Mars from 1976, taken by the rover “Viking.”