Jesus and Aliens

Raphael’s “Mond Crucifixion” painting is modified to show an alien-headed Jesus on the crossThe editor of the New York Times recently published an article called “Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith.”  He opens with this:

If a candidate for president said he believed that space aliens dwell among us, would that affect your willingness to vote for him?  Personally, I might not disqualify him out of hand; one out of three Americans believe we have had Visitors and, hey, who knows?  But I would certainly want to ask a few questions.  Like, where does he get his information?  Does he talk to the aliens?  Do they have an economic plan?

Yet when it comes to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we are a little squeamish about probing too aggressively.

My own view is that religion is off topic.  Candidates for a job as pastor can expect questions about religion.  But for the job of president?  Religious questions are out of bounds.  We’re governed by a secular constitution that includes the constraint, “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust.”

I long for the day when a candidate will dismiss a question about his/her religion with, “That’s irrelevant.  Next question.”  Ask about candidates’ values, their specific plans, their qualifications, and so on, but one’s religion is as relevant and as personal as questions about the style of one’s underwear.

A columnist from was quick with a response.  She seemed outraged at the Jesus/aliens comparison, but her most substantial comment was to reprint the comparison and state, “I’m not joking.”

Is outrage appropriate?  Which belief—in aliens or Jesus—raises the bigger questions about a candidate’s ability to reason?

Sure, I see the difference between Jesus belief and alien belief.  Jesus is supernatural.  Space aliens are not.  We have nothing to compare a supernatural Jesus to except myths or legends, which sure makes the Jesus story look like a myth or a legend.

On the other hand, aliens aren’t supernatural.  They are life forms (we know about plenty of those) who travel using technology (we know about plenty of that).  Science keeps finding strange new animals on earth living in extreme environments—at the bottom of the ocean, under miles of rock, in glaciers.  Is it so hard to imagine them on other worlds?  Their discovery would be surprising or even shocking, but we wouldn’t need to discard any scientific laws if aliens presented themselves.

I’ll agree that belief in aliens with insufficient evidence is a bit nutty.  But that’s nothing like believing in supernatural beings with insufficient evidence.  I’m not joking.

Photo credit: Jesus Was a Space Alien

Related links:

  • Bill Keller, “Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith,” New York Times Magazine, 8/25/11.
  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “NYT takes on aliens, baggage, Trojan horse faith,”, 8/25/11.
  • Issues, Etc. interviewed columnist Sarah Pulliam Bailey in its 9/1/11 podcast, “Media Coverage of the GOP Candidates’ Religious Views.”

14 thoughts on “Jesus and Aliens

  1. “Ask about candidates’ values, their specific plans, their qualifications, and so on, but one’s religion is as relevant and as personal as questions about the style of one’s underwear.”

    That seems to express a different position than the post the other day where you said that only religion could cause you to believe something so nutty as that procreation of human life is the core of society.

    For most offices I agree that religion is not relevant, but for the presidency you want to really know the person, and religion is an important part of knowing someone. Everyone is going to differ from the official position of their religion, but it seems like a useful starting point for a more detailed examination of how they are likely to select Supreme Court justices, senior advisers, etc.

    • I agree that you need to understand a candidate really well. But won’t understanding the candidate’s policies, plans, and proposed actions to hypothetical situations be enough?

      • What a candidate says and what a person does once in office are two different things. There is only so much time to get things done, so you need to assess their priorities as well, and I think that a person’s religious affiliation is highly correlated with that. For example, the difference in the focus of Obama’s and Bush’s forms of Christianity is quite evident in what problems they tackle head on and which ones they avoid.

        On the other hand, I would agree there are a lot of people out there who would not give a person with a non-mainstream belief a second look, and that is not fair perhaps, but the same applies to the importance of a candidate being physically attractive and having a good speaking voice.

        In the case of atheism, it would behoove atheists that want to field atheist candidates that they respect the views of the religious people even if they don’t agree with them, otherwise it is very unlikely as a practical matter that an atheist would win those votes. To win, you need to form coalitions, and that is done by finding common ground while recognizing that differences remain in other areas.

      • If you’re saying that one’s religion is a proxy for a more detailed listing of all that he would do, I see your point that it can be effective. If one is limited for time, that might be an important criterion.

        Given a decent amount of time however (and the amount of time the press spends on candidates should be more than enough), I don’t know that we need this proxy.

        Or am I not being realistic?

