Human Spaceflight and religion

From history to exotheology

Michael Waltemathe

Exotheological thought is not only concerned with questions of intelligent extraterrestrial beings and their influence on earth's religions but also with human spaceflight and its consequences for earth's religious landscape. This paper will concern itself with exemplary questions of human spaceflight and religion.

Interstellar flight as an endeavour that spans multiple generations not only in preparation here on earth but also while travelling, will almost certainly be influenced by religious beliefs. Religion or something equivalent can either be the driving factor, motivating generation after generation to pursue the endeavour or it can be the outside voice using its transcendental perspective to show the problems and bounds of the project of interstellar flight.

Both perspectives shall be addressed in this paper. Some historical examples of interaction between space-flight and religion will be used to show in what way religion has reacted to space-flight so far and how these reactions can be interpreted. As all human spaceflight so far has been restricted to near Earth-orbit and the Moon, new challenges from interstellar flight can be projected from the historical data. These new challenges can be categorised as challenges for religion from the perspective of interstellar flight and as challenges to interstellar flight from the perspective of religion. This (certainly incomplete) collection of examples will be used to answer the question how to integrate the religious perspective as a driving factor into the project of interstellar flight. Last not least possible examples for this shall be given.

Religion in Space

Many religious denominations are drawn to the idea of space travel, if only for pragmatic reasons such as members of their congregation flying to space.

Christianity in space

Christianity was and is present throughout the American and other nations space programs. Apollo 8 flew around the moon on Christmas Eve 1968. From lunar orbit Bill Anders, Jim Lovell and Frank Borman read the story of creation (Gen1, 1-10). Frank Borman ended the broadcast with “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas – and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth."[1] In response, Madalyn Murray O'Hair sued the US Government alleging a violation of the First Amendment. So when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, during their first break, Aldrin celebrated holy communion[2] but did not read from scripture on the radio-connection to earth. Instead he asked for a moment of reflection to avoid sending a personal religious message during a NASA mission[3]. Later in the Apollo program the first Bible landed on the Moon with Apollo 14.[4] During an Apollo 15 EVA Jim Irwin quoted Psalm 121.1 inspired by the sight of the Apennine Mountains on the lunar surface.[5] There are more examples of Christian faith being displayed during the Apollo program than can be addressed at this point. During the so called “Race into Space” and the clash of societal models, consequently there are examples and myths surrounding the Russian space program, where atheism was displayed by the cosmonauts or more accurately by the administration. Yuri Gagarin, for example, is alleged to have stated that he saw no god while in Earth orbit. This quote, however, actually goes back to a speech by Nikita Krushchev during an anti-religion campaign.

In recent space history several Christian artefacts are residing in different parts of the International Space Station[6]. The pope has recently addressed astronauts aboard the International SpaceStation, emphasizing the importance of the view from space and the meaning of space exploration: “Space exploration is a fascinating scientific adventure. It is also an adventure of the human spirit, a powerful stimulus to reflect on the origins and the destiny of the universe and humanity“.[7]

Just like Christianity, Judaism and Islam promptly rose to the challenges of space-flight when Jewish and Muslim Astronauts flew into space.

Judaism in Space

There has been kosher food in space to provide Jewish astronauts with the opportunity to follow their religion. The question of the Sabbath has been discussed among groups of Jewish scholars for the same reason. The question of observing Sabbath in space has to deal with the speed of the spacecraft orbiting the earth. Every orbit lets the astronauts see another sunrise and sunset. As the Sabbath is observed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, on the ISS this would mean approximately 2.3 Sabbaths a day lasting for about 90 minutes each, as one orbit lasts approximately that long. Historically, a similar question arose, when Jewish submarine personnel were subjected to an environment where the sun never rose. The specific question of observing Sabbath in space has been dealt with by a number of Rabbis from different countries. Their comments can be found in Hebrew on a Web site dedicated to Jewish law and space travel.[8] One of the arguments used, was a reference to a Talmudic story about a man journeying alone in the desert when he loses track of time and thus does not know when to observe Sabbath. The consensus among the scholars on how to observe Sabbath in space was to observe the Sabbath based on the 24hour rotation of the earth and use the time-zone of the launch-area as reference. Regardless of the position of the astronaut in space, earth still rotates at a speed of one rotation in roughly 24 hours, they argued.

