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Tuesday, 19 May 2009
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What is “the” Christian View of Aliens? Part 1

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   Mike Heiser

The recent publicity spike for the upcoming Christian Symposium on Aliens, to be held this July in Roswell, NM, has prompted me to blog about its content. This symposium focuses on the view that what people think are aliens (mostly from contactee and abductee experiences) are demons. I’m speaking at the symposium, but I’d like to be clear that I am not committed to the aliens=demons view to the point that I have excluded all other views.  Now, I’m not saying that I think the aliens=demons view is wrong. It may be the answer. It also may be only one of several answers that can co-exist just fine. What I’m saying is this: There are other coherent possible answers to what an intelligent ET is (assuming ET life is ever proven) and that Christians who put all their eggs in the single basket of aliens=demons are unwise to do so.

Personally, I don’t think there is, can, or should be one particular Christian view of aliens at this point in the discussion. The sooner the Christian community admits that, the better off it will be in terms of its participation in the discussion. I’d like to unpack what I mean in a series of blogs, so here we go with Part 1. I apologize for the length, but I want to introduce the issues properly.

Hostility Toward the Aliens = Demons View

The view that aliens are demons is bound to be met with hostility. That’s understandable on a couple of levels.

1. For some, aliens are savior figures, replacements for anything that looks at all like traditional theism. Calling their saviors demons isn’t going to be taken well by that crowd.

2. Others view the aliens=demons view as an intellectual retreat or simple superstition, since the belief in beings that somehow transcend the terrestrial space-time world we occupy is nonsense. If there are aliens, they are from elsewhere in the material universe we know of, period. There are no such things as demons or angels, so to bring them into the discussion of intelligent ETs is a waste of time.

3. There’s a third group, too. Those who would entertain the idea that there are other universes or “reality planes” that are not the same as our space-time reality, but which can intersect with it. The “interdimensional” view was popularized by writers like Jacques Vallee. But (per Vallee) there is an underlying assumption that such a view is incompatible with a traditional theistic worldview–as opposed to it being just a different articulation of that religious worldview, or something co-existent with that worldview. This is unfortunate, since there is fertile ground to be cultivated here.

The old guard of ufology is filled with people who take the second view. Their minds are closed to anything they can’t grasp with their calipers. Never mind the host of philosophers down through history (yes, including people who teach at universities TODAY) who have assailed the materialist view of reality as logically troubled. Oh well. The nuts and bolts crowd has their place, and we can be grateful when they do good work in the field. On to my real thrust in this post.

Tunnel Vision on the Aliens = Demons View

The typical Christian interested in ufology has rejected all three views.  There are several reasons so many Christians conclude that aliens=demons is the ONLY possibility:

(1) Believing that the question of intelligent aliens cannot or should not be separated from the abduction phenomenon.  If the former cannot be separated from the latter, then whatever these beings are, they commit atrocious evil. I’ve talked to abduction researchers who have tried to argue that I’m judging the alien by my set of ethics. It just doesn’t work.  If aliens are intellectually superior and aren’t demons, then it is perfectly logical to expect that the ethical quality of their behavior shoul dbe superior. Exhibit A here that this is not sophistry on my part is the mountainous pile of abduction reports that have the abducting aliens as altruistic saviors of our environment and world (”they look scary but they care so much about us and our world”). You can’t argue for an ethical motive for what they do on one hand, and yet have them deliberately harming a lesser being who can ask them — nay, beg them – to stop.  If they are so intelligent (and I’m paraphrasing the famous Vallee quotation here), then they should be smart enough to create methods of studying us or helping us that don’t involve our trauma. If they can but won’t, that’s evil. To disagree here is to mark yourself as a study in the Stockholm Syndrome (and that didn’t make those captors ethical either) or to propose that it’s a valid response.

Now, if the alien question is separated from abductions (legitimately), then you can (theoretically) have both real aliens who aren’t out there committing atrocities and demonic beings who are. There are naturally other ways to parse such a dichotomy, but this will do for now. Yet many Christians are resistant to allow that “alien” and “demon” could be separate ontological categories.  Why?  The answer may be ….

