Communion Cups and Crashed Saucers; Part 3, Meanwhile Back at the Ranch

Peter Brookesmith
Magonia 63, May 1998
If, so far, the profile I have offered of the hidden aspects of the Semitic religions and of ufological belief is accurate, then the mythic imagery and mode of belief of ufology, and particularly of the abduction scenario, should belong to a particular religious type: I am suggesting that the American Religion, as defined by Prof. Harold Bloom, [1] has formed the template of ufology-as-religion. But plainly ufology thrives in a wider context than religious, or theological, thought and feeling.

The successful export from the USA of a Ufological Religion may, for instance, be a symptom and a sign that a deracinated and relativistic Western culture has had to generate a new religious perspective to accommodate and resolve its own disturbing and destructive characteristics and their consequences. Among which are a paradoxical view of science, and a blankness and dumbness in the face of numinous experience.

Before touching on those issues it may be helpful to recapitulate:

UFOs, and in particular their folkloric offspring the crashed flying saucer and Gray alien abductors, were spawned in the USA. Therefore any theological dimensions of the UFO phenomenon ask to be measured initially by the yardstick of American religious constructs. The available statistics demonstrate that, overwhelmingly, the USA regards itself as a Christian country. If the analysis of Harold Bloom is admitted, it is clear that indigenous American Christian orthodoxies share a deep structure of belief and outlook even when they appear to be incompatible in matters of ritual and doctrine, and when politically they may be mutually hostile. Bloom captioned this deep structure the ‘American Religion’ exactly because it informs denominations and sects as diverse as Mormonism, Christian Science and the Black Baptist churches, and even, he argues, Black Islam.

The American Religion, Bloom says, is a ‘severely internalised Quest romance’, whose goal is immortality. Experience of that immortality is gained shamanistically – through direct revelation, without mediation, and in solitude. Immortality is already presumed or predicated in an underlying dualistic (Gnostic) belief that the individual harbours a remnant of divinity – the ‘divine spark’ – within himself, which is older than creation; it is symbolised by the empty, post-Resurrection cross of American churches. Lying beyond this and informing it, I would add, is the motif of America as Eden, which vastly predates the birth of the American Religion in the Great Disappointment of 1844, when (the deadline having already been put back from 1843) the world did not end as predicted by William Miller.

This fixation on immortality in an Edenic context leads one to the rather startling thought that part of the American psyche simply does not accept death.[2] The emphasis on resurrection, and particularly the corpse-free cross, suggests that such stubborn recusancy toward mortality is connected to a discomfort with the physical body.[3] This unease may have its immediate roots in English Puritanism; it is central to much of Gnosticism, and it has extraordinary manifestation in such American cults as Christian Science and Pentecostalism and the pre-Disappointment celibate Shakers, whose founding members were American by necessity rather than choice or destiny. Resurrection and rebirth – whether on Judgement Day, or as born-again Christian, or in the ecstasy of ritual worship – are out of and away from the human body, its cravings, agonies and ambiguous effluvia. While the American Religion is strikingly optimistic over spiritual questions, it exhibits classic Christian tendencies in recoiling from the flesh and in its fixations upon carnal sin and consequent (even arbitrary) hell fire. In this latter aspect, its self-contradictions are at least consistent with the traditions of its parentage in Christianity, whether Protestant or Catholic.
These core notions are recast in ufological experience and discourse, and, although the emphases on the elements differ, they do so no more than their different proportions in (say) Mormonism, Seventh-Day Adventism and the Watchtower Society.

The ufological expression and manifestation of the American Religion predictably follows its ancestral, ‘orthodox’ pattern. At its most sumptuous, in the abduction syndrome, it too reveals itself as dualistic, masochistic, deeply uncomfortable with the human body, and much obsessed with sex, personal rebirth and resurrection. The last has strong millennial and apocalyptic concatenations on a social level. It seems likely that ufological religiosity appeals to people already steeped in such an outlook, and to that extent it should be easily exportable to cultures penetrated by similar forms of salvationism. But, if this is so, one can scarcely avoid noticing that the overt symbolic forms of the Ufological Religion are very different from those of its progenitors; and this allows one the choice of regarding it as a kind of sport from the ecclesiastic tradition.

William Blake#s depiction of Newton placing his compasses 'upon the face of the deep'. Blake's rage at the reductionism of science has served rebels, mystics, New Agers and socia critics well.

