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New Theology: The Discovery of a Habitable Zone Planet and Understanding God

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A while back, Catholic News Service did a segment on alien life.



The video is a must watch, not just for the attitude of the Vatican astronomer in the short film, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, who not only accepts the idea that there's alien life out there or at least has been but that it doesn't invalidate his own beliefs. Growing up in Seattle, I came across a lot of liberals who ran with an assumption that faith meant a medieval belief in no evolution, heliocentrism and all sorts of other rejections of scientific reality.

Likewise my time as a conservative did expose me to religious conservatives who had a bold hostility towards scientific discoveries because of this attitude and for fear that their narrow view of God would not necessarily be totally shredded but at the least invalidated. Religious belief in the face of science is really about to be put the test. Astronomers discovered a planet in the "habitable zone" of a nearby solar system:
Inching ahead on their quest for what they call Earth 2.0, astronomers from NASA’s Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft announced on Thursday that they had found what might be one of the closest analogues to our own world yet. It is a planet a little more than one and a half times as big in radius as Earth. Known as Kepler 452b, it circles a sunlike star in an orbit that takes 385 days, just slightly longer than our own year, putting it firmly in the “Goldilocks” habitable zone where the temperatures are lukewarm and suitable for liquid water on the surface — if it has a surface.
Nothing is certain but nothing that we know indicates a world like ours doesn't exist elsewhere. The planet next to us, Mars, looks by all measures like it was once just like ours while Europa, the moon of Jupiter, boasts a large ocean and Titan, a moon of Saturn, is composed a whole lot like our own. As I said to a friend of mine about this subject, the discovery of alien life shouldn't mess up anyone's theology. It just depends what their theology is. Religion is essentially the intellectual pursuit of understanding the human role in the universe and the universe that put him there. That universe is what most people talk about when they say "God."

If there were no higher powers, as mysterious and elusive as they are, we wouldn't need to be guessing about why things are as they are. Scientists are forever exploring and having their assumptions messed up simply because this universe is clearly the creation of forces much more powerful than us. Feminist theology has long made notions of earth as our mother, or as a sister to God, and Pope Francis embraced this in Laudato Si. Read Naomi Klein's analysis:
Yet Turkson seems to gently warn the crowd here not to get carried away. Some African cultures “deified” nature, he says, but that is not the same as “care.” The earth may be a mother, but God is still the boss. Animals may be our relatives, but humans are not animals. Still, once an official Papal teaching challenges something as central as human dominion over the earth, is it really possible to control what will happen next? This point is made forcefully by the Irish Catholic priest and theologian Se├ín McDonagh, who was part of the drafting process for the encyclical. His voice booming from the audience, he urges us not to hide from the fact that the love of nature embedded in the encyclical represents a profound and radical shift from traditional Catholicism. “We are moving to a new theology,” he declares.
Many indigenous and feminist notions of human roles in the universe are far from atheist but they have a much different view than the patriarchal god. The patriarchal god views man as being emboldened by God - the feminist and indigenous notion sees man as a steward. Naomi Klein notes that the word "care" is mentioned several times in Laudato Si - Francis proposes many times that this planet is a gift we inherited and must care for. Religion exists in human society to answer the strange, dogging questions.

Early theology only explored what God (and by God I define the forces that brought us here) had directly revealed. This early theology naturally emboldened man. We know more now but nowhere near everything. New theology must explore the vastness of the higher powers that brought us here while also recognizing our fragility and our responsibility in keeping the earth, two things we are much more aware of than centuries ago.

Exciting times.

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About Radical Second Things

Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

Mark Cappetta is a practicing Catholic and active LGBT activist. He has been instrumental in keeping Radical Second Things and updates the Facebook account almost daily.

Eva Gnostiquette is an artist, programmer, "future scientist," bi-trans girl and graphic designer. She voluntarily helped to create the first print issue Radical Second Things and designed our beautiful banners. Thanks so much, Eva!

Jordan Denato is a professional artist based out of Iowa. He took the initiative to illustrate both Jennifer Reimer's story and Michael Orion's Oscar Romero work. He has his own art studio, Tar and Feather Studios, and is a critical part of Radical Second Things.

Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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