If extraterrestrials ever arrive, they might be interested in the physical conquest of our planet. Or conceivably they might be interested in spiritual conquest. Their purpose in coming might be to spread some strange alien religion to distant spots in the universe. But if they were trying to do that, what type of religion would have a good chance of being successfully spread to distant parts of the galaxy, given sufficient enthusiasm in those who were spreading the religion?
To answer that question, we
should first look at what type of religions would tend to be very
hard to spread across multiple solar systems. It would seem that the
hardest religion to spread to many other planets would be one that
was highly location-oriented. I will give an example to explain what
Imagine a spaceship were to
arrive on our planet, and extraterrestrials were to come out of the
spaceship, aliens who had mastered our language. Imagine that they
were to begin expounding a strange alien creed, with some type of
pronouncement like this:
Learn, little Earthlings,
the glorious deeds that occurred 9,400 years ago on the distant
planet Arzurus. On the continent Zynora in the land of Telsun there
walked the great prophet Olnor, who received the holiest truths ever
revealed. Many a miracle did he work back in those days, proving the
truth of his supernatural claims.
Would a large fraction of the
world's population be likely to give up their religious beliefs, and
adopt this strange new creed? I don't think that is likely.
This strange creed would not
be very suitable for spreading to many distant solar systems, because
it would be so location-oriented. Someone on some other planet would
hear about these events on the planet Arzurus long ago, but these
events would probably seem very distant and remote. A person on our
planet would react to such a narrative perhaps no more warmly than
the average person reacts today when he hears about the discovery of
some distant galaxy from the earliest ages of the universe. The
events would seem so remote and distant that it would be hard to
incite the fervor typically associated with the successful spread of
But what type of religion
might have a relatively high chance of being spread across multiple
solar systems? Perhaps it would be one that was more universal, some
creed that was not centered upon events occurring on one particular
planet, but on truths or principles that make equal sense on any
I can imagine some elements
that might be parts of a successful galactic religion. Such a religion
might have one or more of these elements.
A belief in some God of
the universe. A galactic religion might tend to be more
successful if it preached some gospel of a universal deity, not some
deity who seemed to have his attention focused on one particular
planet. Such a doctrine could be supported by a discussion of
fine-tuning in physics and cosmology, involving fundamental physical
constants that are the same to all observers in our galaxy.
A belief in some universal
mystical force. We can plausibly imagine a successful galactic
religion that is somewhat akin to the Jedi creed in the Star Wars
movies, with a belief in some universal force that an individual on
any planet can somehow access and use to his benefit or
A belief in some
interplanetary brotherhood or interplanetary communion of minds.
The life forms living on different planets might be tremendously
divergent in their physical appearances, but conceivably some
successful galactic religion might attempt to dissolve these
differences, by describing some basis by which all life-forms can be
considered brothers or kinfolk, or describing some means by which
distant life-forms can somehow commune with each other, possibly
through some type of instantaneous mysticism.
A belief in some higher
destiny or state of evolution towards which individual life-forms can
strive. An element in many a successful religion is the idea of
progression, wherein the individual progresses to some higher state
of being. We can imagine all kinds of futuristic galactic
permutations on this theme, including evolution to a state of
superintelligence, evolution to a state of pure energy, evolution to
a purely electronic state of existence, and so forth. One of these
might be an element of a successful cosmic religion, with the
progression being described as some glorious destiny to be achieved,
perhaps a little like the Buddhist ideal of nirvana.
A belief in some
immortality that can be reached. Besides supernatural concepts
of life after death, a successful galactic religion might have any
number of technological descriptions of immortality, similar to those
we already see developing in transhumanist circles, which imagine
people becoming immortal through breakthroughs in medical science.
A belief in some paradise
or awesome state of organization towards which societies can strive.
Christian theology has postulated some future millennium to be
achieved by divine intervention. A successful galactic religion might
imagine some desirable state of existence to be achieved by galactic
societies, perhaps involving the godlike mastery of matter in particular
solar systems, or perhaps involving the establishment of some kind of
galactic empire or society of planets or a cosmic Utopia.
Rituals, stories or
architecture that evoke awe and wonder. Earthly religions have
evoked awe and wonder through stories of miracles, and through music
and awe-inspiring architecture. Having the whole grand stage of
galactic evolution and countless planets to work with, a galactic
religion might find it easy to evoke far greater awe and wonder. It
might include far-flung tales a hundred times more wondrous than the
story of the parting of the Red Sea, and it might have rituals
involving all kinds of high-tech ways to stimulate the emotions of
the faithful (including electronic brain stimulation, virtual
reality, and mind-expanding drugs). The religion might involve
soaring robot-created architecture a hundred times grander than the
Notre Dame cathedral.
A belief in some universal
ethic. Some ethical precepts make sense at some times, but don't
make sense in other times (I can think of the example of “Go forth,
and multiply,” which makes sense until you have a population
explosion.) A successful galactic religion might preach some
universal ethic that would make equal sense in all centuries and on
all planets. Such an ethic would not necessarily be radically
different from some precepts of successful Earth religions. I'm not
sure there's any fancy cosmic rule that might improve on the Golden
Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.