More revealing, however (more fruitful to me, at any rate), has been to enquire what psychological and emotional niche is filled by the Ufological Religion, and why that niche is inaccessible to its (relatively) orthodox forebears, the sects of the original American Religion. Certainly the Ufological Religion has not displaced its precursors; indeed it may only be shadowing other forms of religious expression. Both forms of faith may, after all, co-exist in the same person.

In the Ufological Religion, revelation and the shamanic journey (itself a rite of psychic rebirth) are translated into the abduction scenario; resurrection is enacted in the ‘life-changing’ effects reported by participants in close encounters; immortality and the divine spark are confirmed in the human genetic contribution to the godlings’ evolution or survival. The aliens’ fascination with all things sexual, their somewhat uncaptivating bedside manner and painful manipulations and exploitation of their captives’ bodies are consistent with – and may well symbolise – torment arising from the limitations, unruliness and even sheer messiness of human biology, impediments that the aliens so noticeably lack.[4]

The mystifyingly primitive state (by current terrestrial standards) of ‘alien’ medical science is more parsimoniously explained in this frame of reference, by looking at it as a symbolic and psychological mechanism, than by retreating into notions of alien disinformation or deviousness. The aliens’ crude ‘genetic’ procedures (which a competent human DNA engineer could conduct more efficiently by sampling hairdressers’ sweepings[5] or the detritus of any tourist beach in summer) also make rudely plain the symbolic propinquity and interdependence of human and alien.[6] Fairies – another race of diminished and dying gods – too needed human bloodlines to preserve themselves, we are unavoidably reminded. Less familiar in a godforsaken age is the Jewish tradition of the dependence of God on mankind, a notion radically refreshed in the Safed Kabbalism of Isaac Luria (1534-72), which can fairly be described as Gnosticism without Christ.[7]

As previously noted, the magic technology of the aliens gives them and their craft what terrestrial science would regard as miraculous powers: even their divine capacity to read minds may be technological rather than inborn. The UFO myth is vague on this point. But this techno-scientific aspect of the aliens, along with their visible, material, and unavoidably biological nature, sets them most distinctly apart from the God of the Semitic traditions, and makes the aliens godlings.

Even so, aliens do have many attributes of full-blown gods: solid four-dimensional nature, of the kind Dr Johnson appealed to when he kicked a stone to refute the phenomenalism (esse est percipi) of Bishop Berkeley, does not constrain them. Despite their own material incarnation, aliens are reputedly capable of shape-shifting, and deliberate and even selective invisibility, for example, besides their notorious ability to ‘float’ themselves – and us – through walls and windows. Some of the paratheologians of ufology propose that the aliens are not (or not exclusively) extra-terrestrial, but partake of ‘other dimensions’, from which they manifest in our spacetime. Even superstring theory cannot accommodate this notion within physics, so the ‘dimensions’ inhabited by aliens take on a religious or even occult cast. According to believers, most gods, including the Semitic God and the Hindu pantheon (and the souls of the dead, whether in Heaven or Summerland) also exist on transcendental ‘other’ or ‘higher’ dimensions of being, which are inaccessible to both scientific instruments and flesh and bone.[8]

According to some not-very-much-wilder flights of UFO mythology, it was aliens who created humanity, and human religions – but not, apparently, the Cosmos. So like the Gnostic Demiurge they are ringmasters of the human circus, dancing between the Creator and ourselves. Nonetheless, the aliens’ manipulations of time and matter and their capacity to circumvent natural laws, while divine in nature, is based (it is said) in superior science and technology.

Something is going on here. What can it be?


Erich von Daeniken deserves some credit at this point. He may have stolen others’ ideas, but his books’ extraordinary commercial success is testimony to the appeal of his implicit and very probably unconscious endeavour: to reconcile religion and science. The first is irrational,[9] but apparently necessary in some form to a sense of human wholeness and responsibility; the second is wholly rational, ostentatiously reductive, responsible only to itself, and perceived as an horned adversary of religion, especially when a touchy subject like evolution raises its ugly head.

Scientists are often called priests of a modern religion, but they seem on reflection to be more like kings and princes – of an empire of savage materialism. We enjoy the fruits of their rule but do not entirely trust them. Their powers have a Faustian reek and their inclinations are worse than pagan. Scientists seem to combine amoral curiosity and hubris in equal measure. Nowhere do these qualities seem more obvious, and unnerve people more, than when they meet in genetic research.