The Institute responsible for the website stresses, that the space-flight of Israeli Astronaut Ilan Ramon changed the scope of its research from theoretical thought about halacha and space travel to practical halacha.

Islam in Space

Similarly to Judaism, Islam is discussing ways of enabling the faithful Muslim to follow his or her religion in space. Questions concerning ritual cleansing and prayer have been discussed. The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM) has published a guide on how to perform Ibadah (Islamic beliefs and practices) in Space[9]. The reason for this publication was the apparent possibility of sending a Muslim astronaut to the ISS. Questions answered in this publication concern the practice of Istinja´ (washing up after relieving oneself), cleansing oneself, determining the direction of Quibla (the direction of the Ka´aba in which to direct prayer), which is a real problem when orbiting earth, determining prayer times and the act of praying itself. Also the problem of fasting and caring for the deceased is discussed. As Islam has already developed rules for fasting and caring for the deceased in extraordinary circumstances, these could be readily applied to the situation of near earth orbit. The determination of prayer times follows the model described for determining when to observe the Sabbath. The cleansing rituals can both be performed with material readily available on the ISS. In the case of Istinja´ all rules for this practice seem to fit the situation on ISS perfectly. The specific problem for Muslims in near earth orbit is the direction for Quibla. Here Islam provides four possibilities, which can be wisely adapted to the ISS. A Muslim should (in order of priority) pray toward a) the Ka´aba, b) the projection of Ka´aba, c) the Earth, d) wherever.[10] Prayer posture, however, is a different problem. As Muslims face the ground to pray, in part to avoid pagan sun or moon worship ("Prostrate yourselves not to the sun nor to the moon, but prostrate yourselves to Allah Who created them, if you (really) worship Him" (The Quran 41:37), doing so in space could render facing the ground useless. For some believers this could make prayer problematic. The publication by the JAKIM does not really answer this problem. They suggest, however, a wise way to solve this problem. As the prayer postures suggested in the publication also are prioritized from standing upright and the bowing etc to just imagining the sequence of prayer, this last possibility excludes any problems with pagan worship. In the imagination of the believer, the prayer will always be addressed in the right way.

Another very recent example is the fatwa issued against a one way trip to Mars . The General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments (GAIAE), has compared the mission to committing suicide. They argue that suicide is forbidden in Islam. “It is not permissible to travel to Mars and never to return if there is no life on Mars,” they stated. “The chances of dying are higher than living.”[11] This is an interesting perspective. From an exotheological point of view they could also be making the point that Earth as humanity's cradle is the place where we have to stay because God made us to live on earth.


The examples shown can be sorted into the following five categories:

1. Living one's religion in space

2. Proclaiming one's religion

3. Upholding religious tradition

4. Transforming ritual to new surroundings

5. Interpretation of holy texts to lead the way through new challenges

From the astronauts point of view, religion in space plays the same role it does down on earth. The perspective of the religious tradition, however, is a bit different. While religion on earth is established through institutions and organisations that substitute or incorporate the authority of the religious texts and ideas, in space religion is only represented by the astronauts who practice it. One could thus argue, that religious authorities will support the idea of space travel for as long as it is possible to adapt their rules to this new environment.[12] Except for category 2, all examples can be explained as strengthening the religious tradition and authority by showing that it can adapt to new surroundings, the challenge of space-flight, without losing its core-values or its relevance. That is easily done in near earth orbit or even on flights to the moon, where return to earth is part of mission planning and artefacts from or in space (like the chalice Aldrin used for communion on the moon, microfiche bibles that flew into space etc.) and stories fulfil this purpose.

Leaving earth orbit

The question arises, however, how religious authority has to deal with a situation, where their contents and rituals leave their sphere of influence on a journey without the possibility of return and maybe even more important, with probably little or no contact during later parts of the journey. It could be argued at this point, that the principle “out of sight – out of mind” applies to such a situation. Historically, however, it can be said, that especially high risk voyages with an uncertain outcome were in the focus of religion and religious authority. This should not be different today.

