Saturday, March 12, 2011

ET & God

One does not wade far into the tricky currents of ufology before theological questions begin to arise. Who are the strange intelligences that ply our skies in gravity defying craft? To our enfeebled minds, they seem like gods. Or demons come to snatch our bodies, our souls, in the dead of night.

Some have observed that the study of UFOs bears elements of a spiritual quest. Close encounters with craft of apparent non-human origin evoke the mysterium tremendum et fascinans. Are those of us who study UFOs not like Parsifal searching for the Holy Grail of alien implants and unearthly technology? Or Phaeton who longed ride his father’s golden chariot across the sky? Or perhaps like Faust who traded his soul for a chance to fathom the world’s deepest mysteries? For it is the mystery that drive us — an almost primal longing to answer questions that some have said will be illuminated only when we die.

History tells us that mixing ufology and religion can end badly. Think of Heaven’s Gate where thirty-eight follower of self-proclaimed prophet, Marshall Applewhite, ingested phenobarbital washed down with applesauce and vodka in order to launch their souls to the mother ship hiding behind Comet Hale-Bopp. This mass suicide serves as a warning to those who would hitch their salvation to a theology cobbled together from contactee stories and white-robed space brothers mixed in a new age blender.

The darker aspects of ufology have led some religious thinkers to label to the entire phenomenon as demonic. Indeed, the classic alien abduction scenario — essentially a kidnapping with medical experimentation, extraction of sperm and ova and occasional interspecies sexual liaisons — does seem to traffic in the diabolical. Deception too — one of the hallmarks of the devil — is rife in the contact literature. However, it is important to keep in mind that Satan does not have a monopoly on deception, which seems to be alive and well in human affairs, frequently employed in business and war. And what sort of demon would hover over a major airport in broad daylight, shadow a commercial cargo jet carrying French wine across Alaska, or turn off the guidance and control systems of nuclear missiles?

Artwork by Bradford Evans: I dreamed I was a Bird in Flight

One can see echoes of the spiritual quest too in the contemporary fascination with the paranormal. The past decade has witnessed a high tech renaissance of spiritualism where adepts of the invisible gather in abandoned hospitals or morgues armed not with crystal balls and séance tables but EMF meters and digital camcorders. Many ufologists who start out as ‘nuts and bolts’ scientists eventually become impressed with the paranormal elements. One can see this trajectory in the careers of J. Allen Hynek and more recently, Ted Phillips. From a recognition of the paranormal, it is a short step to spirituality. Dancing orbs and singing lights aside, this is not necessarily an uplifting spirituality, but one that both terrifies and amazes, confuses and delights, and places one in a relationship with something that seems wholly other.

The god of UFOs is a trickster, who moves like quicksilver before our grasp. We look up in awe at the mercurial lights as our ancestors must have watched lightning and pictured a powerful deity pummeling the earth with fiery bolts.

As we gaze into the dark portal of the night sky, our faculty of reason may be challenged but must not be thrown aside. As we confront the limits of understanding let’s not abandon the attempt to comprehend. For reason and discernment grounds us as we approach the unknown with trembling and wonder.