When Christians approach the contemporary UFO and extraterrestrial phenomena, they would be best advised to keep two things in mind that are distinct yet interrelated. Firstly, irrespective of whether UFO's exist or not as an objective or verifiable phenomena, they do in terms of the minds of those that believe in them and draw from them an inspiration as a mechanism for understanding man's place in the broader universe. Secondly, if what those claiming to have contact with does indeed have an existence apart from the internalized structures of perception and belief of those advocating the actuality of such beings, the Christian needs to provide some kind of explanation for them as well in terms of this faith's own comprehensive worldview if Christianity wishes to retain a place of socio-cultural credibility rather than to be regarded as a philosophical relic of the left behind past. The church cannot afford to ignore this issue as today we are already living with the consequences and repercussions of other issues that were allowed to fester by being ignored rather than grappled with head on.
Within their respective contexts, all religions and systems of belief posses at their core a mythology or historical events that the adherents hold to be true and around which subsequent doctrines are derived from or inspired by. For example, Christians view the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus as the seminal event of their faith. Muslims trace the founding of their religion back to the revelation of the Koran to their prophet Muhammad. Likewise, though they may differ ultimately as to other details and implications (as could be said of any belief system with competing schools of thought and denominations), even casual observers of ufology and UFO movements know of certain key events sparking interest in the question of life from beyond the Earth and its repercussions for man’s place in the larger universe.
One of what is now one of the most prominent events looked to by even the most casual of ufological enthusiasts is the incident claimed to have occurred in Roswell, New Mexcio in July 1947. At that time, the military observed on radar over the course of several days an unidentified flying object. Following a thunderstorm, area rancher Mack Brazel went to check his holdings. During the survey, Brazel discovered a unique variety of metallic debris scattered across a sizable area and a trench several hundred feet in length gouged into the earth as if by some manner of impact.
Brazel talked over what he had seen with his neighbors, the Proctors, who suggested that he might have discovered a crashed UFO or a downed government project. As a result of this discussion, Brazel went into town to notify the sheriff. The sheriff in turn reported the incident to military intelligence officer Jesse Marcel.
It is unlikely public interest in this account and speculation about it would have continued to increase to this very day if not for a variety of circumstances surrounding the incident. On July 8, 1947, a press release was issued by the Public Information Office under the orders of the 509th Bomb Group at Roswell that the wreckage of a cashed disk had been retrieved. A second press release was issued the next day that the mysterious debris was actually nothing more than that of a weather balloon.
However, as the years went by, those whose curiosity was roused by the incident could not let it rest as a case of the imagination initially getting ahead of the calmer, more rational explanation of what might have happened. There were simply too many circumstances surrounding the event that later bubbled into public view because those involved did not feel comfortable or even safe in revealing until the passage of time and a number of those involved were themselves nearing the point when they, shall we say, were about ready to leave this planet.
Even if nothing happened any more exotic or of cosmic ramification than the official explanation of a downed weather balloon, the way in which the government is accused of handling the situation must bear some of the responsibility for the legendary status this case has acquired. For example, mortician Glenn Dennis was contacted by base officials inquiring about obtaining small coffins. Upon taking these to the military hospital and visiting with a nurse on staff that he knew, Dennis claims he was threatened by military police and escorted from the premises. Even more disturbing, according to Dennis’ affidavit as posted online by the Burlington UFO & Paranormal Research Center, the nurse that is alleged to have drawn pictures of crash victims of a nonstandard human appearance was abruptly transferred to England a few days later.
These two, however, were not the only ones to endure mistreatment less than forthright at the hands of those higher up the chain of command dealing with the aftermath of whatever it was that might have crashed. Brazel was escorted by military police to the offices of the Roswell Daily Record where he changed his story to that of having found the debris of a weather observation device earlier in June rather than during the period of July under question. It has been insinuated that, while in military custody for several days, Brazel was threatened with violence if he did not agree to alter his story.
In another intriguing incident, Major Marcel took along some of the debris to show General Ramey when he made his report to the Commanding Officer of the Eighth Air Force. Marcel placed the debris, which consisted of items such as shards of metal the thickness of tin foil and unbreakable I-beam structures that were three-eighths of an inch by one-fourth of an inch with indecipherable markings, on the General’s desk. To get a better idea of where the material had been gathered, Marcel and Ramey went to the map room down the hall. When the two returned, the contents Marcel had brought to show the general had already been taken and replaced by a weather balloon draped over the floor.