Aspects of Spaceflight transforming religion
No return

The first problems for religion will be connected to the idea of no possible return. If an interstellar mission leaves earth for good, they also may leave the only place where God ever intended life to be. This has already shown itself as a problem for Islam, although Allah as the creator of all things and as such the universe could have made the whole universe for humanity. Jewish and with it Christian tradition also have to rely on the book of Genesis in which the story of God creating the heaven and the earth is told. This in itself would probably be open to interpretation as the question how far the heaven reaches poses no real problem when the text is open to interpretation. Christians who have a literal understanding of the Bible, however, stress the creation of mankind in God's image. With this argument extraterrestrial life becomes impossible as earth was created by the creator as the home for creatures in his image. Following up on this idea the “dominium terrae“ of Genesis 1.28 (And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.) becomes relevant. If God wanted his creation to rule the earth, does this apply to the stars and the planets as well? In a literal understanding, we have been cast out into the world as the consequence of original sin. Having been driven from paradise seems bad enough, why risk angering the creator more by going for the outer-earthly realm? Should the “dominium terrae” be understood as a “dominium caeli”, God's command to rule all of the heavens, several problems arise for Christianity.

The director of the Vatican Observatory, Father Gabriel Funes , stated that just “... as there is a multiplicity of creatures on earth, there can be other beings, even intelligent, created by God. This is not in contrast with our faith because we can't put limits on God's creative freedom,” “Why can't we speak of a 'brother extraterrestrial'? It would still be part of creation."The most interesting aspect he raised is that humanity may be the 'lost sheep' of the universe and there may be other beings “who remained in full friendship with their creator”.[13]

This, however might pose serious problems for Christianity in their view of space travel. If these beings have kept friendship with the creator and are not sinners blemished by original sin, can we dare travel there and infect them with original sin? A Christian view of space travel might need some sort of ethics in accordance with Star Treks prime directive[14] not to interfere with civilisations that still live in their version of the garden of Eden. On the other hand, travelling there might save humanity from original sin through contact with these pure beings and thus replace Jesus Christ as the sole source of salvation.


Another problem for religions and space travel is the extreme duration of interstellar flight. During such a long time with no or little contact with established tradition, religion on board the craft has to rely on material taken on the journey. Religions that have scriptural material can rely on that material to guide them. Highly institutionalised religions, however, will have to think about how to uphold authority. A very pragmatic question the catholic church for instance will face is how many bishops to take on the journey to uphold apostolic succession. In times of duress, a single bishop with the consent of other bishops will suffice to ordain the next bishop, to uphold holy order. If there is no communication with the mother-church, however, several bishops will be needed for such journey.

On the other hand, religions can be seen as a prerequisite for successful multi-generational missions in the first place. If cathedrals or pyramids are any indication, an interstellar journey with religion or religious motivation is probably going to succeed. Taking this into account brings up the idea of rendering an interstellar voyage s a voyage of faith, a pilgrimage or such. The chances and problems arising from such an idea will be discussed later in this paper.


The third aspect – similar to duration - is interstellar distance spanned throughout the journey. Astronauts might encounter the notion of being alone, no longer within the reach of God, being on their own. Especially the idea of a divine creation and with it the feeling of being a creature rather than the result of a random mutation for example can give meaning to one's position in the cosmos.[15] Depending on the world-view of a specific religion, interstellar travel can challenge this. The more earth-centric a religion, the more problematic the distances of interstellar space-flight. Obviously these fears can be countered. By stressing the point of the specific (or unspecific) deitiy responsible for creation being almighty and all-encompassing those fears should be rendered mute. This, however leads to the problem of a possible discrepancy between religious authority and experienced religion, which only gets worse if these two elements are divided by the long distances of interstellar travel. The fact that there will be no or little connection to tradition will lead inevitably to processes of transformation of the religious ideas during the voyage. As before, religions with scripture are at an advantage when it comes to preserving tradition. Religions which rely on direct contact with a divine being and only rely on a tradition in a secondary way may flourish in the environment of outer space. Religions which need an established tradition are at a disadvantage.

The problems with ritual which could be easily and wisely solved for near earth orbit will probably be solved just as wisely for situations in deep space. The publication by JAKIM is an excellent example. There will, however, be problems occuring during a long voyage, which have not been solved in advance. These will ultimately quicken religious transformation as they will have to be dealt with by the travellers themselves and thus create new religious knowledge.

