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With the Christmas holiday now behind us, the last few days of the year bring thoughts of the past and the future. At the end of this week, I’ll post my annual year in review going over some of the lowlights from 2017 in fringe history and ancient astronautics. But in the meantime, I thought I would discuss a couple of sidelights that emerged this past week in regard to the recent media reports detailing Sen. Harry Reid’s appropriation of $22 million in taxpayer money to fund a Pentagon office dedicated to giving money to billionaire Robert Bigelow to study UFOs.
The first comes to us from the New York Times, one of the three publications to break the story earlier this month. In a column published this weekend, conservative pundit Ross Douthat discussed Erich von Däniken and Jacques Vallée in what must be one of the first times that the paper of record has treated the ancient astronaut theory as a serious inquiry into the human imagination. Douthat doubts von Däniken, but he is quite taken with Vallée’s claim (not particularly original to him) that UFOs are a modern manifestation of the same human imaginary world that created fairies and other supernatural beings.
… Which is not, of course, to say that they reflect the genuine existence of some fifth-dimensional fairyland, from whence morally ambiguous beings emerge to play tricks upon our race. Certainly for most sensible secular scientific-minded people, to say that our era’s close encounters are of the same type as encounters with the unseelie court of faerie is to say that they are all equally imaginary, proceeding from internalized fancies and hallucinatory substances and late-night wrong turns, plus some common evolved subconscious that fears shape-shifting tricksters in modern Nevada no less than in the mists around Ben Bulben.
Douthat is too kind to Vallée, glossing over the latter’s claims about interdimensional beings and a vast conspiracy of “messengers of deception” to control your thoughts. But Douthat agrees with me that the ancient astronaut theory is one form of a culture-wide search for a new form of religion that can restore something that was lost over the past centuries. Where we disagree is that Douthat, a Christian of rather orthodox faith, finds Christianity and the Christian God to be the true answer to the vaguely demonic, untrustworthy UFO religion: “So the glamour of U.F.O.s, like the glamour of faerie, is an understandable object of curiosity but a dangerous object for any kind of faith.”
The second sidelight comes to us from George Knapp’s interview with Harry Reid. George Knapp is the Las Vegas journalist who worked for Robert Bigelow for years and sparked Reid’s interest in UFOs by giving him a book about his investigation of the paranormal at Bigelow’s Skinwalker Ranch. In an interview with Reid, Knapp says that he heard from Pentagon officials that the UFO program was canceled in part due to “fear based on religious beliefs of those who felt UFOs might be satanic.” Knapp then asked Reid if that was true:
KNAPP: Did you ever hear that? Opposition that maybe this is something evil?
We have come a long way from the 1950s, when UFOs were considered proof of angels flying by in divine chariots. Now the Christian UFO view is dominated by the allegation that space aliens are really demons trying to deceive us away from the Christian God by casting doubt on the supernatural and the divine. I can’t decide whether it is more upsetting that evangelical Christians would rather believe that demons drive flying saucers because they can’t fathom either that aliens could be real or, more logically, that UFOs are not in fact flying ships piloted by strange beings, or that evangelical Christian extremists have so penetrated the military that their illogical prejudices determine government policy.
This weekend Nick Redfern interpreted the above as a sidelong reference to the almost certainly fictitious Collins Elite demon-hunting UFO research group that he has consistently promoted for the better part of the last decade without providing evidence of its existence. Redfern believes that the Pentagon is studying demon-aliens (or, in his parlance, “nonhuman entities”) to learn how they plan to steal our souls. If Reid in any way endorses this nonsense, it is a good thing he is out of office.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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