The Spirit of Science Fiction
The post-World War II decades that have witnessed the astonishing increase of Eastern religious cults and influence in the West have also seen the beginning and spread of a parallel phenomenon which, although at first sight seems totally unrelated to religion, on closer examination turns out to be just as much a sign of the “post-Christian” age and the “new religious consciousness” as the Eastern cults. This phenomenon is that of the “unidentified flying objects” which have supposedly been seen in almost every part of the world since the first “flying saucer” was spotted in 1947.
Human credulity and superstition – which are no less present today than at any time in human history – have caused this phenomenon to be connected to some degree with the “crackpot fringe” of the cult world; but there has also been a sufficiently serious and responsible interest in it to produce several government investigations and a number of books by reputable scientists. These investigations have come to no positive result in identifying the objects as physical reality. However, the newest hypotheses made by several scientific investigators in order to explain the phenomena actually seem to come closer to a satisfactory explanation than other theories that have been proposed in the past; but at the same time, these newest hypotheses bring one to the “edge of reality” (as one of the new scientific books on them is called), to the boundaries of psychic and spiritual reality which these investigators are not equipped to handle. The richness of Scriptural and Patristic knowledge of precisely this latter reality places the Orthodox Christian observer in a uniquely advantageous position from which to evaluate these new hypotheses and the UFO phenomena in general.
The Orthodox Christian observer, however, is less interested in the phenomena themselves than he is in the mentality associated with them: how are people commonly interpreting UFOs, and why? Among the first to approach the UFO question in this manner, in a serious study, was the renowned Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung. In his book of 1959, Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, he approached the phenomena as primarily something psychological and religious in meaning; and although he himself did not attempt to identify them as “objective reality,” he nonetheless did grasp the realm of human knowledge to which they actually belong. Today’s investigators, while starting from the “objective” and not the psychological side of the question, have also found it necessary to put forth “psychic” hypotheses to explain the phenomena.
In approaching the religious and psychological side of UFO phenomena, it is important for us, first of all, to understand the background in terms of which “flying saucers” have generally been interpreted (by those who believe in their existence) from the time of their first appearance in the 1940’s. What were men prepared to see in the sky? The answer to this question may be found in a brief look at the literature of popular science fiction.
* * *
Historians of science fiction usually trace the origins of this literary form back to the early 19th century. Some prefer to see its beginning in the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe, which combined a persuasive realism in style with a subject matter always tinged with the “mysterious” and the occult. Others see the first science fiction writer in Poe’s English contemporary, Mary Shelley (wife of the famous poet); her Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, combines fantastical science with occultism in a way characteristic of many science-fiction stories since then.
The typical science-fiction story, however, was to come with the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from Jules Verne and H.G. Wells to our own days. From a largely second-rate form of literature in the American periodical “pulps” of the 1930’s and ‘40’s, science fiction has come of age and become a respectable international literary form in recent decades. In addition, a number of extremely popular motion pictures have shown how much the spirit of science fiction has captivated the popular imagination. The cheaper and more sensational science-fiction movies of the 1950’s have given way in the last decade or so to fashionable “idea” movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, not to mention one of the most popular and long-lived American television stories, “Star Trek.”
The spirit of science fiction is derived from an underlying philosophy or ideology, more often implied than expressed in so many words, which is shared by virtually all those who create in science-fiction forms. This philosophy may be summed up in the following main points:
Religion, in the traditional sense, is absent, or else present in a very incidental or artificial way. The literary form itself is obviously a product of the post-Christian age (evident already in the stories of Poe and Shelley). The science-fiction universe is a totally secular one, although often with “mystical” overtones of an occult or Eastern kind. God, if mentioned at all, is a vague and impersonal power, not a personal being (for example, the “Force” of Star Wars, a cosmic energy that has its evil as well as good side). The increasing fascination of contemporary man with science-fiction themes is a direct reflection of the loss of traditional religious values.
The center of the science-fiction universe (in place of the absent God) is man – not usually man as he is now, but man as he will “become” in the future, in accordance with the modern mythology of evolution. Although the heroes of science-fiction stories are usually recognizable humans, the story interest often centers on their encounters with various kinds of “supermen” from “highly-evolved” races of the future (or sometimes, the past), or from distant galaxies. The idea of the possibility of “highly-evolved” intelligent life on other planets has become so much a part of the contemporary mentality that even respectable scientific (and semi-scientific) speculations assume it as a matter of course. Thus, one popular series of books (Erich von Daniken, Chariots of the Gods?, Gods from Outer Space) finds supposed evidence of the presence of “extraterrestrial” beings or “gods” in ancient history, who are supposedly responsible for the sudden appearance of intelligence in man, difficult to account for by the usual evolutionary theory. Serious scientists in the Soviet Union speculate that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was due to a nuclear explosion, that “extraterrestrial” beings visited earth centuries ago, that Jesus Christ may have been a “cosmonaut,” and that today we may be on the threshold of a “second coming” of intelligent beings from outer space.
