What should Christians know as the 1970s craze regains visibility?
If you like chasing intellectual rabbit trails, here are five questions to start your hunting:
- Did pilot Kenneth Arnold (d. 1984) really witness flying saucers near Mount Rainier, Washington, on June 24, 1947?
- Did a UFO crash in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947?
- Were Betty and Barney Hill abducted by aliens on Sept. 19, 1961, while returning to the U.S. from a vacation in Canada?
- Was Whitley Strieber captured by aliens on Dec. 26, 1985, and subjected to experiments as recounted in his bestseller Communion (1987)?
- Was Erich von Däniken right in his 1968 bestseller Chariots of the Gods that ancient visitors raided our planet thousands of years ago?
Believe it or not, unidentified flying objects appear in the narratives of most major world religions including Hinduism (alleged UFO stories in ancient Hindu texts), Judaism (mainly related to the book of Ezekiel) and Islam (see UFOs in the Quran by Abdul Aziz Khan, Strategic Books, 2008).
Some evangelical Christian writers (Hal Lindsey and Bob Larson, for example) argue UFOs are real, but demonic. From this perspective Guy Malone (RoswellMission.org) and Joe Jordan (AlienResistance.org) provide spiritual warfare instruction against the demonic forces influencing people to believe in UFOs. Star Trek: The Next Generation had the motto Resistance Is Futile but these two Christian missionaries to the UFO culture have their own motto – Resistance Is Fertile.
Many new religions include UFO ideology, abduction accounts, alien visits and alleged revelations from extraterrestrial beings.
Other Christians argue belief in UFOs is irrational and untrue, based on lies, rumours, gullibility, greed, superstition, hypnosis, dreams, etc. In this vein Christian skeptics on UFO stories often draw on debunking research from rationalists like Joe Nickell (SkepticalInquirer.org), Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan.
Despite the demonic angle and rationalist doubts about UFOs, there is no decline in beliefs in UFOs and reports of UFO sightings. Canadians even have their own UFO Survey every year, and data show increasing interest and rising claims of UFO sightings and abductions.
Why should Christians care? Because many new religions include UFO ideology, abduction accounts, alien visits and alleged revelations from extraterrestrial beings. Scholars like Ben Zeller, Christopher Partridge, Susan Palmer, Gordon Melton, James Lewis, Joseph Laycock and Dianna Tumminia have done enormous research on these contemporary groups, a long list that includes Share International, Scientology, Unarius, the Raelians (based in Montreal) and the Nation of Islam.
Christians should also care because some UFO religions are deadly (think of the Heaven’s Gate suicides in San Diego in 1997), and of course other religions draw people away from the gospel. Some may be surprised to hear the name of Jesus is often used to support UFO-related groups, leaders, teachings or practices. But of course, the New Testament does warn against another gospel (Galatians 1:8) and another Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:4).
(Some may also be surprised to hear C. S. Lewis, the famous Christian apologist and science fiction author, warned in 1958 about the potential for spiritual catastrophe if we earthlings ever meet created beings from other worlds. We would infect them with our fallen nature.)
UFOs and related issues are topics to approach with care. There is a danger of spiritual depression in travelling through the falsehoods in the UFO world and the claims about ancient astronauts purportedly found in Genesis 6 and Ezekiel’s visions. On such matters and overall biblical interpretation, I highly recommend Michael S. Heiser. His book The Unseen Realm (Lexham, 2015) is especially important as is his contribution to the documentary Ancient Aliens Debunked.
Despite negatives, there are three positives related to studying extraterrestrial claims and UFO religions.
First, it is always great to see materialism alone does not satisfy humanity’s search for meaning, enchantment and life beyond death. Remember the X Files poster: "I Want to Believe."
Second, it is inspiring to read stories of how God has freed people trapped in UFO religions or other New Age paradigms. Read, for example, reports from the ministries of Malone and Jordan, mentioned earlier, and the testimony of Doreen Virtue in her recent book Deceived No More: How Jesus Led Me Out of the New Age and Into His Word (Thomas Nelson, 2020).
Third and most important, virtually all UFO religions speak highly of Jesus, a rather ironic testimony to His singular greatness as the way, the truth and the life.
James A. Beverley is research professor at Tyndale University. His Nelson’s Illustrated Guide to Religions (Nelson, 2009) covers UFO religions and many others. It has just been released in paperback. Read more of these columns at www.FaithToday.ca/ReligionWatch.