Parsing the Paranormal

So UFO’s are coming up in the media narrative an awful lot lately. There have been those videos from the Navy, segments on 60 Minutes and Tucker Carlson, comments from Senators, and the like. Apparently the DOD is supposed to release a report on it sometime later this month as well. Whether this will be a conversational blip or a more deliberate paradigm change is anyone’s guess.  But it’s still worth asking “what if” sometimes.

Our habit is dismiss the UFO subject as crazy talk; and we get to do that because the subject currently has no practical relevance to most of us. But if it does end up taking a larger role in cultural conversation, then dismissal won’t be so easy, and “crazy” isn’t a good explanation. While mental illness leads people to do and say things that most of us wouldn’t do or say, it does so in relatively predictable ways (which is why we have diagnostic manuals for mental illnesses.)

In fact, “crazy” usually isn’t an explanation at all. Rather, it’s one of the words we use (like “random”) when we have no good explanation but don’t want to admit it. And there have been enough accounts of UFO’s, alien encounters, and the like that it’s very difficult to maintain that all of them were either imagined or else a misinterpretation of swamp gas from a weather balloon getting trapped inside a thermal pocket and refracting the light from Venus.

So what’s a Christian to do if a new cultural narrative prevents us from simply dismissing the experiences behind all these reports and we instead actually consider the question: What does it all mean? You could just believe whatever the government and the media tell you, of course, but if you read this blog I’m guessing you don’t find that satisfactory. We’ve been absolutely buried in increasingly obvious lies lately, and there is not a single institution on Earth whose explanation I would implicitly trust. That leaves us to make our own judgments as best we can.

Unfortunately, it’s never easy to parse paranormal phenomena like this. Because they defy the usual explanations, we lack obvious categories with which to understand them. Accordingly, the problem is not that we have no possible explanations, but that we have too many with very little means to narrow it down. Let’s consider two of them.

First up: actual aliens. This is what we’ve been trained to think of when we hear “UFO.” Spacecraft made by biological creatures from other planets who are visiting Earth for some reason or another. It’s the quintessential modern conspiracy theory, and probably the explanation we’d be told to believe. But even so, I wouldn’t rule it out prima facie.

Many atheists and Christians alike presume that intelligent extraterrestrial life would falsify Christianity. I’ve even believed that myself. The thing is, the arguments that convinced me before aren’t good ones. The most common one I’ve seen is based on the fact that mankind has been given a degree of cosmic significance in Christianity. The Bible tells us that the whole of creation was cursed on account of human sin and indeed that it will eventually be destroyed in favor of a new heaven and new earth as well. That hardly seems fair to any potential Klingons and Romulans out there. So many Christians conclude that God would never act against the entire universe on account of human sin unless humans were alone in it.

I no longer find that argument convincing because of how often God does things that I would not consider “fair.” Most of the time, when we say that God would never do something, we’re really saying that we would never do that thing if we were God. But we’re not. And apart from what God has actually told us about Himself, we’re only speculating about His actions. So could he have created life on other planets? Maybe. Could He have redeemed those beings? Perhaps. Could those aliens have avoided falling to temptation in the first place? Possibly. Are there more ways God has of dealing with such a situation than we can possibly imagine? Absolutely.

But just because it’s a possible explanation doesn’t mean its the only possible explanation–or even the best one. Biological life, technology, and so forth may be categories we’re used to using, but when what’s been observed is so… well, alien, its unclear whether they are in fact good categories to use. And they are not the only categories Christians have available.

That leads us to a second possible explanation: Strictly speaking, the Bible does affirm the existence of extraterrestrial life–but in the form of spiritual beings rather than biological ones. In other words, Christians are told about angels and demons. We know that they are powerful on a scale beyond humanity, and that they are actively at work in this world. And while God certainly restricts the scope of their activities (see Job for example), those activities have included all manner of things we would consider paranormal (also see Job for example.)

It falls into that category because angelic activity is mostly a closed book to us. We know they’re there, know they’re organized, etc. God, however, hasn’t seen fit to disclose many details, and most of the Biblical details raise more questions than they answer. Presumably, humanity doesn’t need to know. Generally speaking we’re never supposed to see angels at work. If we do, it’s either a rare, miraculous circumstance or else that something has gone terribly wrong.

Of course there’s also the possibility of these beings doing deliberate harm, and that is where fallen angels come in. Everything we’ve noted of angels is true of demons as well, except that they are in rebellion against God. They’re clearly kept on a somewhat short leash but are just as clearly allowed to work harm against humanity in various ways. While some UFO/alien encounters appear benign, it’s hard to ignore just how destructive it’s sometimes been to some people and how deceptive its been when people talk about the messages they’ve sometimes supposedly delivered. I’ve also seen various anecdotes about ongoing alien encounters that responded to exorcism. I find it entirely possible that many or even most UFO encounters are demonic.

There are objections to this explanation as well, of course, but I don’t find them particularly convincing. One of the most common has to do with observations (or at least interpretations) of technology in these experiences (e.g. flying saucers and such.) To paraphrase of Captain Kirk’s famous question, “what does an angel need with a starship?” Well, nothing says angels can’t use technology. On the contrary, many of the Biblical images have them using swords, trumpets, bowls, and other tools. And if they’re doing work in the physical world, why couldn’t they be using tools that have some kind of physical presence?  Could human technology be at the point where it can occasionally record traces of this hypothetical angelic technology? Who knows?

Another objection is that angels are spiritual beings while many alien encounters describe something clearly physical. But then angels are described as having the appearance of physical bodies in Scripture–sometimes bodies that look human, sometimes bodies that look completely bonkers. Other times, demons are seen to possess the physical bodies of other creatures. So it hardly seems that the spiritual nature of angels would ipso facto preclude their involvement in physical encounters with aliens, UFO’s, etc. We just don’t know enough about the rules by which angels operate to either affirm or preclude the possibility.

And that’s precisely the difficulty with parsing the paranormal. We don’t know enough of the rules to confidently trim down enough of the possibilities. It could be aliens or demons, sure. But it could be a cabal of humans with advanced technology, time travelers, Nephilim 2.0, or just one giant elaborate hoax to advance some cause or another. Like conspiracy theories, the honest answer to explanations for paranormal experiences is generally “I don’t know.” Some possibilities may hold more appeal than others, but at the end of the day, there is more on heaven and earth than is dreamt of in our philosophies.

Now if the UFO topic actually becomes “normal” to the point that anybody can investigate, make accurate predictions, and find replicable patterns, then these explanations can probably be whittled down. (And yes, there are dedicated investigators who have attempted this, but considering how many wildly different conclusions these investigators come to, I can only conclude that there just aren’t yet enough facts from which to draw solid conclusions.) But if facts accumulate further, some explanations will fit those new facts better than others. But until that happens, there is no reason to commit ourselves to one explanation or another–and no reason to be ashamed for skepticism of whichever explanation the world tries to foist on us.

So if we do start hearing more about aliens, we need to rely on what we know rather than what we don’t know:  God is still in control. He has still given us work to do in this world. Satan still teams up with that world in order to to deceive and destroy us. If we do end up encountering “great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect,” we have no need to follow after them. Christ’s work and promises hold true through mundane trials like war, famine, pestilence, and persecution. They will hold true through extraordinary paradigm shifts as well–no matter what form they might take.

Even if aliens showed up on my doorstep this afternoon, Jesus Christ still rose from the dead 2000 years ago–that blessed reality is where Christianity stands or falls.

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One Response to Parsing the Paranormal

  1. Leanne says:

    For people who are interested in this I recommend Alien Intrusion by Gary Bates (there is a book and a DVD)

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