  2. My own view is that religion is off topic. Candidates for a job as pastor can expect questions about religion. But for the job of president? Religious questions are out of bounds.
    Bob, is inconsistent again..Here we have his OUGH NOTS again..But in Bob’s athesitic worldview of Moral relativism, he has no grounds to object. If someone wants to know ones moral views; religious questions are an excellant way to find out. And in Bob’s worldview who cares what Bob thinks, or the canidate thinks? It is all relative, there is no absolute morality..So why is Bob objecting and saying these questions are out of bounds? Hmmm Bob must be applying to a Moral obsolute that exists outside his own mind? I wounder how he accounts for that?. And I wounder if Bob even thinks we have minds? Hey Bob, do we have brains only? Or is there a diffeence between the brain and the mind?

  3. We know you do not believe in moral truths. That is fine. But live in consistency in your worldview, is all I ask. You beleive in Moral relativism. You believe your morals are intinctive to you. Your brain synapses and physioology determine your morality. So it it with the candidates different values. That is what their instincts tell them.. So you have no more right to complain of the chemicals in their brains as they have to complain of your values. It is all irrelevant.. In your worldview we are all bags of protoplasm and our valuses are dertermined by neurons and synapses and physics. And there is no objective standard of morality in your worlview. So quit being a hypocrite and stop writing 8 bullet points on why the “OUGHT NOT” religious questions should not be allowed.
    Your moral instinct says they ought not be allowed, and their moral instinct says it should be allowed and is acceptible.
    Your subjective moral view that is produced by your materialist brain, is no better or worse than the canidate. Just two bags of protoplasm.. So be consistent in your worldview.
    But all Christians know the Atheist can not be consistent and borrows from the Christian worlview to do Science, Morality, ethics, reason , and logic.

    • I don’t believe in absolute moral truths.

      One issue is where morals come from, whether there are absolute morals or not, etc. A very different issue is what we do about them. I’m quite happy to criticize someone else’s moral view (yours, for instance) where it doesn’t line up with mine. I certainly act like I have the right to criticize. Let me know if I’m acting illegally or something.

      No inconsistency here. But thanks for asking.

  4. That is what my first sentence said Is that you DO NOT believe in moral truths. I said “And that is fine”.

    But like I said your moral instinct comes from your brain activity. and is irrelevant to another persons moral instinct that comes from their brain activity, Being you say there is no outside transcendent moral triuth..So you can criticize all you want, but it is irelevant. Because niether you or the other person has no moral standard. Just your own physiology of your brain matter, And their brain matter.

    • ?? There are two things: absolute moral truth and moral truths. I see plenty of evidence for the second; not the first. See the difference?

      This really isn’t hard. Each of us is happy to criticize someone else (Hitler, say) when that person doesn’t act the way we think is correct. I do it pretty much the way you do.

  5. ?? There are two things: absolute moral truth and moral truths. I see plenty of evidence for the second; not the first. See the difference?
    You see evidence for moral truths? Where do they come from? They can not be instinctive, if they were thaneveryone would have the same moral truth, but they do not.
    Then you say:
    This really isn’t hard. Each of us is happy to criticize someone else (Hitler, say) when that person doesn’t act the way we think is correct. I do it pretty much the way you do.

    No you do not do it the way I do.
    I believe in Absolute Moral truths that are written on the hearts of all men. Like we do not tourture babies for or own personal pleasure. That does not come from my mind ( instinct). That is a universal, abstract, invarient truth. You believe the opposite..You think (like I do) that it is wrong to torture babise for your own pleasure is wrong..And I would bet you think it is absolutly wrong under any occasion, at anytime to torture for your own pleasure. But you think this is instinctive to you only it is just your personal opinion. And if you are consistent you would have to admit that if you neighbor torures babies for his own pleasure. Than that is Ok for him, because that is how his brain is wired and that is his instinct.. No better or worse than how your brain is wired. But you and I know better..We both know that torturing babies is wrong and OUGHT NOT be!. I know ther is an outside standard that tells us this is wrong. You just will not admit it.

    • In part, moral drives do come from instinct. We’re not all the same, which is why instincts vary. And, of course, different conditions and different personalities weigh the various instincts differently. The other input for our moral actions is society. American society, Japanese society, and Zambian society all have different approaches to honor, duties, and so on.

      I think torturing babies is wrong. So do you. IMO, you delude yourself about where this moral drive/opinion comes from. Imagine that you can tap into some sort of absolute moral truth (and, for the umpteenth time, I’d like to see evidence of this rather than your simply saying that it exists). Just because you imagine this doesn’t mean it’s so. The natural explanation that I’ve tried to give seems to explain your and my actions completely.

      I feel that torturing babies is wrong. I’m quite happy to take steps to stop someone else from doing something I judge to be wrong. That’s enough. Whether I imagine that I’m acting under divine guidance or not changes nothing.

      And outside standard? Show me!

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