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Religion May Motivate Humanity's Future Expansion into Space


Jesse Emspak


It's been more than 40 years since a human stepped on another world, and the usual motivators—national pride,scientific discovery and even profit—may not be enough. Instead, people may turn to religion, according to some experts.


At the annual Mars Society convention in Washington, D.C. last week, four experts discussed the reasons human beings have explored outer space, including religious and social motivators.


The group noted that popular notions of the religion-science divide don't often hold up to scrutiny, and that the urge to go to remote places can be rooted in a fundamentally religious impulse.


Paul Levinson,a science fiction writer and professor of communications and media studies at Fordham University, noted that human spaceflight to other worlds basically stopped in the 1970s, and that the motivations were clearly not powerful enough. “Since we got to the moon and we'd already beaten the Soviets that motive was gone,”he said. Science proved insufficient as well. “Science continues to be motivating factor,but it's a weak motivation, ”he said.“NASA has tried, and it hasn't ignited any real passion.”


Profit hasn't proven very helpful, either. That led him to think that some religious motive,based on wonder, might be the way to go. “There's a motivation every sentient being has. Every person and, for all I know, dolphins, has wonder…We ask what is the meaning of our place in the universe. Science doesn't even scratch the deepest parts of that question.”


Lance Strate, also a professor of communications at Fordham, said the whole enterprise of space travel was always about more than just the science. “Moses Maimonides came up with idea of planets as intermediary between angels and humans,” he said. “All of this suggests we are trying to look for something beyond ourselves.”


“The space program is channeling all these resources and labor to send people to our conception of heaven,” he added.


Beyond motivation,religions are not automatically challenged by space travel, Levinson said. He noted that evangelicals are more likely to believe that aliens landed in Roswell, New Mexico. Also, many of the questions that govern ritual and practice would take a different meaning in space. “Where is Mecca if you're on Mars?” he said.


Michael Waltemathe, a theologian at Ruhr-University Bochum in Germany, added that space's challenges to religious observance have already been hashed out. “There was a fatwa put out by Malay Muslim authorities on how to do rituals on the International Space Station —all this has been thought through,” he said.

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