God Belief And UFO Belief: The Parallels

UFO movements are quite deluded and people who join them are behaving foolishly. Most would agree about that. But if you believe in God, isn’t it curious that God and UFOs readily stand in as tropes for one another? Notice the following parallels:

  • 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 or 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. That this doesn’t happen means that both UFO movements and religious movements tend to be stuck in a holding pattern; they’re both, as it were, “waiting for Godot.”
  • The fact that neither God nor UFOs show themselves in a dramatic public fashion stands in need of explanation, and consequently people who profess to believe in God and/or UFOs are in the tricky position of second guessing minds far in advance of their own. Both tend 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. Why God and UFOs communicate news of their presence to humankind in so indirect and ambiguous a manner is a total mystery.
  • Because neither God nor UFOs leave indisputable 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,” which ones are taking you for a ride, and which ones are simply deluded.
  • If God and/or UFOs exist, we have to rethink our scientific paradigms, for some of the things that God and UFOs are said to do 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, ever 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? The Holocaust, for example, poses a problem for both God belief and UFO belief: where were they when we most needed them?
  • 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.
  • Because God is said to be invisible and has a “supermind” and ETs are also invisible and have “superminds,” the rhetorical moves of God believers and UFO believers arrive at curiously similar apologetic convergences, and even similar social movement forms.

Now, I find these parallels stunning, even disturbing. And so my question is this: how, if you’re a thoughtful religious believer, can such parallels not give you pause concerning God’s existence? Like UFOs, is God “a black cat in a dark room that isn’t there”?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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11 Responses to God Belief And UFO Belief: The Parallels

  1. 2dadsblog says:

    Wow – a blatantly obvious parallel that I have never considered before! …but perhaps when you consider the origins of religious belief – explanations for ‘unknowns’, it’s not so surprising that the similarities are present. Nicely written.

  2. Staffan says:

    As someone who has studied the UFO literature, I have to say the analogy is not that clear. There are plenty of religious UFO cultists in America but here in Sweden people see them too, but rarely join cults, probably because this is one of the most atheistic countries in the world. Typically, they report one sighting and you never hear from them again.

  3. Luke says:

    What insight!! The equivalence is remarkable. Yes, believers in UFOs have for centuries been inspired to lead moral and productive lives because of their beliefs. UFO believers run hospitals, universities, charities, homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Belief in UFOs forms the basis of deep introspection about the meaning of life. I wish I had thought of this.

  4. Luke says:

    None whatsoever except that the so-called cognoscenti relish ridiculing both groups. Something that intellectuals (and MSNBC hosts) do not understand is that just being smart does not make one wise.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      What’s wise about rationalizing the absence of evidence? What’s disrespectful in pointing it out?

      Do you think it shouldn’t be pointed out?


  5. Luke says:

    There is little denial that religious beliefs are built largely on faith. Equating that faith to belief in UFOs is disrespectful. Would you argue that there are many similarities between Christians and those who believe that the government was behind the 9-11 attacks? After all, each has difficulty in producing hard evidence to substantiate their beliefs. What I think you are really saying is that anyone who does not worship at the altar of secular liberalism is a deluded fool. My personal observation is that most of the tenents of liberalism are based on unsupportable intuitive feelings. Is the “public good’ an emperical, definable, measurable standard or just a concept?

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      The good thing about God belief of the Christian variety is that, if you can swing it, it innoculates you from other forms of irrationality. A nonbeliever in God is more prone, say, to succumbing to the delusions of Marxist Hegelianism or Big Foot than is a Christian.

      But, of course, Christianity also comes with it’s own temptations to foolishness, which are legion (such as looking for Noah’s ark on Mount Ararat, for example; or seeing the Virgin Mary in a hanky; or pretending the Bible is inerrant and therefore using it as an excuse to erect hate on gay people). Non-Christian Big Foot enthusiasts are happily inoculated from the arguments for a young earth put forward by Christianity-motivated young earth creationists, for instance.

      But here’s the thing. Voltaire wrote, “Those who can get you to believe absurdities, can get you to commit atrocities.”

      If critical thinking is your definition of “worshiping at the altar of secular liberalism,” then I don’t know what to say. One of the few things we can marshal against irrationality and evil in the world is critical thinking (and with it, a call for evidence). And critical thinking goes everywhere; it is a universal acid. When liberals behave stupidly, it comes their way as well.

      It’s not pleasant to apply. It’s why Oedipus plucked out his eyes. But don’t shoot the messenger.

      When the above UFO-God parallels occurred to me, I was flabbergasted by them. I was trying to think critically about UFO belief, and it dawned on me in a flash that the rationalizing surrounding it was similar to God belief. I didn’t seek out the comparison. I stumbled on it when thinking of something else.


  6. Luke says:

    Reason, logic and analytical thinking are virtues of the highest order. No one group or ideology has a monopoly on them. Some of the greatest minds in history were devout Christians. Some were atheists. Political persuasion does not have a relationship to IQ. It is sheer arrogance for the left to assert that their adherents are more intelligent or fact driven than those on the right (as Charles Blow of the NYT is inclined to do). It is also interesting to note that Obama’s most solid voting block in the recent election were people with the least education.

    • Santi Tafarella says:

      I think it’s interesting that you interpret the parallels as suggesting in a defamatory way that religious conservatives are stupid to believe in God. But what surprises me about the parallels is not the issue of stupidity, but sublimation.

      In other words, smart people and dumb people, religious people and non-religious people, liberals and conservatives, rationalize and sublimate and have cognitive dissonances. What the parallels suggest to me is how stubborn those sublimations are; and how strong they are, specifically, with God belief; and how God belief, like UFO belief, rationalizes quite effectively a lack of evidence. The parallels with UFO belief simply pull back the curtain on the sublimation.


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