Crashed Cups. An Interim Response to Peter Brookesmith

David Sivier
Magonia 61, November 1997

In issues 54 and 56 of this magazine, the erudite Peter Brookesmith ran the first two of a three-part article entitled Communion Cups and Crashed Saucers. Therein, he attempted to locate the origin of the saucer mythos squarely within Western religious experience, particularly that of the ‘American Religion’. It was an impressive piece. Brookesmith is an elegant writer with a deep understanding of the scientific and religious issues. He applies Occam’s razor with almost surgical skill.
Moreover, he is not afraid of courting controversy. In this case he savagely attacked the Semitic religions supposed psychological evils, using Hyam Maccoby’s Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil to castigate Christianity in particular with its Semitic past. It was heady, pungent, hard-hitting material.

It’s also deeply flawed. Religion is a notoriously difficult thing to define. Not all cultures have gods or a concept of an immortal soul as articulated in the Semitic religions, though they may have a concept of supernatural powers or ceremonies or rituals which are central to their culture. A truly alien civilisation, such as the Mechs in Gregory Benford’s Galactic Centre novels may well only be able to understand it as ‘a form of art’ (1). Political and social movements such as Fascism, Communism and Humanism may also be classed as religions. The above movements all have an inward, moral dimension as well as an outward corporate structure and their own set of rituals, even if the first two consisted mostly of watching the great dictator rant on his balcony. They also offer a form of transcendence – the individual gains purpose and the reward of being part of the greater struggle of the race, or the working class, or simply a sense of communal solidarity against the great mysteries of human experience.

Question of morality are, of a necessity, couched in the language of transcendence. Although utilitarianism – the philosophy that good is whatever gives the greatest happiness to the greatest number – remains popular with Vulcans, most discussions of morality are founded, albeit unconsciously, in transcendentalism. This states that moral values, goals and duties are transcendent, fundamentally true and eternally fixed things, not subject to vagaries of time and fashion. A comparison is made between moral values and mathematics. Murder is a evil for the same reason that 1+1=2. Neither fact changes, regardless of whoever and whenever the deed or calculation is performed. People, including atheists, can and will martyr themselves for their beliefs, or castigate themselves for their own perceived unworthiness. As a social force, religion is best defined by its origin in the Latin ‘religio’ – binding together. Religion binds man to man to form society, and human beings to the cosmos and the divine.

If religion is notoriously difficult to define, how much harder is it to define ‘the American religion’. Brookesmith is clearly impressed with the book of the title, and quotes it several times in his article. By this he presumably means the forms of Christianity and Reform Judaism which externally have massed choirs, an anglophone ritual and where the sexes are not segregated in the congregation. Internally, these religions preach individualism, self-reliance, democracy and progress. This marks off Protestant America from the Roman Catholic, Hispanic countries to its south. One Latin American writer spoke of the railway journey between Mexico and the United States as “moving from the melancholy ‘We’ to the triumphant ‘I’.”

National characteristics are abstractions, however. Within any society there are individuals who perceive their culture differently from the rest, and may hold views that the rest consider deviant.

America is not, and has never been, a monoculture. It was settled by a patchwork of competing immigrant European communities who interacted with the native peoples. Although this interaction largely took the form of genocidal warfare, the First Nations did leave their mark on the American political system, which was partly modelled on that of the Iroquois League. A sizable proportion of the American population has always been Roman Catholic, with a slightly different ethic from their Reformed and Evangelical co-religionists. In addition to this there are extra-European cults brought by those poor souls hauled over there during the slave trade. Voudon, Santia and Rastafarianism all have their American devotees, and can all be called American religions with at least as much accuracy as mainstream Protestant Christianity. Rather more recently, Buddhism, Islam and the Baha’i faith have all made inroads into the American soul. There’s also a strong occult tradition from Pennsylvania Dutch powwowing to the more recent imports of Druidism, Wicca and Crowleyanism.

Of course, the dominant religious tradition was Christianity, but in recent years this has broken down. The religion of progress is now being supplanted by cults that reject technology as a source of evil. Ecopaganism and the revival of interest in First Nation and tribal spirituality are the most obvious examples of this. Ritual magick, Crowleyanism, Wicca, Juidism and Odinism are cultural imports from Europe, especially Britain, but they’ve settled down nicely in their new homeland. so nicely in fact, that they’ve assimilated themselves to the local population and then been re-exported back to Europe.

It comes as no surprise that Russia’s Chief Shaman, Alina Slobodova, got her diploma in shamanism from Professor Harner in California. (2) These religious movements may be intensely antiscientific, harking back to a simpler, richer and holistic society which many of their members may seek to recreate, such as the Tipi people in Vancouver. These cults frequently invoke alien activity as an article of their faith. Many explicitly see the saucers as leading us into the New Age of peace, harmony and sensitivity to nature. Brookemith discusses the impact of Christian millenialism on Darkside Ufology, (3) yet any discussion of the influence of new religious movements, especially those which have their origins in tribal spirituality, on ufology is curiously absent.