Time difference

Time differences between mission time, earth time and the time-distance problems in communication are another aspect that has to be considered. The big question here is, if the distances become so large that communication is no longer possible, does this not solve all the above-mentioned problems? As there will be no further contact, earth religions can rest peacefully in the knowledge that all the transformations will never get back to earth anyway. This can either be a sign for religious stability on earth through no contact with transforming religion or the feeling of an opportunity lost to discover the ways in which religion answers the challenges of such voyage.

Aspects of religion that transform spaceflight
A Voyage of Faith

There are many examples of religious texts that describe voyages of faith leading to the promised land, the holy kingdom etc. These voyages have different motivations and phases. A voyage can be described (quite trivially really) to have three aspects. 1.) The start of a voyage is a point from which the voyage takes the voyager away. 2.)The voyage itself is a process on which the voyager embarks. Usually the voyage comes with transformation. 3.)Finally the voyage ends. There is a point where the voyager wants, needs to travel to. Religious myths know all these and many more aspects.[16]

Flood myths from all sorts of different religious traditions for example emphasize the religious traditions that deal with travelling away from something. The story of Noah's Ark is an example for just such a voyage. Other religious traditions know stories of persecution and oppression which need to be overcome by a voyage away from these circumstances. These stories usually have a specific goal in mind, a promised land, a heavenly kingdom etc. The aspect of travelling itself is alive in pilgrimage. A pilgrim travels toward a holy site or a shrine and then back to his home, having been transformed on the way. This aspect of religiously motivated travel comes in two forms. On the one hand there is the voyage toward a shrine and back, where transformation is relevant in regard to the starting position to which the pilgrim returns. On the other hand the pilgrimage itself becomes the whole process. Transformation is the goal in itself. The German language knows the distinction between „Pilgerfahrt“ und „Wallfahrt“. One could try and describe this as the difference between pilgrim (traveller) and peregrin (alien). Pilgrimage as such is the way one travels to transform oneself, without a geographical goal while peregrinage is the voyage one undertakes to a shrine and back, being the stranger at the holy site as opposed to being at home while not at the holy site.[17]

Certain aspects of religious voyages, of pilgrimage or peregrinage might be useful to describe a possible connection between religious motivation and interstellar travel.

Exodus – going away

Going away would necessarily need something to go away from, to flee from. Just as Noah built the Ark, an Interstellar Spaceship could serve just the same purpose. In such a situation, all aspects I have discussed previously would probably become void. If the survival of mankind is at stake, religions will have to deal with that situation and not with the flight itself. Some religions may still be opposed to spaceflight, especially if they expect something like the rapture to happen during a global catastrophe. One could argue, that they would rather be waiting for the next train to take them to the promised land. Opposition will probably be restricted to converting unbelievers to their own way out. An alternative flight scenario would be to flee from oppression. Just as the pilgrim-fathers described the voyage to the New World as the voyage to the promised Land and England as Egypt, even King James I as Pharao, this analogy could motivate for such a journey.

An illustrating example is William Claytons Hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints”.

“We'll find the place which God for us prepared, Far away, in the West , Where none shall come to hurt or make afraid; There the saints, will be blessed.”[18]

The problem with an Exodus scenario is twofold. If an interstellar flight were to free the travellers from oppression, they would not need the additional motivation by religious analogy.(Although it would probably help to build the case for the journey as the goal can be described as the promised land). The bigger problem is, that it just is not a good idea to motivate for space travel by constructing a situation where people feel motivated to leave earth because they feel oppressed, suffice it to say that these people will probably the ones who have built the spaceship in the first place and will be a true loss for humankind. It seems that motivation to travel from some point due to oppression is not really desirable as a factor in learning from religion to foster space travel.

The promised Land – going toward

The going-to analogy poses a different set of problems. If an interstellar space-flight leads into what is thought to be the transcendental realm, opposition by religious groups is to be expected. Announcing that the ship is travelling to God or to Heaven is a sufficient analogy to the story of the tower of Babel to guarantee at least some opposition. Those groups who will not oppose such a mission because of possible damage to God's glory or overt display of human hubris will just consider it foolhardy.

On the other hand, travelling into a creation that is made for discovery is a concept that rhymes with a lot of religious traditions, especially those with a tradition of natural theology. If one can experience the Glory of god through creation, why not go explore. This is probably the strongest direct religious motivation the mission can achieve. One other aspect of going to a promised land may need direct transcendental interference. Just as Abraham was told, a space mission might also profit from being supplied with a divine goal:

“Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee.

