UFO religions—or should they now be called UAP religions?—have long been of interest to scholars of religion. A recent piece on Religion Dispatches titled “With Release of Pentagon Report, UFO Narrative Belief System Is Suddenly Supported by Military Witness Testimonies,” by Diana Pasulka, explores this. Anyone following mainstream media is perhaps experiencing a bit of whiplash on the topic since, prior to admission of interest by the government, the official stance was to ridicule the entire topic. That’s the reason what were long known as Unidentified Flying Objects now have to be called Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. Since a government can never admit it made mistakes, it simply changes the terminology. My interest here, however, is in the connection with religion.
I’ve explored the connection between horror and religion from time to time—ahem—and so it is natural enough to wonder about the relationship between religion and UAPs. (Or should I stick with UFOs?) The two have some commonalities. Initially, both deal with the unknown. Indeed, the word monster comes from a root denoting an omen, or a revelation. Something isn’t a revelation unless it’s been keep hidden. So with UFOs. The government’s long interest, which had been somewhat successfully hidden, allowed for a reveal. Religions, however, tend to thrive on hidden things. The monotheistic religions, for example, claim to inform us about what God has chosen to reveal about (generally) himself. Even today when pushed into a theological corner, believers will appeal to mystery. Both monsters and UFOs live in mystery.
Science prefers things out in the light. Is it any wonder that scientists are reluctant to apply themselves and their hard-earned credentials to the UAP problem? Those of us in religious studies generally have little to lose. It’s not like we’ve got prestige on our side, or some billion-dollar grant riding on our reputation. We can afford to take a look and monsters and other unknowns and see how they trigger the religious impulse. Pasulka’s article has more to do with credibility. UFO religions have long struggled with being considered outsider belief systems. UFOs were publicly ridiculed, so any religion that focused on them was, by extension, laughable. I’ve long believed that ridicule serves little purpose when it comes to belief systems. Making fun of a mystery is less common than shaming those who believe in what we’ve been told definitely isn’t real. Until suddenly it becomes real. Is there any question why religions develop when mysteries remain?