There are those who suggest that our obsession with ancient astronauts, extraterrestrials, UFOs, SETI (the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence), and the like is nothing more than a religious fever under a different disguise. Instead of looking towards the heavens for salvation and ultimate truths in God, we reject God and instead we look towards the heavens and seek out new intelligences and new civilizations to boldly lead us on the path to a universal brotherhood; aliens that in their eternal wisdom will show us the one true path and give us all the benefits of their experiences and knowledge, knowledge that which gives us warp drives, a universal truth and justice, and the golden brick road that leads towards the cosmic way (the way of the cosmos?).
Balderdash! Well, sort of.
God, assuming a God, is about supernatural explanations for creations like the origin of our planet and of us. God is supposedly about good vs. evil; heaven vs. hell, salvation vs. damnation, and a warm fuzzy eternal afterlife. God is about morality (never mind the lack of His own). We don’t look to aliens for creation mythology; the afterlife; and our moral codes.
The Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence
Certainly SETI (Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) scientists do not sit in worship at their radio telescope cathedrals that great alien in the sky that they seek. Seek they do, but not to worship. However, some do go a bit over-the-top in suggesting the types of societies they are likely to find and communicate with, it’s their version of the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. See below for more elaboration.
Assuming ancient astronauts, and assuming ancient astronauts were aliens, then the peoples of those ancient times obviously worshipped said ancient astronaut aliens. However, people interested in ancient astronaut aliens today hardly worship that what takes their interest. It’s just another facet of SETI (even if traditional SETI professionals would be horrified at having the study of ancient astronauts lumped in with what they do).
UFOs are slightly different kettles of fish to SETI (well, sort of) or ancient astronauts; different horses of many other colours. One such colour, at least to most people – is the cultist ‘giggle factor’ or ‘silly season’ colour. To the minority of others, well, they (cultists) believe in the ‘space brothers’ and are usually called contactees and they form various – for lack of a better phrase – New Age themed UFO societies. They do indeed worship, if not quite as gods, at least as ultra-advanced supreme beings, who, for all practical purposes are as close to godlike and perfect as makes no odds. All is peace and harmony and enlightenment and utopia and perfect health and beauty and eternal rainbows in and on the worlds (including Venus and Saturn, etc.) of the ‘space brothers’. The “space brothers” collectively make even our most saintly of saints look like hardened criminals behind bars if not on death row!
UFO ‘space brother’ contactees or cultists often ‘preached’ their sermons of gloom and doom while offering salvation and enlightenment to the great unwashed via the messages they conveyed from those uppity-up pure-in-heart-and-mind aliens. Somehow the ‘space brothers’ offered us the one true pathway away from our destruction, often literally, as in the end of the world.
If I had some $ $ $ for every time the end of the world had been predicted, lets just say my bank manager and the tax office would both be pleased. I’m sure not a year goes by, probably not even a month, without someone (not always by any means UFO cultists) calling out loud and clear that ‘The sky is falling; the end is here; prepare to meet thy doom’. For those misguided beings who take one such ever-ongoing prophecy seriously, it might, I guess, be more logical to put your salvation eggs in an extraterrestrial basket carried around by UFOs. There’s way more evidence for the UFO ETH (ExtraTerrestrial Hypothesis) than for God. God hasn’t been seen (for at least 4000 years or so), tracked on radar, left physical trace marks on our environment, nor has He been filmed or photographed.
But some of these New Age Themed UFO societies can be hazardous to your health. The Heaven’s Gate group in 1997 were going to hitch a ride with this UFO concealed in the Hale-Bopp Comet as it swung around the Sun. There was one catch, however – to get from terrestrial ground zero, to Hale-Bopp, you had to do yourself a fatal mischief. According to the “M*A*S*H” theme song, suicide may be painless but it is still suicide. [There have been several other instances of mass suicide among the membership of religious cults, the Branch Davidians (Waco, Texas) and followers of Jim Jones and his People’s Temple (Guyana), but these had nothing to do with aliens.]
Other New Age themed UFO societies are more harmless to your physical health (not sure about your mental health however), like the Unarius [Educational Foundation] Society; the Etherean Society; the Aetherius Society, and dozens more, both major and minor.
It has got to be said that bona fide UFO investigators dislike these cultists for muddying the UFO waters and turning what should be serious study into a joke within the larger general community. Riding with your racially pure white ‘space brothers’ in their UFOs to visit their home worlds (which either no one has ever heard of or which scientists have proven to be hellish enough, way beyond incapable of supporting complex life) and delivering their New Age words of cosmic truth and wisdom is going to generate a lot more column inches in the tabloids than serious investigations will in the major metropolitan press.
Fortunately, these contactees and the New Age contactee movement were primarily a 1950’s fad. While there are those still around, they now have little real impact or influence today. However, their damage has been done, and the UFO field can not totally shake off their immense contribution to the UFO ‘silly season’ ‘giggle’ factor.
In general, however, serious UFO investigators who take the phenomena, well, seriously, most certainly do not worship whatever aliens, if any, may pilot said UFOs. I’ve never seen any evidence that UFO investigators are any different from the general population in terms of religious affiliation or church attendance.