And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:”( Gen 12, 1-2)

Obviously the strategy of the 100yss can not be to wait for divine intervention on its behalf. Should this happen, however, funding and motivation will still not automatically follow, as the story of Abraham shows.

Pilgrimage – just going

The third and probably most powerful aspect is pilgrimage. As mentioned above, this idea takes the religious aspect down to the individual level. A pilgrim is basically alone, trying to achieve transformation on an individual level. If a person's personal beliefs rhyme with the parallels between religious ideas and space travel, individual motivation in a religious sense can be achieved.

How this can be achieved, without alienating some religious groups while favoring others needs to be discussed.

A feasible concept could be, to concentrate on the individuals relation to religion in accordance with the idea of the lone pilgrim. Even if the pilgrim is alone on his or her voyage, seeking individual transformation, the voyage itself usually follows the footsteps of giants, of religious tradition. This dichotomy between individual religion and religious tradition can be further explained by taking a look at a theory of religious experience which focuses on the individuals' construction of faith: Peter Bergers idea that religion is socially constructed and transferred on an individual level.[19]

Humility and simulated religion

Peter Berger bases his ideas on religion in the lifeworld on Alfred Schutz' Analysis of the life world. Alfred Schutz describes the life-world as resting on the paramount reality of the world of working in daily life. This paramount reality is ”the intersubjective world which existed long before our birth, experienced and interpreted by Others, our predecessors, as an organized world”[20]. The world of working in daily life is only one of the worlds constituting the life world of human beings. The others according to Schutz are “… the world of dreams, of imageries and fantasms, especially the world of art, the world of religious experience, the world of scientific contemplation, the play world of the child and the world of the insane …”[21]. Schutz gives a detailed account of human possibilities to act, interact and communicate in these provinces of meanings. He grounds his theory in the “reality of the world of daily life and its pragmatic motive“.It is the setting for our actions and interactions.”[22] According to Schutz, one cannot shift the accent of reality from one province of meaning, one world, to another without experiencing a specific shock experience.[23]

Berger argues that both the religious experience and the comic relieve us from the tension and the fundamental anxiety of the paramount reality and enable such shifts of the accent of reality. Relying on Schutz' analysis of Don Quixote, Berger points out that the act of faith brings about a shift in the accent of reality due to what Berger calls the epistemological reversal: “The paramount reality of everyday life is relativized; conversely, the specific finite province of meaning to which faith pertains is absolutized. Needless to say, it is finite only in the perspective of the paramount reality. As the epistemological reversal occurs, it is, on the contrary, the threshold of infinity; conversely, the empirical world, far from being paramount, is disclosed as being very finite indeed.”[24] Berger goes on to argue, that humour and religion enable us to look at us and our problems from a perspective well outside the world of working in daily life and can thus be seen as structurally equivalent in regard to the life-world. Now, the act of faith is usually a lot more consequential than just telling a good joke, but still, the similarities are obvious. As does religion, the comic can provide us with a sense of humility. “…, at least certain manifestations of the comic suggest that this other reality has redeeming qualities that are not temporary at all, but rather point to that other world that has always been the object of the religious attitude. In ordinary parlance one speaks of 'redeeming laughter.' Any joke can provoke such laughter, and it can be redeeming in the sense of making life easier to bear, at least briefly. In the perspective of religious faith, though, there is in this transitory experience an intuition, a signal of true redemption, that is, of a world that has been made whole and in which the miseries of the human condition have been abolished. This implies transcendence in a higher key; it is religious in the full, proper sense of the word. There is no inevitable passage from the first to the second kind of transcendence. Of course there is not; otherwise every stand-up comedian would be a minister of God (which is what Don Quixote thought himself to be). There is a secular and a religious mode of comic experience, and the passage from one to the other requires an act of faith.”[25] The act of faith is what distinguishes the religious sphere from the secular. In thoughts and analyses one can encounter various models of religion, various systems of faith. The act of faith or the leap of faith is what brings an epistemological reversal about. Once one has taken that leap, one will regard the world of religion as the paramount reality and all the other worlds of the life-world as being grounded in it. Humour can provide the individual with a certain humility, that is the ability to look at different systems of faith and play with them, recognize their ultimate value for their followers and simulate what it would be like to take this system for granted.