In the late 40s and 50s when ufology emerged, many Americans certainly did have a naive faith in the benefits of technology. Society and ufology have changed since then, however. At least one cultural commentator, an Australian architectural student, has remarked that much of the dissatisfaction in American society and rejection of progress has come from the realisation that America is no longer a new country, but is now actually quite old. Yet despite his awareness of the changing, fluid nature of the subject, Brookesmith seems to locate ufology’s ethnographic present firmly in 1947. The world and America have come a long way since then. The most obvious change is that the moral consensus is breaking down. Politics and social life is no longer the preserve of middle class white males, no matter how much the Republicans may huff and puff. This invalidates, at least partially, the concept of an ‘American religion’.

Another point that needs mentioning is that some of Brookesmith’s sources are themselves highly dubious. He makes extensive use of Hyam Maccoby’s Judas Iscariot and the Myth of Jewish Evil which is, by the author’s own admission, a controversial work. Maccoby is librarian at a Leo Beck college, a Jewish institution, so his work is hardly that of a disinterested observer. His book’s central tenet is that Christianity is an intrinsically racist, antisemitic religion and he goes to great lengths to prove it. This is a reversal of the usual racist polemics, where Gentile Fascists attempted to prove Jewry’s hostility to the Gentile world through a selective use of those parts of the Talmud written against the amme ha-aretz – common people or goyim. While it’s true that the passion narratives in the Gospels present an extremely unflattering portrait of Jewish society in its hostility and cruelty to Christ, the New Testament as whole has a much more complex attitude to the Jews. “Give no offence to the Jews or Greeks” preached Paul. (4)

To Paul the Jews were always God’s chosen people, even after his conversion to Christianity: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek”. (5) It’s also worth mentioning here that the Greek word usually translated as ‘Jews’ in the New Testament, ioudaioi, can also mean simply Judeans, inhabitants of Judea. Modern theologians are keen to point out that the New Testament is anti-Judaic rather than antisemitic. Judaism as a religion is attacked, but not the Jews as a race. Although Christianity does have a shameful record of antisemitic prejudice and hatred, this has not always been the case. In the 11th century abbot Stephen Harding while seeking accurate Hebrew texts for the Old Testament collected them from French Jewry. The Fifth Monarchy Men of the Cromwellian interregnum were zealously pro-Jewish, an attitude still quite common among the Evangelicals today. Chick Publications may spit hate at Catholicism, but in its respect for Judaism it is almost embarrassingly effusive.

Maccoby’s theory that Judas Iscariot was an invention of the Christian church after its leadership passed to Gentile bishops seems unnecessary from an historical point of view. With the hostility of the Jewish mob and Sanhedrin already clearly detailed in the passion narratives, why should it be necessary to invent another villain for the drama, especially as the two leading religious opponents of Christ within the Sanhedrin are explicitly named in non-canonical sources like the Gospel of Nicodemus? It seems far more likely that Maccoby’s theory arose to justify his own psychological conviction that all Christians are violent antisemites.

Brookesmith’s use of Maccoby is actually quite elegant. It allows him to avoid accusations that he himself is antisemitic, while seeming to confirm his own prejudices against Christianity. Most arguments for the brutal nature of the Semitic religions largely draw on the Old Testament. The doctrine that the Jews are God’s chosen people has also been drawn into the debate. The attitude among certain neopagans and members of the antichristian left is that this doctrine is a prefiguration of Fascism and Hitler’s doctrine of the master race. Needless to say, this leaves the proponents of this theory open to charges of antisemitism. By including a book that violently attacks Christianity for its supposed antisemitism, Brookesmith has effectively dodged any potential accusations that he could be included in the roll call of the racists.

When accusations of this nature are thrown around, the ethnic origin of the writers attacked becomes immaterial. Several Jewish anti-Zionist writers have been accused of antisemitism, an accusation which may, unfortunately, carry verisimilitude as some Jews such as Dan Burros, have for their own perverse reasons joined neo-Nazi organisations. Brookesmith certainly isn’t a Nazi. His writings reveal not only a breadth of knowledge of the Talmud but also the occasional joy in its texts. His writings as a whole betray a sincere anti-racism and opposition to antisemitism. He obviously includes Maccoby from a deep disgust at Christianity, rather than as a cynical manoeuvre in the argument. Not everyone may see that, however, and it does not necessarily stop the accusation, being made. This does not, however, mean that either Maccoby or Brookesmith is correct.