Though the Roswell incident may now be one of the public windows into the world of UFO’s and speculation into whether or not intelligent life other than and beyond our own might exist, it is by no means the only. In fact, if it was so, it might rather be an example of bureaucratic bungling rather than a conspiracy that has achieved interstellar proportions. However, it is because of the considerable number of occurrences transpiring around that time and ever since that has caused belief in the possibility of extraterrestrial life to grow from being a philosophical possibility embraced only by those of questionable mental stability or those educated beyond reasonable practicality into one of the common cultural assumptions at least assented to (not unlike belief in at least a nominal God) by overwhelming percentages of the population.
Synonymous with the term “UFO” or “unidentified flying object” is that of “flying saucer“. An interesting historical coincidence is that this particular way of categorizing this phenomena was coined nearly around the same time as the events at Roswell were transpiring.
The term was coined in reference to a sighting on June 24, 1947 when pilot Ken Arnold flying at 9200 feet spotted near Mt. Rainier, Washington a series of blue flashes, emanating from what he initially thought must have been a squadron of military fighter jets. However, thanks to his background in aviation, Arnold would conclude that the squadron was anything but conventional. He estimated that the craft were traveling well over 1500 miles per hour (Yenne, 27).
After discussing the incident with friends in Yakima, by the time Arnold completed the next leg of his journey to Pendelton, Oregon, news of his encounter had spread so quickly that a throng of reporters had assembled to record Arnold’s account. When pressed for a description of what he had seen, Arnold replied that the objects looked "like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water (Larson, 26)." From there, the press shortened the phrase to "flying saucer", the description that has been with us ever since.
These incidents no doubt rank among those that establish an awareness of UFO's in the mind of the general public. However, these merely represent the bubbling to the surface of a conceptual undercurrent that stretched back prior to those iconic incidents where man had to grapple with an understanding of the universe expanding as a result of advances in technology and where exactly he would look to provide context and meaning to this newly acquired awareness.
Skeptics might counter that, in a sense, people create their own reality. In this case, that would mean people encountered aliens because they wanted to or were at least suggestible to that possibility. One could not refute that in its entirety. For since at least the early 20th century, Americans have had a fascination with the possibility of extraterrestrial life that went beyond an afternoon's entertainment in the form of a movie, printed story, or broadcast drama. Even if most approached the topic with a rational maturity insisting that aliens were just creatures in comics and pulp magazines geared primarily towards children, there was one incident in particular where it was discovered that the clever in the media could prod the otherwise unsuspecting into becoming quite exercised as to the existence of life from beyond the Earth.
In 1938, Orson Welles staged a radio dramatization of the novel by H.G. Wells titled The War Of The Worlds. The story was adapted in the form of a news broadcast covering an alien invasion from Mars. Despite the proviso that the broadcast was a fictionalized dramatic presentation, a number either tuning in after the disclaimer or as a result of getting caught up in the compelling nature of the narrative were convinced that the Earth was actually under attack. A small-scale panic ensued. Some even barricaded themselves in their homes with guns drawn as a last line of defense to prevent any bug eyed monsters from inflicting harm.
Granted, the UFO phenomena has attracted considerable attention over the decades from those of questionable sanity or lacking in compliance to adherence to social norms and conformity. However, these incidents have also been witnessed and experienced by a number whose credentials and sobriety were beyond impeccability. Among these have ranked the frontline personnel of the United States armed forces. Before gaining the name that would make them a household word (“flying saucers”), UFO’s went by another moniker bestowed upon them by Allied pilots during World War II. Referred to as “foo fighters” by bomber crews, these mysterious lights would come startlingly close to the aircraft but were not necessarily thought to be any kind of ultrasecret German weapon since they never inflicted any harm (North, 294).
Though sightings would ebb and flow over time, they were more than a passing fad and would become a fixture of the public consciousness even if for a while on the periphery of respectability. Government authorities might have had a vested interest in publicly downplaying encounters with UFO’s. However, the institution charged with overseeing the nation’s safety would not have the opportunity to stick its head in the sand in the hopes that these objects would simply float away.
When something unexplained happens in an out of the way place such as Roswell, New Mexico, the highly credentialed and esteemed in government office can cast aspersion and doubt on the credibility of those claiming to have witnessed such things. It is insinuated that, even if such individuals mean well, in terms of mental acuity and especially education such people do not necessarily make the most reliable of witnesses. However, it is much more difficult to level such allegations when these kinds of events literally take place on the doorstep and in the backyard (or at least over top of it) of some of the most powerful people in the country.
In July 1952 on two occasions that month, UFO’s entered Washington, DC airspace not far from and over the White House, Pentagon, and Capitol building. These objects were spotted on radar screens at both Washington National Airport and Andrews Air Force Base. These enigmas were estimated to be traveling at speeds of 100 to over 7,000 miles per hour, which, according to About.com UFO Guide Billy Booth, was beyond the technological capabilities of the time.