It can thus be argued, that pilgrimage as a lifelong journey works in analogy to what Berger states as the connection between humour and faith. A pilgrim is on the way, trying to experience transformation. This process is ongoing, for some never-ending. Only after or during a long journey will the pilgrim reach transformation and in between have often encountered experiences similar to humour, where suddenly everything turned out to be different than it seemed, where former knowledge was cast into doubt. While religious knowledge and the perception of religious tradition may change during such journey, the existence of the religious knowledge in the first place is what enables the transformation. Religion and humour not only differ through the act of faith and the persistence of the epistemological reversal but also through the existence of socially handed down knowledge.

The analogy of the pilgrimage for interstellar travel understood in this way enables the project to describe itself in terms that are analogue to religious terms without interfering in the religious domain. Being a pilgrim, a seeker, someone who looks at the world constantly from all possible worlds that make up one's life-world enables one to experience religion as a process not a given fact. Berger stresses, that one is not born into religion but rather chooses it. Even if Berger is only partially right, as many factors (some possibly transcendental) influence the final act of faith and not one single choice, there is merit to the idea that religion is a way of giving a new perspective on all other aspects of the life world.

An interstellar mission needs to draw from just such a perspective. Going away from everything that is familiar into the alien realm of outer space is an act that transforms one's vision of all other aspects of the lifeworld, even religion as one's personal faith. But in addition to being one's personal faith, Berger points out, religion is socially constructed. The individual chooses themes and patterns of religious content from a symbolic universe that society erected over time.[26] Such an understanding of religion is not only reliant on the individual perspective but also on religious tradition only from which it can draw the ideas for individual choice. A civil religion might be understood as such a religion. It is open for most of the participants to chose which specific aspects they want to emphasize. It misses a clergy and except for a nation or political culture as an anchor has no direct organisation. Different religious traditions can coexist peacefully within the scope of such civil religion. Interstellar travel – even if already part of this symbolic universes – has to become an active part, to play a role in the ongoing social construction of the religious sphere.

Some of the content of religious universes already is used in popular culture and in civil religion to foster the idea of space travel. The Mormon Trail as a metaphor for the journey of the Israelites to the promised land has already been mentioned. Another example could be movies which draw from the multiple symbolic universes of the different religions to construct space-travel scenarios ripe with religious metaphor.[27]

Motivation and education – Theology and Exotheology

Presenting an interstellar spaceflight project as a symbolic universe with aspects of different religious traditions, enables all these traditions to relate to the project, individuals and organisations alike. Religious organisations can adequately represent themselves within that virtual framework and participate as equals within the scope of the themes that connect religion and space-flight.

This paper has given a few examples for these themes. There are and will be many more. It is important to note, that it cannot be the task of academic religious studies to solve these problems. Academic theology can point out the problems, try to foresee some, categorise all of them and analyse them. The history of religions can suggest solutions from historic and other parallels. The solutions themselves will have to come from the participating religious organisations and theological institutions. Still, as the historic perspective has shown, there will be a lot of these problems in the future of human spaceflight so that the contribution of academic theology seems necessary and vital.

On the other hand the problems and perspectives mentioned above present a broad field for religious education. All these exotheological questions are broadly hypothetical. They deal with problems that can possibly arise but not necessarily. This approach enables religious educators to try and give students and outside perspective on religion without harming the inside perspective. Exotheology enables students and educators to participate hypothetically in the field of religion, as seems fit for a multireligious world. In this way students can identifiy themselves with their own religious or non religious perspective while at the same time learning something about the consequences of their own and other people's faiths. Hypothetical problems treat all students the same way. Some religious traditions have more problems with these hypothetical problems, others have less problems. The interesting thing about such exotheological thought experiments as learning tools is not to solve them from one's own perspective but to learn to solve them from the others perspective as well. That way students learn to distinguish between different worldviews while giving all of these worldviews equal consideration. Religious education in this way teaches an analytical approach not only to one's own religion and others as well, but also a general academic approach to solving problems from completely different fields by breaching the boundaries of such fields and finding strange new connections and insights from other fields. Exotheology as a thought experiment in the field of science, philosophy and religion breaks the boundaries between these differing fields and enables the student to engage simultaneously in these fields just as they would in their life-world. Artificial division between these fields then shows itself just as unfounded as the moral attacks from proponents of one field against the other.


