In thinking about UFOs the past few weeks, I’m struck by similarities between UFO belief and God belief. Here are just some of the striking parallels that jump out at me:
- Like the God question, the UFO question could be solved by one mass visible sighting or clearly transmitted message. For example, God could just talk from the sky to everybody in a public announcement, and eliminate all doubts about his (her?) existence. Likewise, a UFO could simply land on the White House lawn with a big “Screw you!” written on its saucer belly, thereby sassing all UFO debunkers, past and present.
- The fact that neither God nor UFOs show themselves in a dramatic public fashion stands in need of explanation, and subsequently people who profess to believe in God or UFOs are in the tricky position of second guessing minds far in advance of their own, and to speculate on the motives of such minds, and why those minds choose not to reveal themselves more obviously.
- Both God and UFOs seem to have favorites among human beings, picking some for special direct encounters with them, and then leaving those people to testify to what they have seen and heard. These testimonies are often vivid, and sometimes even compelling, but the events witnessed invariably leave no obvious physical traces in the environment, and thus no clear evidence that the experiences of the testifiers actually happened. In other words, without physical evidence, both God and UFOs are heavily dependent upon the memories of testifiers to communicate news of their presence to humankind. Why neither God nor UFOs do something a bit more direct and unambiguous is a total mystery.
- Invariably, because neither God nor UFOs leave undisputable physical traces of their presence in our world, both God movements and UFO movements are easy prey for confidence men, hucksters, hoaxers, and cons who fake their religious or UFO experiences, and so ease money from the pockets and purses of the gullible. It’s very tricky to tell which people in God movements and UFO movements are sincere in their “witnessing,” and which ones are taking you for a ride.
- If God or UFOs exist, we have to rethink our scientific paradigms, for some of the things that God and UFOs are said to do in the world are hard to account for via our current understandings of what’s physically possible. Resurrecting the dead and time travel are two examples.
- Like God, aliens know an enormous amount about science and technology. But, curiously, whenever God or aliens are said to talk to people, they never actually share anything scientific with them. Their alleged messages are invariably spiritual, moral, or cryptic, and never: “Here’s how to make cold fusion to solve your energy problems.”
- Neither God nor aliens, though in possession presumably of minds and emotions, never obviously intervene to reduce human suffering in the world, raising the question, How come? If they are good, and have the power to advance good things in the world, why don’t they?
- Like many God believers, many believers in UFOs think eschatologically. That is, they think that the moment of public and final revelation is just around the corner. But whether it is God or a UFO coming in the clouds, the actual event always seems to be just beyond a receding horizon.
I’d like to emphasize that none of these observations is meant to suggest that God or UFOs do not exist. Both God and UFOs (or one of them) may, in fact, exist. What is curious to me, as an agnostic, is the surprising convergences, on both the intellectual and the cultural level, of these two (at least apparently) wildly different phenomena. Perhaps because God is invisible and has a “supermind” and ETs are also invisible and have “superminds”, the rhetorical moves of God believers and UFO believers must necessarily arrive at similar apologetic convergences, and even similar social movement forms.
In any case, it is one of the biggest surprises (I might even say shocks) of the past few weeks of thinking about UFOs, that there are so many echoes of religion in it. I can’t help but wonder: Is the UFO movement a thinly veiled secular religious movement? I realize that’s an oxymoron—a religion without God—but religion seems to be a pretty good lens for thinking about UFOs and the UFO movement.
This past Saturday, I went to a UFO conference in Burbank, California. I wanted to get a feel for UFO culture firsthand, and it was very interesting. Below is a picture that I took of a sculpture that an artist was selling at the event. It looks like an ET version of the Virgin Mary, doesn’t it? In talking with the artist, I discovered that her intent was precisely this. She believes that visions of Mary are actually visions of an extraterrestrial.
I think Cynthia is a talented, if eccentric, sculptor, and I bought her (I thought brilliant) rendition of Egyptian queen Nefertiti as an alien. My ever fast-witted British wife promptly dubbed her “Nefer-ET”. Here’s an image of my Nefer-ET that I snapped alongside a Mojave desert road in the late afternoon Sunday sun. Nefer-ET cost me 70 bucks. I think she was worth it: