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Faith and First Contact

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As a Baha’i and a science fiction writer, First Contact—the meeting between humans and extraterrestrial life—is a favorite theme. I’m certain that someday we will come into contact with other beings who, however different they may appear, will have rational souls capable of reason, abstract and creative thought, and knowledge of God. In other words, beings who are just as human as we are. I am certain because of my faith, not in spite of it. Though I was a child of Star Trek, I lacked this certitude until I read the Baha’i scriptures on the subject. Baha’u’llah—Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith—wrote: "The learned men, that have fixed at several thousand years the life of this earth, have failed, throughout the long period of their observation, to consider either the
number or the age of the other planets. … Know thou that every fixed star hath its own planets, and every planet its own creatures, whose number no man can compute.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u'lláh, LXXXII) Baha’u’llah spoke frequently of other worlds of God and reiterated what older religious revelations have told us—that we were created in God’s image. All scriptures say that God is a Spirit, not a material being, which is the context for my understanding of Baha’u’llah’s words about what makes us human: “Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of My essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty.” (Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh, vs. 3) Given recent discoveries of planets in solar systems beyond our own, the subject of First Contact has become a frequent theme in popular media. The question: Could religion survive contact with extraterrestrials? headlined a 2014 article by science blogger Damon Linker in THE WEEK news zine. In his article, Linker looks at the potential for religion’s survival of First Contact through the lens of what he perceives as religious doctrine. Linker writes: “Such a discovery would seem to vindicate the evolutionary hypothesis that life can and does emerge from (seeming) nothingness all on its own, without divine intervention of any kind. …In order to shoot down this theologically troubling possibility, believers could always leap to the view that God lies behind all life everywhere.” (italics mine) Leap? I see it as a given. Mr. Linker and others who have posed similar questions seem to be unaware of scriptural references to “worlds” beyond this one. The scriptures of revealed religion are clear that God’s creation is limitless. "God is the One, the One who hath made all things—God is a spirit, a hidden spirit, the spirit of spirits … God is from the beginning, and He hath been from the beginning…when nothing else had being." — Papyrus of Ani (Egyptian Book of the Dead) "All the visible universe comes from my invisible Being. …I am the source of all beings, I support them all, but I rest not in them." — Bhagavad Gita 9:4 (Hindu scripture) "There is a Spirit which is mind and life, light and truth and vast spaces. … He enfolds the whole Universe, and in silence is loving to all. …This is the Spirit that is in my heart, greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than Heaven itself, greater than all these worlds. This is the Spirit that is in my heart. This is Brahman (the Creator)." — Chandogya Upanishad (Hindu scripture) "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past … hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds..." — Hebrews 1:1-2 (Christian scripture) "[All] praise is [due] to Allah, Lord of the worlds..." — Qur'an 1:2 (Muslim scripture) "As to thy question concerning the worlds of God. Know thou of a truth that the worlds of God are countless in their number, and infinite in their range." — Baha’u’llah, SÚRIY-I-VAFÁ (Baha’i scripture) The supposition that religion could not survive contact with extraterrestrials and similar notions betray a basic misunderstanding about the nature of humanity and religion alike. My belief in Baha’u’llah encouraged me to take science and the scientific process seriously, to stand in awe of scientific discovery and to dream of meeting human beings from other worlds. I like to think I am following Baha’u’llah’s injunction to seek knowledge and elevate scientific discovery to the level of worship by writing science fiction instead of merely daydreaming about it. Baha’u’llah’s words become my personal prayer and maxim: "O God, increase my astonishment at Thee!”

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1 Shawn Bose = ""Linker is the author of The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege and The Religious Test: Why We Must Question the Beliefs of Our Leaders. His essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and other leading publications. He has edited First Things magazine, served as a speechwriter for New York’s Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, and taught political philosophy at Brigham Young University. Linker studied history, philosophy, and writing at Ithaca College, graduating with a BA in 1991. He went on to earn an MA in history from New York University and a Ph.D. in political science from Michigan State University." Learn more about Damon Linker on his web site"
2 Apostle Otha Bell = "It is truly fascinating when one considers that all belief systems/religions have God, gods, or several gods as their Supreme Being. Still further fascinating and truly mind-blogging is the thought that, at least in Christian teachings, that this Supreme Being visited His creation in the form and revelation of His Son Jesus Christ. I think I can carefully say that most if not all other religions layout a plan, dogma, maxim, etc. to reach out and journey toward God, but Christianity alone says that God reached out and journeyed toward us."
3 Shawn Bose = "It is true Christianity has at its core the powerful example of the Son of God coming to earth to save humanity.  This is a well known concept  - especially in the West.However, this belief also exists in the Hindu tradition as well - specifically with the Avatars of Vishnu - that include the stories of Rama, Krishna & Buddha to name a few.  It is described in the Bhagavad Gita as "Whenever there is a decline in righteous and wherever there is a predominance of unrighteousness. I incarnate on earth" Bhagavad Gita 4:7In other words whenever man has lost his way, God comes to man to set his course back on the correct path. In fact, this deeply held belief is one of the reasons India has remained a place that old Jewish and Christian societies still exist uninterrupted and peacefully - because Hindus at large often revere Jesus as an avatar - another grand example of God coming to man to bring divine order back to the world."
4 Maya Bohnhoff = "I also believed that Christianity was alone in teaching that God reached out to man, but found I was simply and utterly mistaken. Krishna, for example, says clearly that "Whenever vice and injustice mount the throne, then cometh I, the Lord, and visit My creation in visible form. Many times have I thus come and many times hereafter shall I come again." (Not sure of the chapter and verse, that was from memory, but the fact that I memorized it hints at how big an impact it had on me.)Most Christians are aware that Christ said, "You say that I am a king; for this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to bear witness to the truth." (again, from memory, sorry) Buddha, over 400 years earlier said something very similar: "I have come into the world as the King of Truth for the salvation of the world. The subject on which I meditate is truth."All of the revealed religions are about God shedding His light upon us through a Lamp that is both human and divine in nature. Each one of them has referred to themselves and/or their message as "the Way". Christ, of course, said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man comes to the Father but by Me. If you really knew Me, you would know My Father as well." Krishna said, "I am the Way, and the Master who watches in silence. Thy Friend, and thy Shelter, and thy Abode of Peace. I am the beginning and the middle and the end of all things. Their seed of eternity, their Treasure Supreme." (Chapter 9 of the Bhagavad Gita, vs 17, I think)Bahá'u'lláh, Prophet-Founder of the Bahá'í Faith, claims to be another of these Divine Emissaries, and says of them that "Every one of them is the Way of God that connecteth this world with the realms above.... They are the Manifestations of God amidst men, the evidences of His Truth, and the signs of His glory." So, yes, in my faith we also recognize the appearance of a Manifestation of God such as Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Bahá'u'lláh, as God reaching out to mankind. Many Bahá'ís wear a ring or pendant bearing a calligraphy of the Arabic phrase "God is most glorious" that illustrates this relationship, showing how the world of the Creator and the world of His creation are bridged by the Holy Spirit shining through the Divine Teacher. Do not Christ's words about the nature of God as enunciated in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7, especially) call us to a belief that He has always reached out to us, and always will?"
5 Shawn Bose = "Listen to a reading of the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 9 here on Deily"