[1]    Apollo 8 Onboard Voice Transcription, January 1969 [Link], page 197, at 3d, 14h,08m 6s (accessed September 15 2011).

[2]    N.A. Armstrong, E.E. Aldrin, M.J. Collinsm, “Wir waren die Ersten (am. Original: First on the Moon)”, Verlag Ullstein, Frankfurt/M, 1970, p. 274.

[3]    Apollo 11 PAO Mission Commentary Transcript, July 1969 [Link], page 357 (accessed September 15 2011) and Andrew Chaikin, A Man On The Moon: The Voyages of the Apollo Astronauts. Viking 1994, pp.204, 623.

[4]    Apostles of Apollo: The first lunar Bible [Link] (accessed September 15 2011).

[5]    Apollo 15 PAO Mission Commentary Transcript, July 26 - August 7, 1971 [Link], p. 843.

[6]    Catholic News Agency: Relics, Icons and Crosses are onboard the International Space Station [Link] (accessed 14.09.2011).

[7]    Daily Telegraph: Pope talks live to astronauts on the International Space Station [Link] (accessed September 15 2011).

[8]    Halacha and Space [Link] (accessed on September 14 2011).

[9]    JAKIM: A Guideline of Performing Ibadah at the International Space Station [Link] (accessed September 15 2011).

[10]   JAKIM: A Guideline of Performing Ibadah at the International Space Station, p. 5.

[11]   [Link] (accessed May 29 2014)

[12]   Max Weber identifies three types of authority: legal, traditional, and charismatic authority: M. Weber, “Theory of Social and Economic Organization. (A. Henderson & T. Parsons, Trans.)”, Free Press, New York, 1947, p.328. With the possible exception of charismatic authority all of these are at stake when religious rule can not be adapted to the new environment of space.

[13]   Catholic News Agency: Believing in aliens not opposed to Christianity, Vatican’s top astronomer says: [Link] (accessed September 14 2011)

[14]   See G. Genta, “Lonely Minds in the Universe: The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence”, Springer, Berlin, 2007, p. 208.

[15]   That this is not necessarily so has been argued, among others, by R. Dawkins, “The God Delusion”, Bantam Press, London, 2006, pp352-360

[16]   See J. Campbell, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1968. Similarly, Vladimir Propp approaches the structure of fairy tale from a formalist point of view, V. Propp, “Morphology of the Folk Tale”, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1975. These ideas could be useful in analysing a mission statement for interstellar spaceflight, for the scope of this paper the trivial description above will suffice.

[17]   See: U. Tworuschka, “Heilige Wege: Die Reise zu Gott in den Weltreligionen”, Lembeck, Frankfurt/M, 2002, pp192-195.

[18]   See Udo Tworuschka, “Heilige Wege”, pp.131-132.

[19]   P.L. Berger, “Redeeming laughter: the comic dimension of human experience”, Walter de Gruyter, New York, 1997.

[20]   A. Schutz, “On multiple realities”, in Alfred Schutz Collected Papers 1. The problem of social reality, ed. M.A. Natanson (Ed.), Nijhoff, The Hague, pp 207-252, 1962, p. 208.

[21]   A. Schutz, “On multiple realities”, p232

[22]   A. Schutz, “On multiple realities”, p208.

[23]   A. Schutz, “On multiple realities”, p. 231, see also H. Knoblauch, “Transzendenzerfahrung und symbolische Kommunikation. Die phänomenologisch orientierte Soziologie und die kommunikative Konstruktion der Religion”, in Religion als Kommunikation, ed. H. Tyrell, V. Krech, H. Knoblauch, Ergon, Würzburg, pp 147-186, 1998, p159.

[24]   P.L. Berger, “Redeeming laughter”, p. 205.

[25]   P.L. Berger, “Redeeming laughter”, p. 205.

[26]   P.L. Berger, “The Sacred canopy”, Anchor Press, New York 1990.

[27]   See for example M.S. Henderson, “StarWars - The magic of myth”, Spectra, New York 1997. As Henderson shows, Joseph Campbell's idea of the structure of the monomythical story can be used to explain these phenomena and to ground space travel in religious mythology.

© Michael Waltemathe, 2014