Matters such as cloning – science fiction coming true – and the use of aborted foetuses as laboratory material produce reflexive moral reactions, behind which lie real ethical issues that scientists seem not to have considered before setting-to with their experiments. Even genetically manipulated crop plants, created for the best of motives, may have unforeseen ecological effects; as may the over-liberal employment of hormones in industrialised animal husbandry – effects that may already have come to roost in the human reproductive capacity.[10] The dehumanising effects of technologico-scientific materialism have been debated by cultural critics since the 18th century: but the issues have never been so easily grasped as in the products of modern genetic research. These strike immediately at our senses of personal and cultural identity.

Individual scientists are not inhuman, and science and its technological progeny are not all wicked: but the scientific method as one of the intellectual glories of our age, or the endless personal, domestic and social benefits that science has brought to all manner of people are not really the issue at this point. For here I am speaking of the caricature of science that people apprehend at the visceral level, and that is more accurately called Scientism. But on the Clapham omnibus this is what is called Science, a capitalised entity often treated as if it were a sentient life form. Scientists are subsumed into the shadowy organism referred to as ‘They’.

The popular conceit of Science working with incorrigible, feckless and reckless amorality is shown well enough in this collation of paranoia and false oppositions:

Electrons give us electronic equipment, yes, but neutrons give us nuclear weapons. Chemistry creates plastics and drugs and thereby creates world-wide pollution and drug abuse. Where does the balance lie? Science cannot just take credit for the good things and deny responsibility for the bad things.
Bright scientific minds, given ‘free rein’ and unencumbered by ethical doubts, have ushered in a nightmare world of growing wealth, growing knowledge and growing destruction. Is unbridled curiosity so desirable? … Which is worse, a tomorrow with no science for children to be interested in or a tomorrow with no children to take an interest in science? [11]

This is surely beyond parody; but there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the sentiment.

One of Science’s most salient by-products has been the gradual erosion of the credibility of religion in the West. The rot may have set in with Galileo, but the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw it gallop. Against a deracinating background of intense industrialisation and urban growth came the findings of Lyell and Darwin, followed apace by Pasteur, Koch, Einstein, and Heisenberg. Scientists were not entirely to blame for undermining a religious outlook, although they provided a canting vocabulary for others who continued the work. Its drift may be indicated by F.R. Leavis’s formulation: ‘Though we have to recognise that Darwin’s life testifies to the existence of intelligence and purpose, his theory of evolution offered to dispense with the need for those words.’[12]

Claiming to be scientists but in reality cultists were Marx, Freud and Jung (who on breaking with Freud wanted to found his own religion), each in his way gnawing at the roots of faith and familiar concepts of human dignity, aspiration and meaning. Einstein’s concept of relativity trickled out of physics into the wider culture, where it mutated into a notion of moral relativism – the seductive proposition that there are no moral absolutes. Watered by Freud’s crocodile tears (his essential pessimism about human nature being essentially self-indulgent), this self-serving principle was destined to flourish in the social fragmentation following urbanisation, and most especially in the stupefaction of the European intelligentsia following the First World War.

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters presents a nice ambiguity: do the monsters come when Reason sleeps, or is Reason the slumber that turns to nightmares? To the cynic or sceptic, the UFO myth may seem to embody the first, and express the second


No one, I trust, would take what I have written in this series as an advertisement for institutional Western religion. But it seems to me that the slow retreat of God from the West since the 1860s is intimately linked to inferences drawn from science and to pseudo-scientific assertions that no ultimate purpose beyond the mechanical or the self-serving informs existence; and the result has been the creation of an existential void so profound that it is scarcely recognisable to those engulfed by it.

A consequence of the atmospheric ubiquity of this emptiness at the heart of our civilisation is the difficulty of demonstrating its existence: it is, to borrow a phrase from Paul Devereux, a ‘cultural bubble’, and accordingly nearly invisible to its inmates. But one can point to symptoms of its existence, in the hope that what is being indicated can still be sensed. One has to trust that words have not entirely lost their meanings in English. The symptoms of this collapse of a sense of meaning are many, but I will concentrate on two, since they are so closely bound up with my themes here. The first is the loss of a religious language in English.

