New Article: What would life beyond Earth mean for Christians?

I also read The Sparrow after hearing Deb mention it during a conference. It appears to be her go-to book on the subject of the spiritual condition of sentient aliens. I will ask her, but I suspect it is because she doesn’t know of any others. It seems to me the author had an axe to grind against the church or Christianity in general. The non-Christian characters are generally wiser or kinder than the Christians, with the principle story line being “how a devoted man’s spirit was crushed by a false hope.”


I’m curious what you read in it that causes you to think she has an “axe to grind” against the church? It’s been a while since I read it, but if it’s just that Christians don’t come off looking so good in it, then I suggest your evaluation may be a bit hasty.

We (I) created a thread devoted specifically to this book some time ago where we discussed much of this.

Let me just say … you also need to read her sequel: “Children of God” to get the rest of that story. It really all is a single story divided up into those two books. So if you stop with “The Sparrow”, it’s about like reading the first half of Job and never seeing the conclusion.

Now … that said, I’m not guaranteeing satisfaction to you in her second book either, at least not if this was your reaction to her first one. Certainly - I’m not suggesting any ‘happy ending’ or tidy closure as the writer of Job presents, but there is at least some much-valued closure in her second book.

She is not a believer [so far as I recall or would know], but I would contest your impression that she is hostile toward religious belief. While some Christians may like stories where self-identifying Christians are the shining knights and everybody else is a jerk in comparison, that simply doesn’t reflect social realities today (or ever?). If we demanded those sorts of portrayals in our literature, then there is much deep and valuable work lost to us - including much of the Bible itself.

Granted, it certainly isn’t family reading. But literature doesn’t all need to be children-oriented to be religiously-even spiritually perceptive and of value to mature readers. Many passages of the Bible are not “family reading” either.

[Added … I think one of the main things that sets Russell apart from the typically more anti-religious fare of other sci-fi authors is that she puts intelligent dialogue in the mouths of all parties present including the believers! Whereas so many other works (if they mention religion at all) just use it as a whipping boy to pile mockery on. Russell has both believers and unbelievers being real (and intelligent) people with each other; she refuses to straw-man anybody. That may not be a particularly high bar for an author in and of itself, but given its seeming rarity in major sci-fi, her work seems to me leaps ahead of most.]


I grew up with a non-religious background reading lots of science fiction, though this included the Narnia series and the science fiction series of C. S. Lewis. Therefore both science and such possibilities were always part of the filter through which I read the Bible and through which I came to accept Christianity. An incompatibility would have precluded becoming Christian. It never happened.

Religious people confronting the existence of aliens and deciding how they fit into their theology and more importantly into their evangelical mission is a common theme explored in science fiction. One thing I will admit does not fit into my theological framework and that is angels with free will equal to our own, and this is because I think free will is the reason for God creating the physical universe. But aliens pose no problem to me whatsoever, whether their free will is less, equal to, or more than our own.

I did not know there was a sequel. Thanks for letting me know.
I am actually not one of “those” believers who want fictional Christians to be untainted heroes with all others painted as pathetic villains. That makes for very poor story, and a poor reflection of real life. In my own fiction, the Christian characters make plenty of mistakes, and non-Christians have redeeming qualities.
I still think Russell had an axe to grind, though not necessarily an open hostility. My impression from the story is more of one who looks into Christianity from the outside, who doesn’t really understand it, and paints it in dark shades. Her non-Christian characters are noble and giving. Her Christian supporting cast range from hypocrites to those wrestling with hidden demons suppressed by a misplaced faith. Her main character places his entire hope in a God who crushes his soul. (Perhaps he is redeemed in the second book?) I don’t need a novel to leave me happy, but good fiction should pry back a piece of the fabric of real life for a peek inside. The Sparrow fell far short of that for me.

As the alien destruction of our planet begins, I’ll be thinkng, “D…n that sygarte.”


Lots of hints in the Bible and in Jewish and Christian tradition that angels have free will, also.

Fair enough.

The book does seem to take an experience of suffering and pushes it to extremes. As to whether or not the main character comes to redemption by the end, you’ll have to be the judge if you read the 2nd part. I think the work also raises lots of questions about the universality of our application of ethics and justice. And even if the Jesuits don’t come off looking so good … at least they featured prominently in the story and religion wasn’t just ignored.

I have to admit, you have allies who would agree with your criticism. Apparently “The Sparrow” made Guy Consolmagno’s list of some of the most awful science fiction (and he’s an actual Catholic scientist). So you are in good company.

@cosmicscotus, you have expressed a worldview (actually a universal-view) that is comfortable with a Christian belief in intelligent ETs and furthermore explains Jesus’ statement: “Before Abraham WAS, I AM” It merely acknowledges that Christ is the title we earthling Christians have bestowed on Jesus as the Universal Messiah, the Word which is the Spirit of God which urges intelligent creatures to freely choose to rise above the largely selfish genes that molded their amoral animal behavior so as to become images of their creator. We can assume that, whatever the variety of life that achieved this level of intelligence on some other bounteous planet, evolution, by itself, would NOT have produced the qualities that are most characteristic of our God: love, caring and compassion. If this line of reasoning is correct, then evolution on some other planet may have produced intelligent life that had either an easier or else a harder path to achieve the level of morality God desires for life in His Kingdom.