Brookesmith also has a fashionably feminist assault on the Semitic conception of God. He follows the traditional Semitic view of God as a masculine deity because he “cannot believe that anything with feminine qualities – anything other than a being saturated in a massive overdose of cosmic testosterone would be as barbarous as the Semitic God is reported to be (in all derived religions)”. (6) This point was made two decades ago by some of the more violently anti-Christian of the neopagan -polemicists, and it’s quite a difficult one to answer. Certainly the vengeful Old Testament God who struck down Gideon for touching the ark of the Covenant in a mere attempt to steady it hardly shows Himself to be a compassionate being. Yet this type of savage behaviour is hardly confined to Yahweh. The Greeks’ Zeus and Vikings’ Odin were both known as martial gods who couldn’t be trusted. They were capable of violent and duplicitous behaviour which certainly exceeded that of the Lord of Hosts.

Nor is boorishness and brutality a trait confined to the male sex. Mars had his female counterpart in Bellona, the Roman goddess of war. Athena sprang fully armed and equipped for battle from her father’s head when he was suffering from a headache. These goddesses were especially brutal when spurned or crossed in love. Ishtar of the Sumerians is reproached by Gilgamesh for using and destroying her lovers. Cybele sent her lover mad so that he castrated himself. In honour of their hero, her priests in Rome castrated themselves and dressed as women. Within Hinduism the goddess Kali is still revered and held in terror. The goddess of death and destruction, her skin is a menacing black, her necklace a string of skulls. She is the consort of Shiva, the destroyer, dancing on his corpse to give him life. As the dark side of the maternal goddess Durga, there is precious little of the ‘large, warm, comforting Earth Mothers’ about her.

Regardless of the particular sex of the deities, they are symbols and attempts of the human mind to grasp the problem of evil. Theodicy is one of the trickiest parts of theology, as no explanation of evil and human suffering will ever be truly satisfactory. Monotheism lends itself to the accusation that its God is evil because it does not have an ultimately co-eternal ‘other’on whom evil qualities may be projected. Explanations that God created Satan and evil to give humanity a choice now sound trite, almost as trite as the neo-Pagan doctrine that evil does not exist, and that evil ads and conditions are merely the results of disharmony within individuals and institutions.

Brookesmith is pleased to call religion and, by extension, the abduction phenomenon, as the cult of despair. It’s “subjugation to incomprehensible and uncompromising savages, who like wanton schoolboys kill us for their sport” (7). The aliens, like God, always “hold the final way of escape”. (8) I felt the same existential depression reading Games People Play and the writings of the sociobiologists. If altruism and morality is merely the case of the selfish gene protecting its progeny, then where is the hope for humanity? From whence can spontaneity and goodness proceed, if even our better motives are mired in greed and self-interest? Can humanity ever improve, ever become greater than the sorry flesh it now inhabits? The prognosis is doubtful, at best. Religion offers some hope of transcendence, a slim chance of leaping into the infinite, even if that chance is hedged with theological pitfalls and constraints. The only alternative is the pessimism and denial of the world of the Buddhist.

This, however, is going off the track a bit. Brookesmith makes great play of the asexual, cerebrally advanced nature of the Greys, comparing them with the neuter portrayal of the angels. For this he draws upon William Blake. Now, Blake was a brilliant poet, artist and visionary. He was also deeply heterodox in his thought, and is hardly a representative of conventional Christian thinking. The Bible makes it abundantly clear in Genesis that the angels were quite fully functional in that department, for how else could they have mated with the daughters of men to spawn the Nefilim? And when you answer that question, please don’t try my patience with any nonsense about genetic engineering, cloning or ancient astronauts. Some of the Christian antipathy to sexuality comes not so much from its Judaic roots, though these are the strongest influence, but from certain strands in Platonic thought. No culture is entirely comfortable with sexuality; they are aware both of sexuality’s importance in creating society through the binding of individuals and families together in marriage, and of its potentially antisocial nature through adultery and marital strife.

Aside from this, the Greys in their habitation of a liminal fairyland are far closer to our old friends the Elves and the Pixies, even if we, take on board Quazgaa and the voice of God. These creatures certainly weren’t celibate. Victorian fairy pictures are replete with evanescent pubescent nymphs wearing only the flimsiest of diaphanous gauze engaging in all kinds of erotic play with their male gallants. The paintings may well have served as a release for the pent up sexuality repressed by the Victorians, but they also serve as a reminder of a perennial human obsession: sexuality as a link to the divine, or at least superhuman.