In a long critique of modern translations of the Bible, [13] Ian Robinson has made a powerful case for concluding that the Jerusalem Bible, the New English Bible (NEB), and similar attempts to replace the King James version of 1611, are written in a language in which it is all but impossible to be religious, to worship God. The same, he argues in so many words, is true of revisions of the Anglican and Roman Catholic books of prayer.

The decision (after Vatican II) to drop Latin as the universal language of Catholic worship in favour of services in the vernacular has always struck me as one of the most bizarre of many Papal whims over the centuries. By this move the Roman Church abandoned the universality of hieratic Latin, which spoke to the huge Catholic diaspora everywhere, and through which it worshipped with one voice; and so the church ceased to have any claim to catholicity, and made the language of worship mutually incomprehensible to its adherents: Babel was rebuilt overnight. In English, this has resulted in the Lord’s Prayer being debased in the RC ‘Missalette’ into virtual cant:

Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us your peace in every day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety

As Robinson says, these are not ‘the words our Saviour gave us’:

I can’t imagine a more irreligious wish than to be protected from all anxiety, about, for instance, one’s salvation: it is a prayer to be delivered from religious life into hebetude. You might as well pray ‘let everything be nice’ which, on the tenth Sunday after Pentecost, the hapless R.C.’s pretty nearly have to do: ‘Grant us such full measure of your grace that we may hasten towards the good things you have promised.’ What could such good things be, in Mr Heath’s England or President Nixon’s America, but an easy life and an automatic annual wage-increase?…

Is it possible to attend to the Missalette with any depth of concentration? When the new services are most themselves they lull us into the pleasant Sunday slumber of churchiness. How can one wait on God in such words?

The King James’s ‘Lead us not into temptation’ of the Lord’s Prayer becomes, in both the NEB and the Jerusalem Bible, ‘Do not bring us to the test.’ ‘What does that mean?’ enquires Robinson. ‘One might find out by consulting a commentary; but that suggests the failure of the translation as translation.’ In another passage he points to the goofiness of the NEB’s attempt on Psalm 69 – ‘Save me, O God; for the waters have risen up to my neck!’

I object not that this is more immediate than the old versions, and not even that it is comic (with its derivation from the cliche ‘up to the neck in it’) but that the comedy is uncontrolled and unintentional. One is in no doubt about the degree and kind of seriousness of the 1611 version: ‘Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul.’

The Jerusalem Bible (a work of American scholars) too provides lapses into incoherent bathos, as in its version of Genesis: ‘The man had intercourse with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain. "I have acquired a man with the help of Yahweh," she said.’

‘She couldn’t say so if she were speaking English,’ says Robinson tartly. The words have neither colloquial immediacy nor theological rigour.


Robinson laments the atrophy of religious English, not as some failure of conformity to ‘tradition’ (the kind of ‘tradition’ understood by town planners and theme park designers), but as an abandonment of seriousness, and thus as a collapse of the community, continuity and understanding that give a tradition life and significance – which can exist only in individual lives:

Religious English is the style of our common language that makes religion possible (or not, as the case may be). Religious English can only make religious seriousness possible to the individual, in whom any religion is not restricted or standardised but perpetually new, unique, and his own; it could not do so, however, without the many generations whose lives have expressed themselves in our language, in the context of the many Christian languages, in their context of history and human nature.

The 1611 English Bible’s rightness of style ‘can never be only a question of style.’ That is to say, style is not some after-market extra bolted on to the meaning of the words to imbue them with elegance or an odour of sanctity; the rhythm, for example, ‘is the shape of the meaning… the rhythmic climaxes are the climaxes of sense’.

Such rightness of language can only be the result, and the medium, of a great creative effort in life, in this case the collaborative effort of the King James committee. It was a collaboration, too, between the translators and the language they found, inside and outside the Bible – itself the outcome of earlier collaborative effort. The result is a language of religion in which God can be spoken of; [one that] ‘only yesterday… controlled our speech, and provided a measure for high seriousness.’

In contrast, the language of the NEB and the new prayer books has emptied itself of any sense of the sacred: it offers no way to approach, imagine, or pray to anything recognisably superhuman, dread, or divine; in Henry Gifford’s words, it is ‘the language of sedentary men who have lost the capacity to see and touch’.

