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Archive for May, 2010

In the last post, we moved into the fourth element to a Christian fundamentalist view of UFOs and aliens (i.e., that UFOs that are not man-made or other natural phenomena are demonic and alleged alien life forms are demonic). The four elements are:

1. Abductee testimony of the forcible trauma of their experience.

2. The similarity of abductee testimony to early Christian (and otherwise) reports of demonization.

3. The similarity of abductee testimony to the events described in Genesis 6:1-4 (and other ancient Jewish texts).

4. A belief that the events of Genesis 6 (and so, an alien presence) is a specific touchpoint in New Testament teaching about the Second Coming (or, for many, the notion of a rapture — which is not the same as what is broadly thought of as the Second Coming).

We started into number 4, which gets into end times (“eschatology”) by providing some links to a few short readings that overviewed eschatological terms like “millennium” and “rapture.” I included this thought in that discussion:

I think it’s fair to say (my own experience here) that most Christians who are involved in ufology are literal millennialists and hold to the pre-trib rapture view. I’m sure there are exceptions, but the vast majority I know fall into those categories.

That brings us up to speed. Basically, most “Christian fundamentalists” are pretribulation and premillennial in their eschatology. Here’s a nice visual to illustrate that view (from the ESV study bible website):

I sort of lamented where to start in my analysis of all this in the last post (“where do I even begin?”). The reason is because (as some of you know) I don’t like any of the eschatological systems in Christian theology. They all have strengths and weaknesses, and some glaring weakness at that. Many pre-trib, pre-millers talk like their view is self evident, as though anyone who just reads the Bible at face value will come away with this view. That just isn’t true. Having taught all this sort of stuff for fifteen years, I know it isn’t true. There are real problems with this view (and all the others, as I noted). At the risking of over-generalizing (and the patience of the reader), the reasons why you should be *very* cautious about embracing the teachings of any self-assured prophecy teacher are twofold:

(1) All eschatological views derive from a set of presuppositions brought *to* biblical prophetic texts. This is inevitable because the interpreter must make decisions about the meaning or trajectory of certain Old Testament ideas before he/she ever gets to the New Testament, and because there are also decisions to be made about how the relationship between the Old and New Testaments “work.”

(2) 99% (and I don’t make that as an exaggeration) of all prophecy “experts” in popular evangelicals are doing their work in the English Bible.  That means they have little or no appreciation for:

A. How an interpretation can turn on a manuscript reading;

B. The fact that a grammatical point in a key verse can legitimately be nuanced in several ways;

C. That the New Testament writer is often *not* quoting the Hebrew text of the Old Testament when quoting the Old Testament — the text is often the Greek Septuagint, or (frankly) something the author is quoting from memory;

D. That prophecy is *not* always fulfilled “literally” [i.e., the ideas in the Old Testament have one-to-one correspondences in fulfillment in the New Testament]. If we look carefully (in the Hebrew and Greek texts, not the English), we notice that prophetic fulfillments are declared by New Testament on the basis of analogy, or typology, or echoes and cycles of partial fulfillment.

What does this mean for UFO religions and the Christian fundamentalist view of UFOs and aliens?  In a nutshell, it means that connecting ETs and UFOs with things like the rapture is a very tenuous thing at best. If this view fails biblically, then a lot of what is tied to it would also be incorrect.

How to help readers realize the uncertain nature of this prophetic viewpoint is the problem. I don’t want to turn this into a theology blog (I have one of those). I’ve actually been blogging through the problems with eschatology over on The Naked Bible, but I don’t want to direct you there just yet. Let’s start more simply. Here is a post that’s a bit old that overviews the presuppositional problems / issues I alluded to above in #1. I’ll give readers a chance to digest that before guiding you through more detailed posts on presuppositions in end times viewpoints.

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So far we’ve covered the first three of the four elements to a Christian fundamentalist view of UFOs and aliens (i.e., that UFOs that are not man-made or other natural phenomena are demonic and alleged alien life forms are demonic). The four were:

1. Abductee testimony of the forcible trauma of their experience.

2. The similarity of abductee testimony to early Christian (and otherwise) reports of demonization.

3. The similarity of abductee testimony to the events described in Genesis 6:1-4 (and other ancient Jewish texts).

4. A belief that the events of Genesis 6 (and so, an alien presence) is a specific touchpoint in New Testament teaching about the Second Coming (or, for many, the notion of a rapture — which is not the same as what is broadly thought of as the Second Coming).

