UFOs, False gods, and Demonic Beings.
Few pastors and Christian writers who desire to be taken seriously want to come near topics such as the UFO phenomenon. The ones that do sometimes approach the topic do so broadly and safely; their advice on the issue is so vague that it could be used for anything, such as John Piper’s article on the issue where he in short says that whatever the UFO phenomenon is, we can rest assured that God is in control and it is for his glory. Apart from a few scholars like Mike Licona and Hugh Ross, most do not want to really dive into this issue from a Christian perspective. I understand why. They do not want to be lumped into the category of unbalanced conspiracy theorists. I do not either. I am not a fan of conspiracy theories; however, the UFO phenomenon is not your typical conspiracy theory. Conspiracy theories thrive on circumstantial evidence at the expense of logical or empirical evidence, and they rely on connecting dots that also can be connected by several other mutually exclusive conspiracy theories. But this is not true of UFOs. Lately this has been in the news as the Pentagon has released a video of triangular shaped unidentified aircraft. But the Pentagon is just the latest government agency to do this; the Navy and Airforce have both confirmed similar videos. The government takes the issue seriously considering a recent bill was passed ordering the Pentagon to give a full report on everything they have pertaining to UFOs within a 180-day time limit (see this article). There is serious and compelling evidence that testify to the reality of unidentified crafts in our atmosphere whose movements and other attributes are outside the realm of human technology or achievement at this point in history.Christians can choose to ignore this evidence or pretend that only crazy people believe in such things, but the evidence is there, nonetheless. The question that arises when the evidence is honestly dealt with is how to interpret it in light of Scripture and a Christian worldview. Do we say they are demonic? Is extraterrestrial life compatible with Christianity? These are important questions that I hope to examine, but first we must make sure we are approaching the issue in a balanced way.
In my experience in both Reformed circles and Christian academia, most Christians are soft naturalists. They hold a very naturalistic/materialistic view of the world from which they carve out exceptions. They accept the necessary supernatural elements of the Christian faith like the existence of God, the resurrection, angels, the soul, etc. But these are the exceptions within a largely naturalistic framework. Therefore, they approach any report of the supernatural or demonic with the strictest skepticism. On the other side of this issue, there are Christian circles that see the demonic behind every rock and tree. The reason you have a cold is demonic, or the reason you were late to work this morning was due to Satan himself hindering you. The latter examples are a reason why prominent reformed people avoid the issue of aliens and UFOs. However,if there is a golden mean between pure naturalism on one hand and hyper-charismania demonic obsession on the other, it is not the hyper skepticism that is present in many Christian circles today. Not all skepticism is rational. The Christian faith and worldview are thoroughly supernatural. I think there is a strong case to be made that the modern UFO phenomenon has deep spiritual aspects to it and is connected to demonic activity. And this case can be made rationally, without charismatic extremist or conspiratorial elements.
Demonic Beings as the Focus of False Religious Worship
Before diving into the religious and spiritual elements of the UFO phenomenon, we must first look at what the Scriptures say about the false gods of religious worship. Scripture makes it clear in both the Old and New Testaments that the false gods of the pagans are demonic beings. This thought once again might conflict with our own soft naturalism and skepticism, but when that happens, it is our own worldview that needs to be recalibrated, not the Scriptures. Here are some of the passages used to support this idea:
“They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger. They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded” (Deut. 32:16-17 ESV).
“So, they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore” (Lev. 17:7 ESV).
“They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood” (Psalm 106:36-38).
And again, in the New Testament Paul says these words to the Corinthians, “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what Pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons” (1 Cor. 10:19-20ESV).
Scripture is clear that at least some of the idols whom people worship are actually demonic forces. Demons desire to be worshipped, as is seen with Satan’s interaction with Jesus in the wilderness in Matthew 4. This teaching of Scripture is also consistent with reliable Christian witness to demonic possessions. In the 1800s, a reformed Presbyterian minister named John Nevius was a missionary in mainland China where he encountered the reality of demonic possession for the first time. These experiences led him to believe that Christian missionaries were not fully prepared to encounter these very real spiritual forces. Therefore, he collected testimonies from other faithful pastors in India and elsewhere who also experienced demonic possessions in their ministries. This collected work of pastoral testimonies has been digitized and is available today under the title, Demonic Possession and Allied Themes. One of the fascinating recurring themes in these stories is who the demons identified themselves as through the mouths of the possessed. Several times when asked who they were, the demons claimed to be either a local deity who was worshipped by the village, or a well-known Hindu god. According to Nevius’ work, these are not rare, isolated incidents but are common in polytheistic cultures. An interesting question arises as to the nature of demonic false religions. Do false religions originate due to a real encounter with a demonic deity? Or are false religions originally man-made, and then a demon gladly fills the role of the fabricated god? It is a fascinating question to ponder but the conclusion is the same either way: false religious worship results in demonic worship.