Such an objective threat to Washington DC and thus national security could not go unchallenged. A defensive response was required. Fighters were scrambled to investigate the objects. However, in a manner that almost seemed deliberately taunting if one were inclined to believe some kind of deliberative intelligence was behind the fast moving lights, the objects vanished from radar when approached by the jets only to reappear when the interceptors needed to return to base as a result of low fuel. The five disks departed by 5:30 AM.
Had that been the only incident, an official explanation of either meteorites or an atmospheric phenomena known as a temperature inversion where a denser layer of cold air becomes trapped under warmer air that bends radar waves capable of producing false images might have seemed plausible. However, the objects returned approximately a week later and were once again detected both visually and on radars at National Airport as well as Andrews Air Force Base. Once again, fighters were dispatched to investigate.
During this encounter, however, the objects did not always uniformly flee from the jets giving chase. In one instance, a group of four turned and surrounded their pursuers in a gesture almost playfully flirtatious to convey how it felt to be the hunted rather than the hunter. The pilots’ pleas for instructions on how to handle this turn of events were met with silence on the part of the control tower. Fortunately, other than the likely need to change their underpants, no physical harm came to anyone involved as the lights then sped away.
The response of high government officials to this incident was classically textbook. To either calm public apprehension or lull the masses into a sense of complacency, the Air Force announced at a Pentagon press conference held July 29, 1952 that the sightings could be explained in terms of misidentified aerial phenomena such as shooting stars or temperature inversions causing false radar images. However, such a state of objective detachment hardly characterized the government’s response during the heat of the crisis. It has been claimed that the Truman White House was so worked up over the matter that pilots were ordered to shoot down any flying saucers that refused orders to land. Of this particular incident, Bill Yenne concludes in UFO: Evaluating The Evidence, “...the evidence shows that the Washington incidents are among the largest and strongest series of UFO sightings ever reported (80).”
Despite the credibility of a number of those coming forward with eyewitness reports, since these kinds of encounters run counter to what has been deemed normal particularly from a modernistic technocratic perspective, it can still be difficult to perceive of them as anything other than the flights of fancy or delusions of those deciding to step forward. If they were nothing more, then why has the federal government expended taxpayer resources on what could be called the “Extraterrestrial Question”?
One could argue that the extent of government involvement in extraterrestrial affairs is open to debate. Some that contend that the involvement is extensive probably could not legitimately verify their claims and it is not like the government would offer the kind of confirmation that would settle the issue once and for all. However, the researcher can utilize history as a guide as to what the government might be doing today.
Project Blue Book commenced in 1952 and ceased in 1970. The purpose of the program was to evaluate data collected regarding UFO's primarily for the purposes of determining whether these objects were a threat to national security. Of the over 12,000 reports collected by Project Blue Book, analysts concluded that the majority were misidentified aircraft or natural phenomena. However, nearly six percent of the total sightings defied explanation.
Because the overwhelming majority of the cases investigated by Project Blue Book were resolved with perfectly terrestrial explanations, officials decreed that the program would officially conclude in January 1970. However, its findings issued in the Condon Report did not provide any explanation regarding the outstanding controversies. In fact, this division within the United States Air Force charged with shedding light on some of the most baffling mysteries of the twentieth century ended up raising a number of additional conundrums.
For example, it is argued that Project Blue Book did not so much simply gather intelligence dispassionately regarding UFO phenomena and issue a report with motivations primarily scientific in nature. Rather it has been accused that Blue Book was itself concealing evidence pertinent to any conclusion that would ultimately be reached. Granted, there has not yet been a decisive moment such as in the television series "V" where a number of alien craft appear overhead or land on the Mall in Washington DC with a little green man emerging and making the iconic request of "Take me to your leader." However, another kind of intervention might be of greater existential significance for the time being in the lives of those believing they have encountered non-human intelligences than the more traditional flying saucer described in classic UFO encounters. This is none other than the so-called "alien abductions".
More will be said about this phenomena in a later chapter since these traumatic encounters often play a significant role in shaping the worldviews of those whom perceived extraterrestrials hold a central place in their respective belief systems. However, in highlighting a number of iconic moments in this introductory chapter, attention for now will be focused on the case of Barney and Betty Hill. In 1961, married New Hampshire couple Betty and Barney Hill were on their way home from vacation in Canada. Both remember seeing a traveling light like a bright star that became progressively brighter as it hovered over the trees (Kettlekamp, 50).