We need to start into number 4 now, but that one will take us a while to navigate.  To get the ball rolling, those of you unfamiliar with evangelical jargon related to end times need a primer. To that end, here are links to an academic explanation of two key ideas: the millennium and the rapture. I’d like to offer the quick start version here, though.

First, “millennium” is a word used in conjunction with discussion of the earthly kingdom of God. Some Christians think that this kingdom is to be equated with the Church itself (Church = all true believers in Jesus). Those Christians would therefore say the kingdom of God is already present on earth via the existence of the Church. The only end time thing we’re waiting for is the return of Jesus to initiate the eternal state, which may or may not be a literal new heaven and new earth (it may just be in “heaven”). These Christians are often called “amillennialists” since they don’t buy the next view. Other Christians think “millennium” means a literal 1000 year reign of Jesus on earth that is yet future. They would be the real “millennialists.” They are divided into two groups: premillennialists (Jesus will return to earth and then stay around for 1000 years as King) and post-millennialists (the kingdom on earth is literal, but begins before Jesus comes back – it sort of invites his coming). People are therefore to make earthly life look like the kingdom of God and then Jesus will decide to come back and finish the 1000 year reign on earth. Postmillenialism isn’t that popular today, but it had a strong following in the late 19th and earthly 20th centuries. Two world wars kind of rained on that parade, though.

Second, most premillennialists, those waiting for Jesus to return to initiate a literal earthly kingdom, also believe in a rapture. As the article at the link will detail, there are four views of the rapture. I won’t repeat them here. Basically, Most premillers believe that the millennium is immediately preceded by a seven year period of hell on earth (whole or in part) called the Tribulation period. They believe that true believers will be removed from earth sometime during that period and then return with Jesus to set up the earthly millennial kingdom. The most well known of these views is the “pre-tribulational rapture” (think of the Left Behind novels), which teaches that the Church is removed from earth (raptured) at the beginning of the seven year Tribulation. Seven years then pass (that’s where the Antichrist becomes known and terrorizes Jews and new believers on earth), Jesus returns [note here that a rapture and the "second coming" are two separate events in this view], kills the Antichrist, and the 1000 year literal kingdom is installed. Raptured believers return with Jesus to rule with him in the millennium. After the millennium, Satan is released for “a short time,” tries to defeat Jesus, and then is cast into the lake of fire. This is followed by the eternal state which (depending on one’s view) occurs on a new earth or it’s somewhere else off-planet (“heaven”).

Whew!

I think it’s fair to say (my own experience here) that most Christians who are involved in ufology are literal millennialists and hold to the pre-trib rapture view. I’m sure there are exceptions, but the vast majority I know fall into those categories.

So how does this relate to UFOs and aliens? Simple (on one level). Jesus’ longest sermon in the New Testament is in Matthew 24 (longer than the Sermon on the Mount). That chapter is called the Olivet Discourse (Jesus is on the Mount of Olives). It’s all about the signs of the end times and his return (Jesus is asked about this and then goes into the discourse). Part of the Olivet Discourse reads as follows (Matt 24:36-44):

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. 37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. 42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

The boldface portion is the issue. What was happening in “the days of Noah”?  Why, the sons of God were cohabiting with human women and spawning nephilim. So Jesus must be saying *that* activity will happen again just before he returns.

I hope you get the picture. The dominant Christian fundamentalist view of all this is that, just before Jesus returns, we’ll see demonic beings (fallen sons of God – see my last post) cohabiting sexually with human women (= alleged alien abductions) with the result that hybrid offspring will be produced. As an aside, this reading of Matthew 24 is considered to be supported by Daniel 2:43 (Daniel 2 is a prophetic chapter), which has the cryptic phrase that in the end times “they will mingle themselves with the seed of men.”

For me, this is one of those “where do I even begin?” things. There are so many issues / problems/ logical leaps here that it’s hard to know where to start. I’ll ponder that for the next post.

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To review (again) the purpose of this thread, I suggested at the outset that there were four aspects to the Christian fundamentalist view of UFOs and aliens (i.e., that UFOs that are not man-made or other natural phenomena are demonic and alleged alien life forms are demonic). They were:

1. Abductee testimony of the forcible trauma of their experience.

2. The similarity of abductee testimony to early Christian (and otherwise) reports of demonization.

3. The similarity of abductee testimony to the events described in Genesis 6:1-4 (and other ancient Jewish texts).

4. A belief that the events of Genesis 6 (and so, an alien presence) is a specific touchpoint in New Testament teaching about the Second Coming (or, for many, the notion of a rapture — which is not the same as what is broadly thought of as the Second Coming).

