Thursday, November 03, 2005

Theology and Alien Abduction

In his delightful travel narrative, Notes From a Small Island, Bill Bryson decides to return to America, after living for twenty years in England. He cites the statistic that 3.7 million people believe they were abducted by aliens from outer space. "Clearly," he writes, "my people needed me." Now along comes Susan Clancy, whose new book, Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Abducted By Aliens, tries to give an answer as to why so many people believe they were snatched by ET. Clancy is no kook, but a former professor of psychology at Harvard. It is her contention that people who believe they were abducted are desperately trying to find religious meaning in life. She writes, "Being abducted may be a baptism in the new religion of this millennium" (see a fuller review in Slate magazine). She continues, "We want to believe there's something bigger and better than us, or at least is paying attention to us...Being abducted by aliens is a culturally shaped manifestation of a universal human need."

I am not really interested in alien abduction, per se, but I am concerned with our society's loss of spiritual meaning. G.K. Chesterton is said to have famously quipped that "When men stop believing in God they don't believe in nothing; they believe in anything." Agnosticism would seem then to promote gullibility. This may not be scientifically provable, but it is certainly anecdotally self-evident. How else does one explain cults, Jesus appearing on toast, Mary on a taco? How do we confront irrationality on a global scale, especially when the church itself is accused of rampant silliness? Over the last week I was invited not once, but twice, to luncheons in my area where Ken Hamm, from Answers in Genesis, was the keynote speaker. This is a person who believes the universe to be thousands of years old, and that dinosaurs didn't make onto the ark. I politely declined the phone invitations, but I wanted to say to the nice woman on the other end of the line: "You are all mental patients!"

They are not mental patients, of course, just folks searching for meaning and demanding certainty and theological tidiness in a messy world. I wish I could offer my own congregants such certainty, it would surely help our little church to grow. Instead I offer them "a still, small voice." I offer them words of grace, of forgiveness, of hope. One would think that would be enough, but people want more. Evelyn Underhill once wrote, "Sanity consists in sharing the hallucinations of our neighbors." But I reject that form of spiritual cynicism, and prefer the words of theologian Josef Pieper (who deserves a wider readership): "Man's life is authentic only when he does not allow his vision of reality to be clouded by his own desire; on the contrary, his decision-making and action depend upon reality revealing itself to him. By his willingness to live the truth he shows himself to be prudent" (Anthology, p.8). But was it not T.S. Eliot who said, "Human kind cannot bear very much reality" ("Burnt Norton," Four Quartets)? Indeed, so off we go into the arms of aliens and cultists, who offer an alternative to truth, and a soft delusion to fill our inner void. One understands Jesus' lamentation a little better: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem...How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not" (Matthew 23:37).


Blogger homo unius libri said...

"Reality...what a concept." - Steve Martin

So Paul was not abducted by aliens when he was caught up to the third heaven, and Ezekiel didn't see a flying saucer by the Kebar. Good.

Now about those dinosaurs, of course they made it on the ark, they were just snakes because they had lost their legs in the curse of Genesis 3, boy that Ken Hamm should get his facts straight!

9:35 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

I think we are required to offer certainty from the pulpit (1 Pet 4:11) and from the pavement. Peter's Pentecost sermon did not lack certainty.

Offering certainty or being certain and humility are not mutually exclusive.

Of course, there are many things we can't be certain about, and people disagree about what things we can be certain about, giving the illusion that we can't be certain what we can be certain about which would appear to leave nothing certain. But this is certainly not the case. (Do I sound the villain from Princess Bride yet? - forget his name)

9:57 AM  
Blogger Scribe said...

Are you certain about that? :))

You are right, of course, and I do offer my folks many certainties. But we are losing people to cults and quasi-Christianities (LDS, Jehovahs Witness, etc), by the millions because of their false certainties. It makes our jobs a lot harder, but God is good and his grace prevailing. I just feel bad for those caught in such spiritual bondage. My cousin became a Witness, recently. Very sad.

10:14 AM  
Blogger RogueMonk said...

Interesting thoughts. Of course it is all based upon an assumption that 3.7 million people are wrong. What if they were abducted by aliens? How would that effect our theology? There is no more proof that alien abductions DO take place than there is that alien abductions DO NOT take place. Just a thought, at the risk of sounding insane. ;)

1:03 PM  
Blogger Scribe said...

One cannot prove a negative, but if 3.7 million people have been abducted, then our theology seems awfully parochial, no?

I await, fearfully, my anal probing. ;o

1:22 PM  

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