Out of curiosity, the Hills parked to get a better look at the luminous anomaly, with Barney getting out of the vehicle for a closer examination with a pair of binoculars. Through the spyglasses, Mr. Hill ascertained what he perceived to be approximately five individuals walking around inside the object. As would be the reaction of most to such an encounter, Mr. Hill promptly returned to his vehicle in order to continue his journey home.
However, that would not be the end of the Hills' encounter with the unexplained. As the couple proceeded down the highway, they heard noises similar to a tuning fork which caused them both to feel tingly and sleepy (Kettlekamp, 51). When the Hills emerged from their state of somnolent discombobulation, they were startled to discover that they were 35 miles farther south than when they had last noticed and could not account for the preceding two hours.
One might chalk up the entire episode to extreme fatigue and as a reason why to be extremely cautious about driving late at night when one is at less than one’s mental and physical optimum. However, it seemed the Hills were unable to shake off the effects of the experience or shrug it off as one of those life lessons learned. Both Barney and Betty were profoundly impacted. Barney developed a rash on his stomach and was plagued by chronic health problems following the incident. Betty was haunted thereafter by recurrent nightmares so intense that she eventually sought psychiatric counseling.
Evidence pointing towards an encounter went beyond symptoms that could possibly be explained as psychosomatic no matter how sincerely credible the Hills might have happened to be. Barney’s shoes were visibly scuffed. Even more bizarre, when a compass needle was placed over mysterious metallic spots in the trunk of their vehicle, the needle within the device would spin (Kettlekamp, 51). Unidentified objects were detected by the radar at Peasc Air Force Base around the time of the encounter as reported by the Hills.
However, the Hills are remembered even more so for something that would add yet another level to the UFO phenomena, and in the minds of some shed light as to perhaps why these entities have allegedly traveled all the way to the planet earth as well as deepen that mystery all at the same time. Some insist that Barney and Betty Hill were abducted by non-human entities. Skeptics are often quick to conjecture that those claiming to have encounters --- especially to the point of claiming to be either victims of or in confederation with these beings from beyond the normal --- are desperately seeking attention. And that is certainly a concern to keep in mind. However, initially Barney and Betty Hill were not aware to the full extent of what may have taken place.
As part of their therapeutic counseling, the Hills were separately placed under hypnosis. Their respective accounts, not given in the presence of or to the knowledge of the other, displayed a degree of similarity worthy of note. Not revealed previously, the Hills now insisted that, upon hearing the beeping tones, they were taken aboard the craft and each taken into a separate chamber. According to the account provided by the Hills, their abductors possessed a countenance eerily not quite human as the creatures lacked distinctive lips and seemed to communicate telepathically. The beings were particularly interested in the differences between Barney and Betty since they were an interracial couple and that Barney wore dentures while Betty’s teeth were natural.
Psychoanalysts and counselors might point out that the fact that these hypnotic trances brought out such details instead point to the stresses the Hills may have been under. For at that time such marriages were not that common and would be replete with a number of challenges that would be below the surface even if the love between the couple was strong enough to endure them. However, there was one aspect of what Betty recalled that would be difficult to fabricate or dissemble about.
According to Betty, a needle was inserted into her naval as part of what her captors informed her was a pregnancy test. Today, such procedures are so commonplace that mention of them would not raise the eyebrows of a therapist transcribing this kind of testimony. However, Larry Kettlekamp points out in UFO’s & ET’s: Are They Real? that needle examinations like that described by Betty Hill were not conducted in 1961.
The chronicle detailed in this chapter should in no way be considered comprehensive. Rather, it has endeavored to list a number of highlights to suggest that accounts of contact with beings from beyond this earth or at least belief that one has had contact with beings from beyond this earth should not be dismissed outright as signs of questionable sanity. Those mentioned in these pages span the breadth of the ways of life found in contemporary America from the humblest of trailer park paupers all the way into the deepest corridors of power. In the chapters that follow, we will explore a number of belief systems that incorporate non-terrestrial intelligences as fundamental concepts into their perceptions of reality, how the concept of life from beyond the Earth is used to mold culture or society itself, and (most importantly) provide an Evangelical perspective to the perennial question if we human beings are alone in the cosmos.
By Frederick Meekins
Booth, Billy. “1952: Washington DC Buzzed by UFO's.” About.com. 20 Oct. 2010.
Kettlekamp, Larry. UFO's and ET's: Are They Real?. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.
Larson, Bob. UFO's And The Alien Agenda: Uncovering The Mystery Behind UFO's And The Paranormal. Nashville: Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997.
North, Gary. Unholy Spirits: Occultism and New Age Humanism. Fort Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, 1986.
Yenne, Bill. UFO: Evaluating The Evidence. New York: Gramercy Books, 2007.