The Greys are only one form of ET. There are also the Nordics, the reptoids, mummies, dwarves and hairy Sasquatch creatures. In recent years they’ve been overshadowed by their small insectoid colleagues, but they’re still out and about there. Brookesmith links the Nordics quite convincingly to northern European representations of angels, the mummies can be identified strongly with Andean custom of revering the embalmed dead and the dwarves’ folkloric antecedents don’t really need an explanation.

But what are we to make of Sasquatch and his mates aboard the aliens’ craft? Hirsutism is linked, both in Europe and Asia, with animal qualities. You think of all the grind show acts featuring the wolf-boy. Hairy barbarian is another favourite image linking facial and body hair to low intelligence, savagery and cruelty. Sasquatch is supposed to be a denser relative of modern man, or perhaps his Neanderthal cousin, eking out a living in backwoods America, Russia and China. He’s not even supposed to be alive, let alone zipping about in a flying saucer collecting plant samples from Latin America. The only psychological explanation for him in this situation I can think of is that he represents some kind of untainted primal man, like the hairy Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

He represents some kind of untainted primal man,
like the hairy Enkidu in the Epic of Gilgamesh

There’s a similar problem with the aliens’ location in space. Brookesmith links it to the traditional conception of the heavens as the abode of God. This is only one of the origins of the Outsiders in the Saucer mythos, however. There’s also the chthonic aspect. The deros and teros are under our feet, even as we speak, manipulating us with their engines. They fly out from the holes in the poles to spread terror over the globe, which is covered with ley lines to act as energy points to power their craft. And deep down under Area 51 there are. the laboratories and vats, fruits of their collaboration with the US government.

This is not Heaven. This is sheol, the abode of the dead. The personnel down there are truly ‘those who sit in darkness; the river Lethe of which they drink sapping their ethics as well as their identities. It is the abode of Pluto, the dark and forbidding god of wealth, from whom the military wins its technological gold for which they must pay with human souls. It might be stretching the point a bit, but you could even say it was the domain of Vulcan. The divine smith is in his lair, under the volcano, forging his wonders such as the mechanical handmaids who serve him. He is ugly, lame and jealous, intensely distrustful of his wife’s affairs with other men, particularly his arch rival Mars. Now there’s a metaphor for the abduction mythos if ever there was one. Technology (Vulcan, or the Greys) wedded to beauty and sensuality (Venus, and by extension the erotic and sexual elements of the abduction mythos), who flirts and betrays him to the military (Mars). As an archetype, it fits the abduction mythos very well. We are now a long way from a simple identification of the saucer mythos with the Judeo-Christian tradition.

This brings me to my next point. The saucer mythology is a global one, not confined to America. There are reports from Europe, Australia, Latin America, China, Japan, India and Africa – just about everywhere except Antarctica. European, Australian and Latin American culture has the same Christian roots as America, and Turkey, Iran and the Arab countries still have cultural links with the West through their worship of Allah, Yahweh under a different name, and the permeation of their scientific and religious thought with Greco-Roman philosophy. Hindu India and the Buddhist nations are completely different cultural entities, however. Yet these seem to have taken up the ufological gauntlet in recent years with a relish. If ufology has its roots so deeply embedded in the American religion, then how is it that this plant has been successfully transplanted onto such foreign soil? It’s true that this century has seen the successful export of American culture in the form of Coca-Cola, movies, rock music, art, fashion and capitalism.

This cultural penetration is by no means universal or unchallenged. The Communist bloc bitterly resisted any cultural penetration of the decadent West into its cultural sphere and rock music was singled out for especial attention. Merely playing it could get you twenty years in a gulag. Now that Communism has gone the way of the Berlin Wall, rock’s been taken up with alacrity. It has, however, taken particularly Russian and Eastern European forms, marrying itself to a strident and unpleasant nationalism. Islam too is waging its own kind of kulturkampf with the West. This may take the form of a complete rejection and hostility to Western cultural forms such as democracy and feminism, as in Iran, or to a limited acceptance as in Egypt and a positive espousal of secularism as in Turkey. Everyone may now wear jeans and T-shirt the world over, but by and large the world’s nations still retain their own popular music traditions. Sometimes these westernised appearances are just cosmetic.

The most powerful symbol of the new technological age was the moon landings. Just about everyone on the Earth who had access to a television watched them. It brought the reality of space travel home to the world’s population in the most dramatic way possible, making credible theories regarding interplanetary and interstellar travel, and generating an intense interest in SF. This should cause problems for ufological investigators in the Third World. Star Wars, Star Trek, ET and Close Encounters have been shown the world over. Even in Iran, where Western entertainment is strongly discouraged, an underground exists where cultural forms from outside the Islamic world are indulged. In Isfahan during the Revolution the faithful were watching Arnie as The Terminator. The governing clergy have, in recent years, expressed horror at the growth of satellite television. It’s now illegal to own a satellite dish. This may not present a problem, as with the aids of a few judicious bribes, a little ideological freedom may be bought along with a subscription to Rupert Murdoch’s burgeoning global stranglehold.