Equally serious scientists in the West think the existence of “extraterrestrial intelligences” likely enough that for at least 18 years they have been trying to establish contact with them by means of radio telescopes, and currently there are at least six searches being conducted by astronomers around the world for intelligent radio signals from space. Contemporary Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians – who have become accustomed to follow wherever science seems to be leading – speculate in turn in the new realm of “exotheology” (the “theology of outer space”) concerning what nature the extraterrestrial races might have. It can hardly be denied that the myth behind science fiction has a powerful fascination even among many learned men of our day.
The future “evolved” beings in science fiction literature are invariably seen as having “outgrown” the limitations of present-day humanity, in particular the limitation of personality. Like the “God” of science fiction, man also has become strangely impersonal. In Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, the new race of humans has the appearance of children but devoid of personality; they are about to be guided into yet higher evolutionary transformations, on the way to becoming absorbed in the impersonal “Overmind.” In general the literature of science fiction – in direct contrast to Christianity, but exactly in accordance with some schools of Eastern thought – sees evolutionary advancement and spirituality in terms of increased impersonality.
3. The future world and humanity are seen by science fiction ostensibly in terms of projections from present-day scientific discoveries; in actuality, however, these projections correspond quite remarkably to the everyday reality of occult and overtly demonic experience throughout the ages. Among the characteristics of the “highly-evolved” creatures of the future are: communication by mental telepathy, ability to fly, materialize and dematerialize, transform the appearances of things or create illusionary scenes and creatures by “pure thought,” travel at speeds far beyond any modern technology, to take possession of bodies of earthmen; and the expounding of a “spiritual” philosophy which is beyond all religions and holds promise of a state where advanced intelligences will not longer be dependent on matter. All these are the standard practices and claims of sorcerers and demons. A recent history of science fiction notes that “a persistent aspect of the vision of science fiction is the desire to transcend normal experience… through the presentation of characters and events that transgress the conditions of space and time as we know them.” The scripts of “Star Trek” and other science-fiction stories, with their futuristic scientific devices, read in parts like excerpts from the lives of ancient Orthodox Saints, where the actions of sorcerers are described at a time when sorcery was still a strong part of pagan life. Science fiction in general is usually not very scientific at all, and not really very futuristic either; if anything, it is a retreat to the mystical origins of modern science – the science before the age of the 17th and 18th century Enlightenment which was much closer to occultism. The same history of science fiction remarks that “the roots of science fiction, like the roots of science itself, are in magic and mythology.” Present-day research and experiments in parapsychology point also to a future connection of science with occultism – a development with which science-fiction literature is in full harmony.
Science fiction in the Soviet Union (where it is just as popular as in the West, although its development has been a little different) has exactly the same themes as Western science fiction. In general, metaphysical themes in Soviet science fiction (which labors under the watchful eye of materialist censors) come from the influence of Western writers or from direct Hindu influence, as in the case of the writer Ivan Efremov. The reader of Soviet science fiction, according to one critic, “emerges with a vague ability to distinguish the critical demarcation between science and magic, between scientist and sorcerer, between future and fantasy.” Science fiction both East and West, says the same writer, like other aspects of contemporary culture, “all confirm the fact that the higher stage of humanism is occultism.”
4. Almost by its very nature as futuristic, science fiction tends to be utopian; few novels or stories actually describe a future perfect society, but most of them deal with the evolution of today’s society into something higher, or the encounter with an advanced civilization on another planet, with the hope or capability of overcoming today’s problems and mankind’s limitations in general. The “advanced beings” of outer space are often endowed with saviour-like qualities, and the landings of spacecraft on earth often herald apocalyptic events – usually the arrival of benevolent beings to guide men in their “evolutionary advancement.”
In a word, the science-fiction literature of the 20th century is itself a clear sign of the loss of Christian values and the Christian interpretation of the world; it has become a powerful vehicle for the dissemination of a non-Christian philosophy of life and history, largely under open or concealed occult and Eastern influence; and in a crucial time of crisis and transition in human civilization it has been a prime force in creating the hope for and actual expectation of “visitors from outer space” who will solve mankind’s problems and conduct man to a new “cosmic” age of its history. While appearing to be scientific and non-religious, science-fiction literature is in actuality a leading propagator (in a secular form) of the “new religious consciousness” which is sweeping mankind as Christianity retreats.
All of this is a necessary background for discussing the actual manifestations of unidentified flying objects, which strangely correspond to the pseudo-religious expectations which have been aroused in post-Christian man.