St Paul in the Authorised Version is an impressive though difficult writer…. ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked…’ Today he rattles this out on the keys of his typewriter: ‘Make no mistake about this: God is not to be fooled…’ …’Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?’ Christ asks in the Authorised Version (which follows Tyndale). ‘Are not sparrows two a penny?’ is wrong, because ‘two a penny’ is a cliche ; like the pennies that drop, and are offered for thoughts, the coin has no existence. [14]

The failure of style, the combination of smug journalistic cliche and an incapacity for wonder that amounts to hubris inevitably leads to a draining-out of any sense of the miraculous, too. ‘[In the NEB] Matthew’s miracles are about as cheap as his sparrows,’ comments Robinson, and the new versions make nonsense of the miracles by placing the centre of truth outside religion. If the only possible world is our world of newspapers and commonsense, then the miracles are not merely impossible; they are mischievous impostures. …For the first Christians the belief [in the miracles, including the Resurrection] was the centre, triumphing, perhaps a little madly, over what everybody knows. It is this anti-commonsense (and potentially evil as well as potentially good) power of the Bible that is present in the old versions and quite missing from the new.

The failure of modern translators of the Bible into English, and their cohorts who write modern prayer books, to produce a credible (or faith-ful) religious style represents a several collapse. For while it is impossible to be religious in this language (and so its style disinherits those who come after), this can be so only because of a failure of apprehension (of more than language or style) on the part of the translators. And they are of their age, with lives beyond the library and the cloister. They could not have produced what they did unless their age had itself lost its bearings, which are centralities of belief and conviction, whose absence the language reflects. Modern religious English is tongued not ‘with fire beyond the language of the living’ but with uncertainty, if not actual doubt, as to its meaning. The line between that and a pressing presentiment of meaninglessness is almost too thin to draw.


A sense of meaning in existence is critical to a human sense of wholeness; better to suffer misery that means something than vacant joy. No less central to being human is sexuality, which is inescapable in a way that even religious intuitions are not because it is rooted in a biological imperative. The evaporation (or extraction) of a sense of meaning from sexual behaviour and language is the second symptom of an existential void at the centre of modern Western culture that I want to discuss.

Precisely because sexuality is ineluctable, and yet peculiar to each individual, it is difficult at the best of times to analyse it. To make matters more intractable, I want to articulate a sense that sexuality has been trivialised and mechanised in recent decades. With only a few hundred words to spare, two instances of this shift in sensibility will have to hold the pass. I hope to illustrate that in discussions of sexuality there is a parallel to the dissolution of a language fit for religion. I will then deal with the consequences of the frustrations arising from the thwarting of both these means of expression.

In his 1992 articles [15] proposing an ‘abortion anxiety hypothesis’ to account for the prevalence of foetal imagery in abductions, Dennis Stacy noted that since 1972 in the USA, some 30 million women had had abortions. I discovered from US Census statistics that, in 1993, about 78 million women were of child-bearing age or had been since 1972. These two data together mean that in those 21 years nearly four in 10 women had abortions. Stacy also quoted polls showing that Americans held deeply-felt yet apparently incompatible and contradictory opinions on abortion. While 73 per cent supported abortion rights, 77 per cent viewed the operation as a form of murder. These figures can mean only one thing: that most people managed to endorse both ideas at once. Clearly, there is fertile ground here for internal conflict, guilt and shame. [16]

Yet the pro- and anti-abortion arguments have never touched on the central problems raised by these paradoxical attitudes. By and large, the arguments for abortion on both sides of the Atlantic are political (‘a woman’s right to choose’ – men, apparently, having no right to an opinion on the fate of their offspring) or economic. Moral questions are not faced. Nor are they faced by the so-called ‘pro-life’ campaigners except in absolutist and often sentimental terms. Neither party attempts to advance its case in terms of the meaning of sex within the relationship that led to the pregnancy (rape victims aside, and they are a minority among those seeking abortion). The effect is to consolidate a divorce of sex from procreation – the consequence that gave sexual encounters meaning and purpose, and that also imbued them with danger and adventure – that has been in process since before the 1960s. That divorce assumes a priori a disjunction of sex from passion, and from responsible, social responses to such distinctively human attributes.

The acceptance of abortion ‘on demand’, which for a huge majority of Americans at least entails simultaneously acquiescing in a form of murder, surely signals a sea-change in the generally perceived meaning of sex, the necessary prelude to conception. Sexual passion can be divine or demonic, and its disruptions have traditionally been encircled, given form and meaning and moral context, by the concept of marriage, [17] part of whose meaning is the nurture of children. This alteration in sensibility reduces procreation to a problem of mechanics, and leaves those who partake in abortion no language (no world of meaning) with which to cope with the consequences, which are not solely emotional.