This does not, however, mean that Western values or views are purchased along with their entertainment forms. No audience passively absorbs everything they read, hear or see. Rather, a dialogue occurs whereby they take on board what appeals to them, and reject what does not. Identification is far too simple a theory to explain adequately what goes on within the audience’s psychology when enjoying a drama. (9) At the international level, non-western peoples negotiate First World cultural imports within the context of their own cultural forms. Thus, a South American lawyer can encounter alien beings, whose lineage lies in the huacas of the Incas. Cynthia Hind of UFO Afrinews has complained of the difficulty in getting Africans to report encounters with UFOs. They may interpret bizarre light forms and otherworldly beings not as alien visitors but as returning gods or ancestors from their tribal belief systems: “Thus, when I approach witnesses of supposed sightings or contacts, I can be 99 per cent certain that their interpretation will be representative only of their culture.” (10)

This should disturb everyone genuinely interested in collecting the original narratives of Fortean phenomena. Hind appears here trying to foist her ideological framework on reports which the percipients have framed according to quite a different set of beliefs. If ufology is nothing more than a Western post-secular mythology, then it is no more true or valid than the African beliefs Hind believes it supplants. I don’t wish to be seen as accusing Ms Hind of deliberately disparaging or undervaluing African culture. I merely wish to point out the dangers inherent in reading unusual narratives which may embody two deep and conflicting world views.

The world’s debate is not one-sided either. It’s simply not a case of the rest of the world passively absorbing at different levels the cultural effusions of America and the West. A dialogue goes on, in which Western cultural forms may merge with non-European ideologies and arts, and then be re-exported back to the West. In the case of Science Fiction, the most obvious example is the Japanese Manga movies which have gained a cult following in recent years. Although they show the universal SF concern with technology and machines, the stories are framed within Japanese Confucian, Buddhist and Shinto roots. If you need an example, watch Fists of the North Star. The first 20 minutes of that epic is a narrative interpreting a future nuclear holocaust within the context of Taoist theories concerning harmony and disharmony. This actually makes the film sound far more interesting than it actually is. Plan 9 is far better.

The Wiccan and ritual magick movements which are now growing also absorbed much Eastern philosophy. One Wiccan prayer allegedly written down by Sanders or Gardner was lifted almost verbatim from Hinduism, but with the names of the deities changed to reflect the sexual dualism within modern Wicca. Wicca and related forms of occultism have played a major part in the mystical fringe element surrounding the Green movement. We are now told, for example, that Gaia, the living Earth, has chakras just like the human body.

This seems to be following in the tradition of Arthur Shuttlewood et al, who advanced the theory that the Earth was covered with energy lines along which the saucers flew. This was in itself an appropriation of Alfred Watkins’ ley lines, though in a new, post-hippie form. Watkins had conceived of his old straight tracks as being nothing more than neolithic and bronze age roads. It was left to the Hippies to turn them into the ley lines of the cosmic power grid now so beloved of the ancient technology lobby. They did this through a more than healthy injection of feng shui, Chinese geomancy, in the form of Dragon Lines. The ultimate ancestor of the crop circle may have been the Mowing Devil, but he’s now been replaced by the suburban shamans. It’s to the Far East the ufologists now look, not the Near East.

Brookesmith is on even shakier ground when he tries to explore the psychology of the religions which he assaults. The ‘Christian myth’ is ‘sado-masochistic’. (11) Well, you can’t accuse him of mincing his words! The trouble is, nearly every corporate ritual society has can be accused of the same thing. The Bible is replete with stories of the sufferings of Israel at the hands of the Gentiles, and their liberation by a divinely inspired hero or heroine such as Esther. The reader of these stories is immersed in their sufferings, as the Christian is in the passion of Christ, gaining a sense of his own identity as part of the amma Israel or Christendom, and share in Israel’s or/and Christ’s triumph as Esther brings down Haman and Christ rises from the dead to reign in glory forever. If you want a secular version of this motif of vicarious suffering and redemption, try the Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph. Every year the British people are invited to remember the great debt they owe those who sacrificed their lives in the Wars, and share in their appreciation of the triumph they gained in the form of a free Europe.

