RELIGIONS FROM OUTER SPACE:

Or, THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE;

or yet, I WANT TO BELIEVE.

 

In the film we see today, we encounter a very common theme in modern new religions, namely the idea of UFOs, other planets, and visitors from outer space. In various forms, these ideas surface in all sorts of new religions including Scientology, Heaven's Gate, the nation of Islam, and the Urantia movement (check out the relevant sections in MYSTICS AND MESSIAHS). The film in question looks at a specific question - what evidence is there for alien encounters and abductions - but I want you to view it more broadly. We meet all sorts of people who accept these ideas: to what extent should we see them as followers of a specifically religious movement? There are two approaches I want to stress particularly:

*Note the underlying intellectual framework. What we are told is that the material world we see is only one narrow part of the universe, and the real stuff is Out There, in other worlds inhabited by super-powerful beings, who might be good or evil. These beings visit us occasionally, take ordinary people across to their realms, and share the mysteries from on high. It's the other world that constitutes the higher reality. Doesn't this all sound exactly like a religious myth? What would past generations have called the beings who do the things we see attributed to these creatures: Fairies and elves? Demons and angels? Gods?

*Also note the support groups we meet: compare these with religious groups, AND with the therapy groups we saw in the film on ritual abuse. Note how weird ideas gain strength from being shared in a supportive setting, and how the ideas are passed on from one person to another, like a virus. What would Marc Galanter say about all this?

*Observe the use of evidence throughout, and the parallels to the structures of religion and religious faith. Though people claim to speak in the language of science and psychology, the basic argument is that "regular" science is not to be trusted, that skepticism prevents one seeing the truth, and that a few hardy souls out there have access to the Great Truths.

*Are there analogies between the arguments made by the respective groups of True believers we have met recently, namely the Ritual Abuse freaks and the UFO-logists? What are they? Think especially of the role of children in each mythology.

*If you believe in the UFO system, what do you DO? Do you just read books? How do you interact with other believers? Are there rituals or collective performances? How does a belief become a movement?

*If you are a believer, how does popular culture challenge or reinforce your beliefs? Does it indeed offer more support for UFO-logy than for conventional religion?

*What should we make of the constant references to sexual contacts between humans and Higher Beings? (not just sex, but interbreeding)? What does this tell us about the mythology?

*What do we observe about the race and gender of contactees and believers? How does this compare to ritual abuse believers?

*The incidents that set off the mythology (Roswell etc) happened in 1947. What was it about this time that made people especially likely to accept these tales. The mythos then received a new boost in the mid-late 1970s, the era of Close Encounters. Why? Why did the lovable aliens of Close Encounters and ET give way to the real nasties of Independence Day (1996)?

*How much of what we see reflects deliberate fakery and hoaxing?