In the previous two posts (here and here) I overviewed the first two items. That brings us to the third: The similarity of abductee testimony to the events described in Genesis 6:1-4 (and other ancient Jewish texts). The passage reads (ESV):

1 When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

This passage really is a focus of the Christian fundamentalist view of the alien abduction phenomenon, not UFOs per se. As such, that’s where my focus will be. One other note. This whole discussion is inherently theological / metaphysical. It presumes the existence of a spirit world that can interact with our own. As such, there is nothing empirical about the discussion.  If you are a secular materialist, the whole treatment will sound very odd. Just bear with it (but if you’re honest with quantum and multi-verse theory, you should have no theoretical problem with it).

Correlating the alien abduction phenomenon with Genesis 6:1-4 depends almost entirely on taking the literal view of the events described in the passage. That is, there is no room for the “Sethite View” of the passage (the sons of God = the godly male line of Seth; the daughters of men = the ungodly females from the family of Cain).

The overt sexism of the view notwithstanding, this view has held sway in Christianity since the time of Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD). Augustine  cannot be credited with its invention, but he is certainly the major figure promoting it.

The Sethite view was not interpretation of the ancient Jewish community or the first few centuries of the early Christian church. The original interpretation within the Old and New Testament, the Second Temple Judaism, and the first few Christian centuries was that the sons of God were divine (angelic) beings, and that those beings, having assumed human flesh, had sexual relations with human women. The story (and more broadly, the idea) of divine-human cohabitation is a very ancient one, shared in some form by practically all the ancient Mediterranean cultures, and even cultures outside that region. For those interested, the history of interpretation of this passage has been chronicled in two recent scholarly works:

Fallen Angels and the History of Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Enochic Literature (Cambridge)

Origin of Evil Spirits: The Reception of Genesis 6:1-4 in Early Jewish Literature (Mohr-Siebeck)

There are a number of correspondences between the Genesis 6:1-4 narrative and the alien abduction narrative–the witness testimony of those who claim to have been abducted by aliens. Readers should understand as we look at these correspondences that the Christian fundamentalist view is *not* based entirely on comparing alien abductee testimony with the biblical version of Genesis 6:1-4. Rather, abductee testimony is compared to both the biblical description and other ancient Jewish re-retellings of the Genesis 6:1-4 episode, most often that in the book of 1 Enoch. Let’s start with the biblical material’s points of correspondence:

1. Both narratives have strong sexual content.

2. Both narratives involve sexual content between humans and non-human intelligences.

3. In both narratives, unusual or noteworthy offspring are the result (nephilim; hybrid children).

It may surprise readers, but that’s it. The biblical version tells us about the cohabitation. Despite what many say, there is no hint in Genesis 6:1-4 of certain ideas that one will find in Christian fundamentalist comparisons of Genesis 6:1-4 and alien abduction. Here’s what isn’t in Genesis:

1. We are never told the cohabitation was evil.

2. We are never told the sons of God were fallen or evil.

3. We are never told that what happened was in any way related to Satan.

4. We are never told that the cohabitation was what precipitated the great flood of Noah. Rather, the blame is placed squarely un humanity (Gen 6:5).

5. We are never told the sexual relationships were violent or against the will of the women involved.

6. We are never told the offspring are evil.

7. We are never told why the nephilim were considered great and renowned (or notorious).

So why the sinister perspective? The answer is simply that there is material outside Genesis–some in the Old Testament, some in the New Testament, and a good deal outside the New Testament in Jewish religious literature, that witnesses to nearly all these items. In other parts of the Old Testament, the nephilim are explicitly linked to later giant clans who are the enemies of God’s people, Israel (e.g., Numbers 13:30-33). It is the New Testament (2 Peter 2 and Jude) that explain these angelic beings sinned in what they did, making the act a clear transgression of divine will. It is 1 Enoch (and a few other texts) that links this episode to the origin of demons. 1 Enoch explains that God had to order the nephilim giants killed, and when they were eliminated, their spirits were the demons. The fallen angels responsible for the original deed also sinned by teaching humankind a range of forbidden arts and technologies. This is also cast in the story as a violation of divine will in that it allowed humanity access to divine knowledge. This is a familiar theme in biblical theology–that, while God’s intent is for humans to be like him (his imager and co-ruler), God has his own plan for making humanity like himself–humans must not seek “to be as gods/God” apart from the plan of God.