The Spiritual Nature of the UFO Phenomenon
Even a cursory look over the phenomenon and those that claim to have encountered UFOs shows the deep spiritual and religious nature of the beliefs. And while these beliefs used to be on the fringes of society, they are now becoming mainstream.Several UFO based religions have popped up both in the United States and worldwide; some of the most popular podcasts have had people on who talk about their experiences “communicating with the aliens” when they are in hallucinogenic states induced by drugs like DMT. But what is most telling about the phenomenon is how many groups perceive the UFOs as benevolent saviors who watch over humanity and are attempting to save us from ourselves (nuclear weapons, climate change, etc.) Even mainstream liberal news sources like Vox and The New York Times have published articles detailing the religious nature of UFO belief. Two of these articles can be located here and here.These factors of spiritual and religious connotations related to the phenomenon are key from a Christian perspective to attributing demonic forces as a factor behind the beliefs. But it also raises necessary questions.
Why would spiritual beings need material crafts?
This is an understandable objection to the position that UFOs are demonic entities. Angels and demons do not need mechanical aircraft to travel. I agree, and I do not believe the UFOs are physical crafts. This might be a shock to people who view the UFO phenomenon through a traditional lens of the aircrafts being extraterrestrial in origin. However, this is not how a large segment of modern researchers of UFO sightings view the phenomenon. The physical “nuts and bolts” hypothesis behind the crafts is being rethought due to the purely physical explanations not adequately accounting for all of the data and what researchers consider the “high strangeness” and spiritual aspects that accompany sightings and encounters. A book entitled UFO’s: Reframing the Debate was recently published and consists of essays from several prominent UFO researchers. One of the central themes of the authors was to challenge the traditional nuts and bolts physical account of UFOs that has dominated the field. These researchers have shown that the movements of the craft not only defy what human crafts are capable of, but they also defy what physical objects in general are capable of. They also notice the strange spiritual experiences abductees report after their encounters that are not consistent with a traditional view of alien abduction. These researchers are not sure what to make of the phenomenon, whether these beings are interdimensional, or immaterial, but credit must be given to them for discovering through natural means, what many with a Christian worldview miss. Since many of these researchers are not Christians, they do not have the appropriate worldview and presuppositions to account for the data that points towards immaterial beings. However, this aspect of the phenomenon fits in perfectly with a Christian supernaturalist account of the world and the spiritual beings that inhabit it.
Is extraterrestrial life consistent with Christian belief?
Some people, after reading the above sections, might wonder why I am against the idea of UFOs being extraterrestrial in origin. Would the existence of extraterrestrials be inconsistent with the Christian faith? To answer to the first question, while I am not against the idea, I do not think it is where the evidence leads. The second question is fascinating topic in and of itself. The idea of extraterrestrial life is not a new concept in the field of Christian theology but has been wrestled with for over 1500 years. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, both theologians of enormous influence, held to the doctrine of the “Principle of Plenitude,” which posits that every possible form of biological life that could exist in our universe does exist. I do not agree with this doctrine, but it is important to understand that Christianity has dealt with this question for a long time.
Personally, I believe that the existence of life on other planets does not pose a threat to the Christian faith, but it would require me to rethink several doctrines that I hold to. I believe that the Scriptures are more consistent with the thought that humans beings are the only rational biological species in the universe. The first reason would be related to the Image of God and the nature of the fall. Consistent with Aquinas and other theologians, I believe the image of God in man is rationality or the “rational soul.” Therefore, unintelligent animals on other planets would be in a different category than rational beings. But I find it difficult to consider rational beings on other planets being affected by the fall of man on planet Earth. Scripture is clear that after Adam’s sin, the ground and nature itself was cursed; even the animals were affected by the original sin. And these effects are not limited to Earth, but Romans 8 makes it clear that the curse affects all of creation, including the universe. (Rom. 8:19-22 ESV)
The second reason would be the primacy of Earth in the creation account. In Genesis 1, we see the earth as created on its own, separate from the rest of the heavens. On the fourth day,the stars and galaxies were created for both lighting the earth and to be signs for times and seasons. Therefore, from a biblical perspective, Earth is set apart as the pinnacle of the material universe. God’s special attention is focused upon the happenings on Earth. The stars themselves are created for how they benefit the earth. With this account of creation, it seems much easier to adopt a position of human exclusivity when it comes to intelligent biological life in the universe.
As Christians we should approach the UFO and other paranormal phenomenon with neither radical skepticism nor hyper conspiratorialism and uncritical acceptance. The Christian worldview is a supernatural one. One way of examining an issue to see the presence of demonic influence is to look at the religious aspects of the followers of the movement. The UFO phenomenon is gaining quick influence in our society with the religious and non-religious alike, with skeptics, scientists, celebrities, and politicians being self-proclaimed believers. We need to strive for consistency in examining these issues in light of rationality and the biblical data. And we need to be salt and light and bringers of the Truth to those who are looking for salvation and meaning in the stars.