With this worldview, it makes little sense to speculate whether intelligent ETs fell and needed a Savior. The pathway that Darwinian evolution took to bring them to a level of consciousness that would support a Conscience would most probably be different than that experienced by humankind, and so their need for redemption, to merit life in God’s Kingdom, might be quite different. It is likely that we will never know.
Al Leo

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There are things in non-canonical writing which some Christians have accepted, but I do not accept these writings. I particularly reject the idea of a rebellion of angels and a war in heaven which comes from the book of Enoch not the Bible. Sure people like this as an explanation of passages which says a third of the angels fell from heaven with Lucifer, but I prefer a different explanation. To be sure all that stuff makes for fascinating SF&F books and films but that is all fantasy not reality.

I have no doubt that angels have a pretty good imitation of free will just as do many computer programs. But ultimately, angels are what they were created to be and will never be any more than that. We are fundamentally different. We were not simply created, but grow, learn and make our own choices about what we become. We are not simply what we were made to be, because to a rather large degree we are what we have made ourselves to be. Thus angels cannot have free will equal to our own – it is impossible.

You seem to know a lot more about angels than I do, and, more importantly, than the Bible does.

The Bible is a book. It doesn’t know anything. It tells the stories of a few encounters people have had with angels. So reading the Bible we can learn something about them, assuming what the Bible reports is correct. To be sure it isn’t as sure a source of knowledge as the data from the earth and sky but I think it is mostly reliable. But I don’t put any trust in other books, like the Book of Mormon, the Book of Enoch, the Qu’ran, or the Kabbalah.

The problem with the idea of angels having free will comparable to mankind is that I would be forced to conclude that the god in that thinking/theology is contemptible. It would put this god on the same level as those of Zeus, Odin, Ra, and Deva. I would see no reason to take such a god any more seriously than any of these others – a selfish being who does whatever he feels like for his own reasons, certainly nothing to look up to or to see as an example I would follow or source of advice I would listen to.

Thanks for the interchange!

In numerous places the various authors of the books of the Bibles have different characters treat or talk about (usually fallen) angels as having free will. Too bad you weren’t around to correct them.

That simply isn’t true. Nowhere in the Bible does it speak of angels making choices and it certainly never says that they have free will equal to our own, on contrary the Bible says that the angels are servants particularly in contrast to human beings which are God’s children, and I certainly don’t think this means that some of them have taken jobs like people do as maids and butlers. I think it is speaking of their nature, made for the accomplishment of tasks rather than made for their own sake as children are.

The closest the Bible comes to this is in Jude 1:6 where it speaks of angels who did not keep their position and proper dwelling but it does not say or give the slightest hint as to why this happened. There are only Christians choosing to reading that interpretation into the text as they read so many other things into the text of the Bible like justification for genocide, slavery, and beating up women.

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I should have said the authors of the books of the Bible wrote as if the (fallen) angels had free choice. For example, Matthew 3:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

It certainly sounds as if the devil desired something - to be worshipped by Jesus - and was offering him a bribe if he would cooperate. The natural thing would be to interpret this as the devil having a choice about the whole matter.

The same argument can be made of characters in a book or a computer game and yet these do not have any free will whatsover. The point here is that the Bible does NOT speak of angels having free will this is only a conclusion that some people have decide on as a explanation for some things. It is an explanation which I have rejected.

Lucifer was assigned the role of adversary to mankind by God Himself. He was simply doing the job he was given and that is all. There is no indication of free will in that. None whatsoever!

Mitchell, is there any indication in the Bible that the angels do not have free will? Or is this just based on your own reasoning?

The Bible does not speak of free will. So sure you can say there is nothing in the Bible to indicate that the angels have no free will, but then too there is nothing in the Bible to say that any of us have any free will.

Thus any conclusions about free will is a result of our own reasoning. In my case, the conclusion regardin angles comes from two things in the Bible.

  1. The way it says angles are servants rather than children as compared to human beings.
  2. The fact that angels do not grow up needing to learn everything the way that we do, but were simply made the way they are.

This tells me that angels are fundamentally different than us, and while we are product of our own growth and learning the angels are just what they are made to be.

It’s not what would, it’s what does. The eternal = actual infinity of the physical has always teemed with life. And none of it is ‘fallen’. All of it transcends. Hopefully. And none of it can ever communicate with others. What applies to us, applies to them. Always has. Strong uniformitarianism rules, God or no.

It’s all perfectly rational certainty. So what does that mean for Christians? Those who can posit it, try it on for size, do the thought experiment disinterestedly.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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