Well, this was bound to happen. Ancient Aliens pundit William Henry has seized upon the Times of India’s credulous report that cave paintings in north-central India are 10,000 years old and depict space aliens. There is much reason to be skeptical of the Times’ claims, as this French-language article shared with us by Irna makes quite plain. The cave paintings in question are not newly discovered and are in fact listed in a tourist brochure for the region, and have been investigated since 1910. Local authorities believe some of the paintings are relatively recent (compared to 10,000 years old), and depict scenes from the life of Rama.
Henry notes that one of the cave images colors a group of humanlike shapes yellow and therefore he compares these shamanic images to the “golden robes” of the Anunnaki and the “robes of light” of Jesus Christ. He asks whether these beings are proof of alien encounters in the distant past. I am not aware of any Mesopotamian text that identifies the Anunnaki as wearing golden robes, though in the “Descent of Ishtar” the Anunnaki sit on golden thrones. Nor is there any indication that the yellow Indian figures (whose heads are yellow, too) are wearing robes.
This brings me to a closely related problem. Henry, as we just saw, compared ancient astronauts to Jesus, and it stands to reason that this idea must have occurred to others as well. Erich von Däniken famously exempted Jesus from his ancient astronaut theory, but others are less accommodating of religious sensibilities.
Jeff Bennington is a science fiction writer and self-described Christian who just self-published Alien: Examining Jesus Christ in a UFO Universe. Of the content of his book, I really don’t care. It’s not an actual investigation into ancient aliens but rather a work of apologetics and scriptural exegesis. It contains little beyond Bible quotes and references to fringe literature and Christian apologetics. Perhaps the most interesting claim is Bennington’s firm belief that demons can’t be driving flying saucers or anally probing abductees because “God simply does not afford wicked spirits those types of powers and there is no evidence that demons have the ability to create or convey the image of a craft…” Instead, it has something to do with fallen angels. Of course it does! Damn those Watchers! In short: He thinks UFOs are actually angels whizzing about in the sky (both good and evil), and that alien abductions are tortures conducted by the fallen angels, which can be avoided with sufficient faith in Jesus.
But what really interests me is Bennington’s reasons for writing the book. They tell us everything we need to know about the pernicious way fringe claims infiltrate our culture.
Bennington tells us that he was shocked to discover that Ancient Aliens remains on the air after six seasons and that despite America being dominated by “a Judeo-Christian faith,” millions of Americans have fallen into the “ever-growing cult culture” of ancient astronauts. Bennington realized that the ancient astronaut theory had begun to make viewers question whether there is a God and whether humans were truly created by the divine rather than lizard people from Mars. “Are we loved by a divine entity, or are we nothing more than a cosmic DNA experiment?” he asks.
Before this book, Bennington was best known as a self-published novelist. He published a series of eBook supernatural thrillers, and in the course of writing them he began to research extraterrestrials as a plot point. He started with Wikipedia and cable television documentaries like Ancient Aliens and moved on to fringe books, particularly conspiracy-oriented tomes. He says that these sources inspired him to devote “hundreds of hours” to UFO conspiracies and alien abductions, and the more he watched and read in fringe sources the more he became convince that “something is really going on.” His research eventually led him to the Anunnaki, and he found himself reading a book on Mesopotamian religion. Here I groaned aloud as Bennington admitted his own anti-intellectual attitudes: “that’s when I finally hit rock bottom. I mean, who wants to study Mesopotamian history?” I know, it’s not like it’s relevant to the Bible or anything.
Bennington said that he was not able to continue writing fiction until he had “resolved the UFO issue” and discovered what flying saucers really are. “The problem was that I needed to understand how and if Jesus Christ fits into our UFO universe—not for my [thriller] series—but for me on a personal, on a spiritual level.”
Nevertheless, Bennington confesses that Ancient Aliens and fringe history books “convinced” him that ancient astronaut theorists “had the answers,” especially when he found that what he heard on Ancient Aliens seemed to be confirmed by the ancient astronaut theorists’ own books and the myths and legends that they referenced on TV. This, in turn, led him to watch more episodes of Ancient Aliens until he was hanging on their every word, even though he noticed that some of the ideas seemed to contradict others. “My near-baptism in the ancient alien religion was shocking to my faith to say the least. I was pulled into the cult—hook, line and sinker.” He immediately started work on a book to do what even Erich von Däniken would not do—to “prove” that Jesus Christ was a space alien. But as he wrote, he had another revelation—one that allowed him to save his Christian faith while still accepting the ancient astronaut theory’s evidence, though not its conclusions. If the “aliens” were really angels, he could square the circle, reconcile the opposites, and have his cake and eat it, too.
To all of my critics who say that Ancient Aliens is just entertainment and that no one takes it seriously, you now have a 218-page rebuttal. The author was seduced by madness, unable to tell the difference between facts and opinions, truth and lies. And all because the TV fed him lies that his “research” in fringe books seemed to confirm. It becomes a closed ecosystem of mutually-reinforcing ideas, seductive and convincing even though Bennington recognized that the ideas contradicted each other! It simply didn’t matter. Accepting one fringe idea (ancient astronauts) made all of them (alien abductions, secret underground military UFO hangars, conspiracy theories, etc.) plausible.
Bennington’s book is valuable, but not for the reason he thinks. It is eloquent testimony to the impact of belief, the seductive power of perceived authority, and the effort that goes into interpreting and reinterpreting evidence to fit the most emotionally satisfying ideology.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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