A second new rib is a report on some empirical research of my own, the Peters ETI Religious Crisis Survey. I asked people who self-identify as religious or non-religious to answer questions regarding the potential impact of confirmed contact with ETI. I wanted to test the widespread assumption that contact with ETI would precipitate a crisis for religious people, perhaps even destroying traditional religion. I'll share my data and my conclusions.
I'm well aware that the extraterrestrial hypothesis is not the only hypothesis for explaining the UFO phenomenon. Yet, it is the one that interests me here. As I see it, space consciousness is built right into the phenomenon. A phenomenon includes both the object and the subject, both unidentified object and the subject's attempt to interpret it. The extraterrestrial interpretation is virtually co-present to any facts or data having to do with flying saucers. The meaning of the UFO is as important to me as any facts associated with the UFO. To a certain degree, UFOs--God's Chariots? is a study of human meaning in light of a scientized worldview.
New UFO Theologies are Developing
On the one hand, religious sensibilities surface in UFO lore in disguised form, in the form of a secularized religion. On the other hand, actual UFO theologies are appearing in an almost undisguised form. UFO generated theologies come in two varieties: ancient alien theology and contactee theology. I stress: these are secular theologies. They belong to no church. UFO theologies appeal to those who are Spiritual But Not Religious, the SBNRs. Curiously, UFO theology may not even look like traditional theology. It looks more like science. But, what appears to be UFO science has become a vehicle for expressing displaced religious or spiritual hopes.
Our Ancient Astronaut Theorists offer reinterpretations of ancient phenomena. They reinterpret the texts of the Bible and other sacred literature. They look again at ancient marvels such as the pyramids, statuary, and petroglyphs. They hypothesize that human contact with visitors from space better account for what happened than claims about gods. Rather than supernatural intervention, our ancestors allegedly experienced super-technological intervention. Extraterrestrial geneticists allegedly jump-started human evolution and initiated progress in terrestrial science and technology. What we have at work here in ancient astronaut theory is a theology without the divine, a secular theology that accounts for both creation and providence.
Contactee theology does not represent a rival sect; rather, it offers a complementary set of doctrines. Like ancient astronaut theory, the contactees believe in evolution and rely upon an apparently scientific assumption: if extraterrestrials are older than earthlings and have evolved longer, then they are more advanced than we in science, technology, medicine, politics, morality, and even religion. Where ETI are now is where we will be in the future, where we will be if we progress in our evolution. Visitors from space represent our own future, arriving ahead of time. This implies that visiting ufonauts have the technical capacity for solving difficult problems on our planet. The two most difficult of these problems are the threat of nuclear war and the threat of ecological catastrophe. Our more advanced space benefactors offer us world peace and environmental rescue. In short, contactee theology projects salvation coming from the skies in the form of technologically advanced UFOs.
I ask: why are some people expressing such an interest in the connection of religious doctrines with UFOs? I suggest that the study of UFOs has the appearance of being scientific--hence, it offers the opportunity to discuss religious feelings in seemingly scientific terms. Whether we say it in public or not, many of us believe science is good and religion is bad. Science is for modern educated people; religion is for old-fashioned superstitious people. We feel a little embarrassed when we have a religious feeling, as if we were being subverted from within by a pre-civilized emotion. If only we could feel that our religious beliefs had the respectability and credibility of science! Then we could have confidence in what we believe. I suggest that the ancient astronaut theory and contactee theologies offer us an ostensibly respectable way of talking about our deeper spiritual needs. Our religious feelings urge us to ponder the ultimate heights and depths of our spiritual reality. If we are compelled to translate our spiritual concerns into naturalistic or scientific terms, then we need nothing short of the infinity of the stars to capture our speculations. A UFO theology can do this for us.
But, I ask: are UFO theologies healthy? Or, do they risk drawing us into idolatry? The potential idol here is technological progress. Whether advances in science or technology take place on Earth or on another planet, to trust in technology for human salvation is to build one's house on sand. No amount of evolutionary advance or technological progress can save the human race from our own propensity for self-destructive behavior. If anything, progress in technology becomes progress in the scope of our destructive potential. Our salvation is to be found only in a God of grace. To place our trust for planetary deliverance in advanced technology--whether terrestrial or extraterrestrial technology--is to trust a deity that cannot deliver.
Despite my prophetic warning, I must admit that UFOs have a powerful way of drawing out our spiritual sensibilities in masked form, even when we believe ourselves to be no longer religious. Each one of us has a deep spiritual need to be at one with our creator and source of life. Thoughts about planetary self-destruction and death create anxiety. When destruction and death seem inevitable, we begin to ask for God's hand to save us. If we are convinced we are not religious, we may ask the government, the good luck charm, our crystal, the astrologer, or even UFOs to save us.
©2014 Ted Peters, author of UFOs: God’s Chariots? published by New Page Books a division of Career Press, Pompton Plains, NJ. EAN: 978-1601633187 List Price: US $16.99
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