Alien abductees regularly receive messages that echo some of these items. Here are some familiar ideas that can be found in virtually any compilation of abductee testimony:

1. The goal of producing hybrid offspring is to save humankind through greater intelligence, or vault humanity upward in its evolution.

2. The goal of the sexual harvesting from abductees is to study humanity and make preparations for a mutual co-existence. This co-existence will involve technological trade-offs.

3. Some abduction encounters report that the “procedures” are carried out by lesser beings, while superiors might be present. Some of these communicate sinister motives and care little about the abusive context. There is a sense of “wrongness” or evil with respect to the experience on the part of the human experiencer.

It isn’t hard to see the overlaps between the narratives. It could be said, with some justification, that alien abduction narratives are basically 21st century technological re-tellings of a Genesis 6-like scenario. That is precisely the Christian fundamentalist position. This measure of coherence is why I can agree with this perspective.

However, there are disconnects between the two. Some I have already hinted at. Others include:

1. In *all* the Judeo-Christian texts, the original offending sons of God (now fallen) were imprisoned until the end time. If they are under divine judgment, they cannot be doing this now.

2. It is assumed that the demons, the spirits of the dead nephilim, could repeat this activity. But that’s just it – that’s an assumption.

3. There is no New Testament passage or ancient Jewish text that matches the most frequent description of the alleged ET beings (or the alleged demons either). There is one text among the Dead Sea scrolls that might describe a Watcher (the Enochian term for the fallen sons of God and demonic spirits) as serpentine. The New Testament has no such description for a demon. There is the serpentine being of Genesis 3 (the Fall in Eden), but the Bible makes no explicit connection between Genesis 6 and Genesis 3. One point of possible congruence is 1 Enoch 19:1 and 2 Cor. 11:14, which, respectively, have the demonic spirits taking many appearances and Satan being able to appear as an angel of light. One can quibble about whether an alien grey looks serpentine, or whether it would anyone think of an angel, but Christian fundamentalists active in this arena would remind you that alien beings take a variety of appearances, at least one of which (the “Nordic”) would be quite parallel to descriptions of angels (in or outside of Genesis 6).

4. While abduction literature is replete with the aliens trying to either seduce or force humans to “want to be as gods,” both the Old Testament and New Testament do not tie this idea to Genesis 6. For sure it is viewed as evil, but this motivation is missing. 1 Enoch is the source that contains this element, and so there is a disconnect between the Bible and 1 Enoch here.

Other disconnects could be offered, but these are the major ones.

It should be apparent that, given the evil, abusive nature of the abduction experience I outlined in the first two posts, the points of overlap with Genesis 6, which all the ancient sources have as a transgression of the divide between humanity and the divine, are sufficient for many Christian fundamentalists to accept a correlation. The case is also propelled by the messages other contactees receive, which are often very anti-Christian in the sense that they directly pillage and redefine key points of Christian theology. This amalgamation, despite its disconnections, is what prompts a visceral, negative view of aliens from the interested Christian community.

Next up: how all this becomes part of end times for many Christian fundamentalists.

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To review the purpose of this thread, I suggested at the outset that there were four aspects to the Christian fundamentalist view of UFOs and aliens (i.e., that UFOs that are not man-made or other natural phenomena are demonic and alleged alien life forms are demonic). They were:

1. Abductee testimony of the forcible trauma of their experience.

2. The similarity of abductee testimony to early Christian (and otherwise) reports of demonization.

3. The similarity of abductee testimony to the events described in Genesis 6:1-4 (and other ancient Jewish texts).

4. A belief that the events of Genesis 6 (and so, an alien presence) is a specific touchpoint in New Testament teaching about the Second Coming (or, for many, the notion of a rapture — which is not the same as what is broadly thought of as the Second Coming).

In the first installment I focused on number one. Toward getting uninitiated readers up to speed, I produced six pages from the conference proceedings of the alien abduction conference at MIT (1992) detailing what abductees say happens to them, and how that testimony overlaps in multiple ways with testimony from people who were ritually or satanically abused. My point therefore was that, for the Christian fundamentalist this sort of trauma is evil. As such, its roots are satanic or demonic, and the presumed non-human perpetrators are demons, not beings from another planet.