Brookesmith may be right in stating that “one of the subtexts of the Christian Eucharist is cannibalism” (12), possibly following such works as William Meyer’s Vampires or Gods, published by III Press. There is a pronounced difference, however. Within the pagan religions which preceded Christianity, the sacrifices were to the gods, whom the worshippers considered consumed the offerings. In Christianity, it is the God who is consumed by the worshippers. I fully realise that amongst certain individuals excessive contemplation of Christ’s passion and the evils of the world led to extremes of self-deprivation and self-mutilation, such as the flagellants. Such excessive displays of devotion have, by and large, been discouraged by the established churches. When such fanatical displays occur there are usually a number of hidden, sociological causes behind them. It would be naive to put them down purely as being caused by a religion (13). In this respect Brookesmith’s sources have betrayed him. The American Religion is as much about sociology as it is about religion.

Sociology, however, concerns itself ‘with ‘typical’ patterns of motivation of motivation as these might be located in terms of significant sociological variables-social class, education, sex, etc. It is not an attempt to provide an aetiology of motive’ (14). ‘It does not become an exercise in psychology’ (15).

To illustrate how complex the situation is, and how much of Brookesmith’s critique can be used in any cultural form, I would like the reader to consider the example of a football match. This is a mass corporate ritual whereby the faithful – the teams supporters – meet at an appointed hour on a day specially fixed for that purpose, usually sometime during Saturday afternoon. There, they watch a sacred drama which is replete in religious imagery. I even recall a poster for a match making use of the Biblical quote ‘Many are called, but few are chosen’. This fits the democratic and yet elitist nature of the game. Everyone is free to support, or not, the team of their choice. Only a minority of these, however, will be permitted to enter the pantheon of victors who win the Cup.

Like the abductees, their lives are not their own. Sides choose their champions from the hundreds of hopefuls presented to them through sports clubs and other confraternities. Their clubs buy and sell them as though slavery had not been abolished. The language used of the matches too fits the religious speech of asceticism and self-denial, of pushing oneself to the limits. Nietzsche even observed that once faith in God was broken, people turned instead to health fads and physical fitness. Asceticism as an axiomatic good now seems deeply embedded within Western culture.

On the pitch the players encounter herculean opposition, straining titanically to claim the final reward of victory. The trials through which they pass serve to make their triumph all the more glorious. The Church was certainly not unaware of the parallels between sport and the Christian life: ‘let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us’ (16). It was certainly not without reason that especially perseverant martyrs were called ‘athletes of Christ’. Football even has its recording angels – the referees, sternly ensuring that each sin does not go unnoticed, and enforcing the judgements of the higher powers. Of course, there is also the lucrative trade in kit in the team’s colours and other relics to satisfy the cupidity of the faithful.

Like the ufonauts, the players may also appear with grotesquely over sized heads perched precariously on thin, wizened bodies. This Mekonion appearance may seem strange, considering the amount of time they spend training themselves to physical perfection, but it is entirely explicable. I am, of course, speaking of the rubber caricatures of the England side being sold during the last World Cup. Lacking much of a sense of smell, humans recognise each other by physical, especially facial appearance. The easiest way to caricature a person, to distort him or her so as to make them look grotesque, yet keep them familiar, is to exaggerate his or her head. This is also an important factor in determining the physical shape of our alien visitors. They have large heads and spindly bodies. They are enough like us to appear credible as living beings, yet sufficiently grotesque to be marked out as alien and threatening. This is perhaps one of the most important reasons why the visitors in recent years have ceased to be technological humanoids and taken the form of our old grey friends.

“The problem is that there’s no middle ground in football any more – and we are in that middle ground”

There is another sphere which religion, sport and ufology share: prophecy. The Visitors seem to delight in bizarre and meaningless prophecies. ‘Cancer begins in the teeth’, for example. The pronouncements of the football pundits, however, are truly worthy of the Delphic oracle in there depth and impenetrability: ‘The problem is that there’s no middle ground in football any more – and we are in that middle ground’ (17).

The similarities between football and religion mere made obvious by the painter Michael Browne in his depiction of Eric Cantona as the Risen Christ, widely shown in the newspapers and on television on the departure of the great sportsman from Manchester. One last thing needs to be said about football. The game is not inherently racist, but because of its mass appeal and absorption of nationalist sentiments, it can frequently attract racist elements who identify their teams with their own racist goals. In this it can mirror religion in the nationalistic and racial pressures that can be brought to bear on that.

It therefore seems to me that ufology is too complex a phenomenon to be reduced to a simple paradigm based on the ‘American Religion’, a concept that is anyway not without deep flaws and caveats. While the central tenet that the UFO phenomenon is merely a post-secular form of western spirituality is unassailable and the parallels drawn with other forms of religion pertinent and thought-provoking, it cannot be automatically compared with the Semitic religions. The arguments deployed against these in particular can be applied to so many other, secular rituals, that they lose their force. Ufology can only be explained or truly examined with reference to universal religious or existential concerns which take into account the globalisation of the phenomenon. It cannot be forced onto the Procrustean bed of Brookesmith’s anti-Christian sentiments.