Before abortion could be contemplated as a ‘right’, sexuality – and specifically sexual intercourse – had to be deprived of meaning. Nowhere is that operation plainer than in the tabloid press (British tabloids illustrate this best) and in the plethora of guides to sexual pleasure and – hardly removed from either in principle – ‘soft’ pornographic ephemera now available.

In these, sex is hardly distinguishable from off-road racing: ‘performance’, ‘technique’ and ‘satisfaction’ are all that are required to get you over the bumpy bits. Whether this competitive sport occurs inside a relationship of one human being to another, and what it might denote there from love to madness, remain unexplored. [18] Sex is reduced to a higher – and by implication measurable – form of masturbation: the self-absorbed infantilism that Aldous Huxley prophesied in Brave New World. Perhaps the worthy intention was to purge sexuality of misplaced shame; but, if so, something more profound has been lost in the process. It is one of the mantras of this new sexual enlightenment that guilt, an essentially communal attribute, must not trammel any of its transactions. Conscience, one of the more complex fruits of social life, is thereby abandoned too.

This is a world of isolates, in which life is shrivelled to "Birth, copulation and death. That’s all, that’s all, that’s all, that’s all" [19] - which is mere existence, as of brute animals, not human life, and bereft of meaning, purpose, and potential. Even dogs, which are pack animals, are able to manifest guilt as a badge of their social being.

None of what I have said here should be construed as a dewy-eyed illusion that in former times all individuals were paragons of chastity and virtue and all marriages were filled with love, light and ‘happiness’. Cranmer, after all, promised no such thing in his prayer book, and neither did those taking the vows he prescribed. The point is that in an inclusive language of the fully human forms of birth, copulation and death, we find initiation, marriage, the building of love, procreation, and funeral rites. In that language even a living hell can have significance, and there are standards by which hell or paradise on Earth can be judged.

But what once demonstrably informed that language seems to be all but lost to us. Meaning is drained from a condition – no matter what its ‘orientation’ – that is a defining fact of our lives; and we have adopted impoverished, indeed anti-creative terms in which to speak to that condition. ‘We may reduce the human realities represented by words like marriage and burial to nonsense;’ writes Ian Robinson, ‘but without the possibilities they express there is no human life.’[20]

Lacking an outlet in the shared contemporary language, any sense of those ‘human realities’ will, like any other form of energy, seek expression elsewhere, in some other outward form. The UFO mythos has provided a symbolic language and, for some, a public platform through which an inarticulate religious drive and a tacit recognition of our general, cultural confusions about sexuality and its consequences can be discharged. The grotesque irony is that the symbolic terms are taken literally by those least conscious of their own investment in the religious aspect of this enterprise.


Our civilisation, Dr Leavis observed, ‘has, almost overnight, ceased to believe in its own assumptions and recoils nihilistically against itself.’ [21] Leavis’s criticism of what he called ‘technologico-Benthamite civilization’ was that of a fully humane intellectual, and was deeply felt. When placed beside the kind of commentary exemplified by Leavis and Robinson, the abduction scenario (if not the entire UFO syndrome) can be seen as a visionary dramatisation of the unquiet desperation of the disinherited and disenfranchised who have been deprived of an adequate or appropriate vocabulary (both verbal and emotional) in which to articulate a sense of loss and lack. Wittgemstein’s dictum: Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darueber muss man schweigen [22] could be adapted for the present discussion as follows: ‘What one cannot say will be acted out.’ The Ufological Religion and the abduction scenario in particular act t an inarticulacy, and a frustration, over religion and sexuality. And, as we shall see, crashed-saucer tales act out, or speak the unspeakable about, current and related intuitions and confusions about science and scientism.