However, part of the overall perception problem doesn’t lie solely with UFO contactees spreading the word about their ‘space brothers’. Some of the ‘aliens as the new religion’ perception must rest with some of the more serious scientist ‘alien hunters’ who seek out new intelligent life forms and their civilizations.
Communication With Extraterrestrials
Some of these scientists are partly to blame for this mythology citing as a rational, caught up in their enthusiasm, for their SETI quest, that contact and communication with extraterrestrial intelligence could lead to a Golden Age where we would be given the Encyclopaedia Galactica, the cure for cancer, and pollution-free energy. They would, by being their own best example, show us how to avoid war and nuclear Armageddon; give us the ways and means of achieving global peace and disarmament, double balderdash, squared (well, sort of). It’s almost an (albeit slightly tuned down) version of the messages contactees spread.
Personally, I don’t think aliens are going to lift us up by our bootstraps, we’ve got to do that, all by our lonesome. So, whether it is contactees and New Age UFO Cult societies or SETI scientists promoting the salivation-from-the-skies ideas to help justify their work, it’s, IMHO, pure pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking.
What of the general public? There is widespread interest in and belief in the existence of, advanced extraterrestrial life. Does that mean that millions are leaving their religion; not attending church, instead setting up telescopes at home or go UFO hunting? The truth may be out there, but I seriously doubt its any threat to either organised religion or people’s supernaturally-themed religious convictions.
Okay, so balderdash (well sort of) aside, yes, there is some truth to the perception that belief in aliens can be taken as a form of religion, well quasi-religion, but I see no real evidence that this is in any way detracting from societies’ established supernatural-based religions. I imagine many individuals believe in both aliens and God. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Some people believe in God, not aliens. Others, like me, suggest aliens are infinitely more probable viability than a supernatural creator God.
Finally, any organisation trying to claim aliens as the centrepiece of their ‘church’ is going to find getting those standard religious tax concessions rather hard to come by!
At least believers in aliens don’t have a history of imprisoning, torturing, murdering or executing, exiling, ridiculing, etc. those who have interests and beliefs more focused in a down-to-earth direction. Alien hunters don’t demand you have some of your private parts snipped off or that you have to observe various foods, dress, time of day/day of the week, sexual or other personal relationship ritual do’s and don’ts. SETI scientists have no ‘thou shall or shall not’ demands; ufologists demand no animal sacrifices or attendance at Sunday weekly UFO conventions. There is no such thing as an infallible alien bible. No hymns are sung in praise of ET. You don’t have to, every hour on the hour, face towards the constellation of Orion, bow down, and give thanks to the Chancellor of the Klingon Empire for your very existence. And nobody wears the Southern Cross on a chain around their neck.
SETI scientists don’t engage in a Holy War against UFO buffs or vice versa; ancient astronauts enthusiasts don’t hold an Inquisition against SETI scientists or vice versa; UFO buffs don’t have Crusades against those who like the idea that ancient aliens assisted a fledging human race thousands of years ago or vice versa. Alien hunters may not always be one happy family, but compared to organised religion(s)… also, alien hunters don’t go doorknocking trying to convert the unbelievers!
Alas, alien hunters won’t get to heaven (not that there is such a place) by discovering ET, but at least they won’t go to hell (no such place either) if they don’t! There is no 11th Commandment along the lines of ‘Thou shall seek out my other creations among the firmament’; nor a 12th, ‘Thou shall not worship my other creations among the firmament’!
Absolutely finally, if aliens are the new religion, well, they have light years left to travel before overtaking God, and Company as a force to be reckoned with.
But wait, an afterthought. Popularity isn’t the same thing as worship or belief, but in terms of perceptions of the God vs. alien possibilities, despite church attendance, we probably spend more time interacting with aliens than with God, if one interacts with God at all. Of course, unless you are a professional astrobiologist or SETI scientist or an avid ufologist or one of those UFO abductees, you probably don’t interact with real aliens (or the concept of real aliens) either. However, over the course of a period of time, we tend to be exposed more to the concept of extraterrestrials than things Biblical; more often than not through films and TV shows. Certainly the amount of shelf space in book stores and libraries (home as well as public) devoted to aliens (usually sci-fi in the main) vis-a-vis the section devoted to religion, well, more people buy and read sci-fi than study their, or any other, religion. I know the Beatles got into hot water for claiming they were more popular than JC, but I’d bet a TV series featuring aliens gets higher ratings than one featuring Christianity.
Curran, Douglas; In Advance of the Landing: Folk Concepts of Outer Space; Abbeville Press, New York; 1985:
Lewis, James R. (Editor); The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds; State University of New York Press, Albany, New York; 1995:
Reece, Gregory L.; UFO Religion: Inside Flying Saucer Cults and Culture; I.B. Tauris, London; 2007:
Thompson, Keith; Angels and Aliens: UFOs and the Mythic Imagination; Addison-Wesley, Reading, Massachusetts; 1991:
John Prytz – About the Author:
Science librarian; retired.