  1. Gregory Benford, Tides of Light, Gollancz.
  2. Keith Wime,’Wime’s World Watch’, in DeVille’s Advocate 3, p. 23.
  3. See under the heading The Cult of Despair, The Godlings Descend, Magonia 56, p.14.
  4. Corinthians 1, verse 32, Chapter 10, Eyre and Spottiswoode Study Bible, Revised Standard Version.
  5. Op. cit., Romans 1, verse 16.
  6. Brookesmith, P., The Godlings Descend, Magonia 56, footnote 20, p.13.
  7. Ibid, p.14.
  8. Ibid, p.13, quoting Paul Tillich.
  9. For a discussion of this in the world of the funny papers, see Martin Barker, Comics, Ideology, Power and the Critics, chapter 5: ‘The Vicissitudes of Identification’. The arguments marshaled can, of course, be applied to any entertainment or cultural medium.
  10. Hind, C.,’UFOs Within African Culture’, in UFOs – The Definitive Casebook, Spencer, J., ed., p.144.
  11. Brookesmith, P., op. cit, p. 14.
  12. Ibid, p. 14.
  13. As an example of this, see Victor S. Jeffrey’s Satanic Panic for a discussion of the complex sociological and economic causes for juvenile delinquency, pseudo-satanic crime and the modern witch-hunts.
  14. Religion in Sociological Perspective, Bryan Wilson, OUP, p. 20.
  15. Ibid, p.20.
  16. Hebrews 12 v.1., Eyre and Spottiswoode Study Bible.
  17. Joe Royle, Liverpool Echo, quoted in Private Eye no. 917, ‘Colemanballs’ column, p. 16.

Following the first on-line publication of this article, the following comment was posted:

Larry A on 05/02/2010:
Given the complex dynamics of religion and psychology, a focus on the schisms and antagonisms in both the dogma and history of Christianity and Judaism alone, the deep-rooted, multi-faceted and often contradictory psychological motives and drives of its adherents and practitioners over the centuries, including the Church fathers; any account of the nature and dynamics, never mind the exact roots, of prejudice – and particularly anti-Semitism – and other destructive themes in the Church and other religious institutions and its influence on our modern culture inclusive of ufology cannot of course be summed up so easily. The very nature of the subject demands at the very least book length treatment. I have significant disagreements with both Brookesmith and Sivier’s opinions here, whilst agreeing with both on several obviously differing points!

I will however – given this is a mere comment to Sivier’s article – confine myself to Sivier criticisms of Maccoby’s Judas Isacriot and the Myth of Jewish Evil. Firstly, Of course the book is naturally controversial, given the fact that it claims that vicious anti-Semitism is not merely a propaganda of the established Church, but intrinsic to the Gospels themselves and inseparable from them. No matter what positives are to be drawn from Christ’s teachings, Jew-hatred and more to the point, the Jew as an agent of supernatural evil is intrinsic to Christiantiy, notably the Passion. This is Maccoby’s central thrust. Another controversy, hardly original to Maccoby’s thesis, is that the
Gospels are essentially fictitious in many of its details. How does Sivier refute this? He doesn’t. He merely engages in apologetics on this front not dissimilar to cookie-cutter Christian apologetics. Any book worth its salt on Christian dogma and history is necessarily controversial, if not controversial it’s not saying anything that matters.

Sivier writes: “Maccoby is librarian at a Leo Beck college, a Jewish institution, so his work is hardly that of a disinterested observer.”

Maccoby (who passed away in 2004) was actually more to the point an academic of renown and in his latter years a professor of Jewish studies at Leeds University. He was one of the UK’s most distinguished Jewish academics and published scholarly books on Jewish history, religion, legends and notably on the history and dynamics of anti-Semitism (outside of his Judas Iscariot book) and even on the early history of Pauline Christianity. His writings here are controversial too as to be expected. He was considered a world authority on Judaica, on Jewish history and on anti-Semitism.

