Monday, November 26, 2007

Gods, ancient and modern (2007)

Book Review from the forthcoming December 2007 issue of the Socialist Standard

UFO Religion. Inside Flying Saucer Cults and Culture. By Gregory L. Reece. (IB Tauris. 2007.)

Why should socialists be interested in UFOs? Well, if they really are alien spacecraft then all humans should want to know the truth about them. UFOs should really be called UAPs – unidentified aerial phenomena rather than unidentified flying objects – since there undoubtedly are unusual aerial phenomena that do need explaining, and generally can be in terms of weather balloons, reflections, optical illusions, etc. To call them “flying objects” is to beg the question.

Reece is not really interested in those he calls the “nuts and bolts” ufologists – those who seek to employ scientific methods to gather verifiable evidence that they are alien spacecraft – even if he thinks that haven’t had any success in this. His interest is those who believe in all sorts of weird and wonderful stories about them – the abductees, the contactees and those who say that aliens built the Pyramids and lived in Atlantis.

His is a book about why some people believe these things in the same way as others believe in the myths propagated by the various religions. Hence the book’s title. His style is gently mocking. For him, those who claim to have been abducted and experimented on or had sex with aliens are either hoaxers, fantasists, attention-seekers or in need of psychiatric help.

It’s the “contactees” – those who claimed to have met aliens and to have come back with a message from them – who really interest him. In the 1950s and 60s the message they reported was that the visiting aliens wanted us humans to achieve world peace and harmony and to stop testing atomic bombs in the atmosphere. Those who think that aliens built the Pyramids and the like also saw aliens as higher beings trying to help us.

Reece’s conclusion is that these imagined aliens are “modern gods” with a modernised version of what the god(s) of traditional religions are said to teach. Like them, they are the creation of the human mind, a reflection of a human aspiration for a world of peace and harmony.

He is concerned, however, that, in recent years, some of these new gods have turned out to be as nasty as the old ones. He instances Scientology and the Heaven’s Gate cult, both of which preach, in a modernised form, the old anti-human dogma that our bodies are evil and that the aim of life is to prepare for our “souls” (considered by these two cults to have come from outer space) to leave them so that we can progress to a higher dimension. I hadn’t realised before that the Mormons believe that their god was originally an extra-terrestrial. One now wants to become the US President as if the present incumbent didn’t have nutty enough religious views.
Adam Buick