When I was younger, I thought I knew everything. I know that sounds trite and cliché, but the confession is true. I now realize that everything I thought I knew wasn’t as solid as I thought it was, and that I was assuming quite a bit to get to where I was then.
Let me explain with this example: Scientists have been recently developing a space messaging system, technology that sends information into deep space in hopes of receiving an answer. Although we’ve been listening for otherworldly messages since 1985 with SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), and in 1974 we even sent a onetime 3-minute deep space signal to a specific star, now a new group called METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) plans on sending numerous messages out into the stars to see who is listening.
The initial idea of making initial contact with an alien civilization seems incredibly valuable and an enormous leap forward for humanity, but there are a variety of issues and conundrums that surround these actions, all of which are dependent upon several assumptions that we are making as a human race. For example, we assume that should we reach an advanced people, these beings would want to develop a friendship with us. By extending the olive branch to advanced worlds, how can we be sure that they will accept it? (If you look through the annals of history, when Columbus came to America, it didn’t turn out so well for the Native Americans.) We are also laboring under the possible delusion that as civilizations age, they become wiser and develop a totally peaceful existence. What if these advanced groups have only become more warlike? Some scientists have mentioned that they hope these civilizations are not angry or hungry, or we are in big trouble.
Also, when METI decides to send out its first message, there is debate as to what that message should be. How do we know that those receiving it will not interpret it as a declaration of war? Or an opportunity for colonization? Or a loud beacon alerting them of our presence, when staying quiet might be the key to our survival? And, with the universe being billions of years old, our world has only started thinking about contacting other worlds in the past hundred or so, while others might have been doing it for millions of years. Maybe we’re one of the last worlds to the space party and are so far behind technologically that it may not be that other worlds don’t know that we’re here: maybe they just don’t think we’re worth contacting.
The only conclusion that can come from all this posturing is that we just don’t know what’s out there, what to expect, what to do, and we have no way of knowing any of it. Thankfully, scientists are fully aware of what they do not know, so discussions and debates ensue, unlike some Christians who are not aware of what they do not know and just self-assuredly assume instead.
In fact, there are times that Christians are so sure of what they assume that they will base it as their entire foundation for belief. As such, we assume that Jesus had long flowing brownish/blondish hair with brown eyes and light skin, as that is how He is often portrayed in art and film. Yet given His lineage and the area in which he was raised, He most likely looked more Middle-Eastern than Arian. We develop firm opinions on whether communion is actually Jesus’ body and blood or if it is just symbolic of His sacrifice, and we condemn anyone who thinks otherwise. There are many that fully “know” what our own resurrection will entail, how long it will take, whether it will be bodily or spiritual, and how it will coincide with Christ’s return, but if we are to be honest, we really have no firm clue.
The fact that we don’t know is fine, but the problem arises when certainty comes when we are only assuming. Wars and church divisions have come from arguments based totally on a hypothesis, as Christians can stand so firmly on assumption that it overwhelms them to the point of forgetting the two basic elements of Christ’s teaching: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12.30-1). At this point in His ministry, Christ knew that the various sects and lawmakers had so muddled every Jewish law that to be a follower involved too much specialized adherence and furious debate, so He boiled it all down to two laws. However, since then, we have developed so many firm assumptions that many of us confidently stand on shaky ground, when the only fixed foundation should be these two rules.
There is a distinct difference between what we believe and what we know, and when we swap the two, we risk alienating the world and each other. Instead of being immobile in your opinions, stop accepting assumption for fact and know that you do not know. Instead, embrace your brothers and sisters in Christ, in addition to the non-believer, putting love above all else, just as Jesus asks us to. Amen.