The BBC produced play which he authored, The Disputation, based on an important historical “debate” in 13th century Catholic Spain centring on the Jewish/Christian theological divide (in a hostile atmosphere) was widely acclaimed and had a run on the London stage. An informative obituary on Maccoby HERE
His “work is hardly that of a disinterested observer”? Uh no, he was Jewish and his area of expertise was um Judaica and Jewish history especially which would naturally encompass the tragic history of anti-Semitism. Sivier’s point exactly? That Jews, especially those knowledgeable on the history of anti-Semitism can’t be trusted to be objective on anti-Semitism and the vilification and persecution of Jewry by the Church?That’s how Sivier reads here. It’s like saying a Jewish historian’s work on the history of the Nazis and the Holocaust is hardly that of a disinterested observer. Uh no it wouldn’t be, and once again Sivier, your point? To give a further example, it is like saying an African-American historian’s work on the history of the Atlantic slave trade is hardly that of a disinterested observer, likewise any work on the history of apartheid South Africa by any black academic anywhere is hardly that of a disinterested observer. Well no it wouldn’t be, once again, the point or the thrust of Sivier’s argument is…? Sivier’s straw-man is not just that, it is a silly one besides.
Sivier writes: “Maccoby’s theory that Judas Iscariot was an invention of the Christian church after its leadership passed to Gentile bishops seems unnecessary from an historical point of view. With the hostility of the Jewish mob and Sanhedrin already clearly detailed in the passion narratives, why should it be necessary to invent another villain for the drama, especially as the two leading religious opponents of Christ within the Sanhedrin are explicitly named in non-canonical sources like the Gospel of Nicodemus?”

If Sivier has actually read Maccoby’s book, he has done so rather sloppily or else failed to take note of the nuanced and historical documentation of the evolution of the Iscariot mythos, that Maccoby documents and the actual points that Maccoby makes here. Why should it be necessary to invent another villain? It justifies the already present rudimentary, albeit unfocused anti-Semitism in the Passion Play, feeding off it and imprinting a seal of approval on it and giving it a more iconic significance, an (in)human face. Quite literally. Isn’t that obvious? Imagine if one were to write, why did the Black Hundreds hoax the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, when anti-Semitism and the bloody history of pogroms was already firmly imprinted on the Russian psyche? Yes but they went ahead with their hoax anyway. Prejudice by its nature needs to justify itself. Hence the Protocols fed off the already pervasive anti-Semitism in Russia, justified it and naturally reinforced it. It still does the world over. Round and round we go… It’s the very nature of the beast. There is much else to add here on this specific point, but I will leave it at that.

Perhaps Sivier’s most egregious misrepresentation of Maccoby is when he writes:“It seems far more likely that Maccoby’s theory arose to justify his own psychological conviction that all Christians are violent antisemites.”

Maccoby’s theory arose from his historical documentation of Church history and the content of the Gospels themselves re the Passion Play and their evolving exposition of the traitor motif in the form of Judas Iscariot, who in Christian myth is a demonic figure – that is he represents the forces of supernatural iniquity against the Divine Goodness. You would never really know what Maccoby actually writes on Iscariot and anti-Semitism for that matter going by Sivier, not even vaguely. There is much that Maccoby writes on both Iscariot and anti-Semitism, especially in its contemporary “secular” manifestations that is simply beyond the scope and intent of my comment and I cannot do it justice, other than recommend the book to readers themselves. On the anti-Semitic stereotype of the Jew as the greedy usurer and how this ties into both Iscariot and contemporary left wing anti-Semitism, this needs a lengthy exposition on its own. It is in the book. As is so much else that Sivier of course cannot cover in a single article.

Yet this comment of Sivier’s, “to justify his own psychological conviction that all Christians are violent antisemites” is simply laughable. It is a gross misrepresentation of Maccoby and worse, it is simply false. Nowhere in his book ‘Judas Iscariot..’ or in any of his other books, articles, lectures and publicly available correspondence has Maccoby ever suggested never mind stated that he believes “all Christians are violent antisemites”. Maccoby has explicitly stated that the Passion Play as detailed in the Christian Gospels is intrinsically anti-Semitic and violently so. Likewise ipso facto, the Christian dogma on which all the Christian churches are built is inherently anti-Semitic. There is that little something called the history of the Jews in Christian nations inclusive of Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant nations that gives credence to Maccoby’s thesis (and in its main points are hardly original to Maccoby).

This is not nearly the same thing as saying that Maccoby had the “conviction that all Christians are violent antisemites”. He didn’t, obviously not. That would simply be ridiculous, since stating the obvious, many Christians are not anti-Semitic, past and present. Maccoby was actually well aware of the obvious. Maccoby was at pains to point out though that where Christians were not anti-Semitic, it was in spite of their religious background. The crucial difference between the inherent anti-Semitism of the Christian Passion Play and the Judas Iscariot motif, as claimed by Maccoby (and others besides) and the attitudes to Jews of individual Christian believers from all walks of life is conflated by Sivier as being one and the same thing. They are not, the error of conflation and confusion is Sivier’s.

In light of my criticisms above of Sivier let me point out that I am in agreement with much that he says in relation to his response to Brookesmith’s criticisms of religion, esp in how seemingly legitimate criticisms of religious texts and institutions can be used very selectively to justify bigotry, as well as Sivier’s additional expositions that communicate his encyclopedic knowledge on all things strange and mysterious. Sivier as usual, Maccoby aside, is informative, edifying and interesting.