Nihilism is abroad in our culture, according to the critics I have cited. Yet Viktor Frankl believed that the antithesis of nihilism, the ‘will to meaning’, is possibly more powerful than any other human impulse; and Frankl – whose branch of psychotherapy has been strangely ignored in Britain and the USA – came to that conclusion by finding meaning and purpose in existence as a prisoner in Auschwitz, one of the 20th century’s many synonyms for hell. Testimony from such experience is not easily scorned. And doesn’t this sound like a blueprint for the collapse of sense in religious and sexual terms that I’ve pointed to:

Nihilism has held a distorting mirror with a distorted image in front of [our] eyes, according to which [we] seem to be either an automaton of reflexes, a bundle of drives, a psychic mechanism, a plaything of external circumstances or internal conditions, or simply a product of economic environment. I call this sort of nihilism homunculism; for it misinterprets and misunderstands man as being a mere product. …Parents, teachers, scientists and philosophers have taught [us] all too long a time that man is ‘nothing but’ the resultant of a parallelogram of inner drives and outer forces. …’Man grows according to his interpretations of himself.’ [23]

The will to meaning, however, must find something on which to feed. If the possible ‘interpretations of himself’ presented to a man are nihilistic, he has a fundamental existential choice: to persist in his condition and become narcissistic (the dominant cultural idiom of our era, I have argued) or to look outside himself. How he frames that ‘outside’ will depend on the culture in which he finds himself. Despite all inner good will, the ‘outside’ may remain narcissistic. Frankl again sets the context and makes a further crucial point:

Apparently, man must have an aim towards which he can constantly direct his life. He must accomplish concrete, personal tasks and fulfil concrete, personal demands; he must realise that unique meaning which each of us has to fulfil. Therefore I consider it misleading to speak of ‘self-fulfilment’ and ‘self-realization’. For what is demanded of man is not primarily fulfilment or realisation of himself, but the actualisation of specific tasks in his world – and only to the degree to which he accomplishes this actualisation will he also fulfil himself: not per intentionem but per effectum. [24]

Such words may not go down well in California or on Lindisfarne. (Such is life.) But even if a culture is sufficiently powerful or addictive to circumscribe the attempt to seek some sense of meaning outside it, it may contain some accommodating grit on which a potential pearl may grow. So it has been with the Ufological Religion: the grit is the American Religion which, we may recall Harold Bloom notes, ‘can establish itself within nearly any outward form.’

We may also note here that the visionary aspect of religion, always denied by Science, also embarrasses the new reductionist enlightenment, but is accommodated by both American and Ufological Religion. Which is to say: if one cultural form cannot accommodate this ‘technology of consciousness’, another will be found in which it has sense and meaning. If such matters cannot be brought into mundane consciousness by being spoken of, because they are outlawed by contemporary language, they may have to be acted out in states of being that are also outlawed by our culture: John Dominic Crossan comments, in a chapter one would like to reproduce in full:
Trance is… perfectly natural human experience, but its control is a perfectly natural human necessity. Societies that have such processes do not need to apologise for themselves. Societies that have no such procedures may have to consider whether there is such a thing as unhealthy trance deprivation or pathological trance substitution within their borders. It may well be the absence rather than the presence of trance that is pathological. [25]

And I persist in finding it significant that the Roswell myth was revived (thereby refreshing ufological conspiracy theories), the abduction scenario was received with new fervour, and AIDS emerged – all more or less together, after an endless decade of dispiriting shocks to American self-confidence. One could hardly have asked for a riper or more receptive historical moment for a system of self-lacerating beliefs to emerge. The Moral Majority gained real political power at the same time and is part of the same response.

So we find ourselves in an age when God and humanism both have been seen to fail. Where, the disinherited modern mind will ask, was God, already reeling under the onslaught of the Western intellect, at Passchendaele, Treblinka, Nagasaki (which was the most Christian city in Japan)? The bomb was dropped and in the terrible light of that revelation the politicians saw that it was good. In stark contrast, bombs were not dropped on the railway lines feeding the Nazi death factories in Eastern Europe, because the politicians saw no advantage in it.

God let these things happen, but so did people. And they still do. Side by side with the march of science and the intuition of meaninglessness, the dreadful catalogue of butchery has continued to unfurl, from Mao’s China to the Gulag Archipelago, from My Lai to Pol Pot’s killing fields, from Yugoslavia to Rwanda. [26]

We lack a beneficent God and are surrounded by fellows whose capacity for evil has so overwhelmed the imagination that – ironically, in the age of Freud – humanity has become incomprehensible to itself. The blankness is compounded by a culture that implicitly celebrates, and cannot escape, nihilism: as I hope I have illustrated with the examples of the regressive languages of religion and sexuality in present-day English. In such circumstances, one might indeed look about in some desperation for something that really is dependable.

  • References to follow