I think it’s fair to say that anyone with a conscience or moral compass focused on human rights would agree that inflicting such harm and trauma on people is evil. One isn’t required to believe in God or supernatural beings to say that much. To this extent, the Christian fundamentalist and the atheist believer that alien abductions are really perpetrated by aliens could agree. Both could conclude what is done to people is evil.  Where they disagree is on who’s doing it. I think it must further be granted that, even if one doesn’t believe in God or the supernatural, it is perfectly reasonable that, given a belief in God and demons, the Christian fundamentalist view of the trauma is coherent and understandable. But someone who believes that abductions are really being performed by aliens would think *that* view is more coherent.

Both sides could, therefore, be willing to agree to disagree on the matter of who’s doing the traumatizing, so long as we call a spade a spade: evil is as evil does.  But the disagreement often does *not* end there. I have personally had people (researchers, abductees) try to convince me or someone else, where I was listening to the conversation, that the aliens who are traumatizing their victims aren’t really evil since “it was for our own good.” As many writers on abductions would point out, this is a common part of the abduction narrative.  Christian fundamentalists don’t buy this explanation or rationale. They consider it incoherent for several reasons.

1. What is done to people can’t be evil and not evil at the same time. If we accept “it’s for our own good” then we really cannot logically also maintain at the same time that it is evil. In other words, this is talking out of both sides of one’s mouth and disingenuous. The person who wants genuine extraterrestrials to be behind this bears the burden of proof to demonstrate that this traumatization of people isn’t evil.

2. If we grant that there are aliens, and that these aliens are vastly superior to us in technological terms, this excuse for their behavior evaporates. For example, would the alien defender really be willing to endorse the idea that causing pain *unnecessarily* to someone else is virtuous or ethical because “it’s for their own good”?  This rationale *might* be a coherent trajectory if there were no alternative. For instance, we could say that a doctor who had to remove the limb of a person pinned under a pile of rubble without anesthesia so as to extract that person and save his/her life before another imminent collapse was acting virtuously. But if that doctor didn’t need to do something so excruciating, we would not look at the decision with favor at all (putting it mildly). If the life (and limb) could have been saved another way, or anesthesia was available and there was time for it to take hold, it’s pretty obvious that the doctor’s decision to amputate without anesthesia would be viewed as cruel and perhaps sadistic –despite the life being saved.  As Jacques Vallee pointed out many years ago with respect to alien abductions, the narrative suffers from a significant technology gap. If intellectually superior beings could develop technology to traverse space (conquer the speed of light) or use wormholes (circumventing the speed of light problem), surely they could come up with a non-traumatic way of extracting sperm and eggs. Surely, if the goal is knowledge of human anatomy, they’d be smart enough (at least as smart as us) to use cadavers or imaging technology. The fact that they don’t suggests to the Christian fundamentalist that these beings are evil, and this kind of evil is best explained in demonic terms.

3. Another layer of this excuse is to compare what aliens are doing to humans with what humans do to animals (lesser life forms) for study. On the surface, the two sides appear analogous.  But are they?  Suppose a dog or cat or polar bear could communicate with the scientist through language or telepathy (or vice versa) so that the scientist could learn how traumatized the subject really was. Would the scientist continue? This brings us back to #2 above. While humans can’t communicate with animals this way, according to abductee testimony, there is plenty of communication back and forth between alien and abductee.  And so (back to #2) why doesn’t this vastly superior race either stop what it’s doing or find a better way to do it — equipped as it is with superior technology and plenty of experience learning from abductees how traumatizing the experience is? Again, the fact that they don’t suggests to the Christian fundamentalist that these beings are evil, and this kind of evil is best explained in demonic terms.

What it comes down to is that the alien can tell the victim how it’s all for their own good but if you put the alien on the witness stand and asked these questions you wouldn’t get a coherent answer. This is one reason (but not the only one) that the Christian fundamentalist presumes that these alleged aliens are evil to the core and demonic.

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I was interviewed for this article. It’s a pretty good one (nothing egregiously wrong, but it does make me sound like I have “misgivings” about the Christian presence in ufology – and I certainly do not). Good fodder for this blog since it focuses on Christian involvement (and many would use the term “fundamentalist” specifically) in the UFO subject.

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