2. Alien messages during “contact” and/or “abduction” are very anti-Christ or anti-theistic. This will sound foreign to those who are in love with “revisionist views of Jesus,” like the New Age Christ, or people who think Dan Brown and Michael Baigent know something about New Testament theology. They don’t. The reasoning here is that, since these alien messages are so antithetical to New Testament theology (and they are), aliens must be demonic. Anyone who is familiar with New Testament theology (and I speak here of the biblical text, not denominational creeds or claims about truth) and who has read very deeply into abduction literature knows there are profound incompatibilities between what the NT says about Jesus and these alleged alien communications. That this is so demonstrably true is what has led me on this blog to write a series on Msgr. Corrado Balducci (Balducci’s Conundrum), who speaks as though he’s never read any of the stuff, and ends up endorsing ideas that repudiate his own theological commitments.

The theology of abduction narratives is a legitimate gripe for Christians to have with the alien idea, but it is not in and of itself proof that aliens=demons.  While I oppose the theological content of alien messages as unbiblical, I can introduce you to lots of PEOPLE who have the same ideas, and of course you wouldn’t be meeting a demon.  Again, theoretically, it may be that there is another intelligent race out there that (a) doesn’t know anything about biblical theology or (b) doesn’t buy it.  Christians (and non-Christians as well) seem to think it would be the death knell of biblical theology if there were aliens out there who knew about it and didn’t believe it. This is both philosophically and theologically incoherent. Philosophically, a gap in intelligence means nothing with respect to ontological truth.  I can put a PhD up against a toddler, and just because the PhD doesn’t believe in X and the toddler does believe in X does not mean that the PhD’s disbelief is proof or even evidence that X is false.  It’s just that we PERCEIVE the falsity of A on the basis of appearances (”that guy has a PhD”). Appearances do not = ontological reality. For the sake of the discussion, God could have created ETs and not told them anything about his plans for earth, which involved the Bible. Or, he could have told them long ago and they forgot, or became arrogant, dismissing their creator as real, and come up with their own ideas to displace Him (something we see on earth among intelligent beings all the time). Theologically, biblical theology teaches that God created intelligent non-human beings to whom the truth of the gospel was at best obtuse, and to whom the redemption offered through Christ was not available. I speak here of angels, of course.1

3. A certain brand of biblical literalism compels many Christians to assert that only the alien=demon view is “biblical.”

This one covers the “well, the Bible doesn’t say anything about aliens, so there can’t be any aliens, or else the Bible is wrong” position.  Yeah. The Bible doesn’t mention the known planets, either.  Oops. It doesn’t talk about microwaves, sunspots, television, chicken curry, or the Red Sox.  Guess the Bible is wrong all the time.  This way of thinking is alarmingly naive (that’s the nicest phrase I can think of without just saying it’s stupid).

More serious is the notion that (alleged) alien behavior in abduction reports mirrors what went on in Genesis 6:1-4 with the fallen sons of God.  I would agree that, if what people report in alien abductions is real (i.e., that they are indeed physically sexually violated by a non-human entity), then such a thing would mime the kind of thing that is described in Genesis 6. But notice how this point of literalism assumes an unbreakable connection between aliens and abductions.  If (see above) an ET reality were separable (even among presumed “ET species”) from abduction trauma, then Genesis 6 loses explanatory power and validity in terms of a reason to oppose the idea that there are aliens.  It would only apply (hypothetically) to where it would apply — it would be of no use across the board, and would be a misuse of Scripture. See below for more on this.

4. Commitment to an un-nuanced literalist view of end times held by many Christians interested in ufology. Now, the issue of the merits/flaws, coherence/incoherence of an exclusively literalist eschatology (”end times”) is beyond our discussion here. ALL views of eschatology are based primarily on presuppositions to certain questions; that is, NONE of them is self-evident from the biblical text, despite proponents wanting that to be the case. (And what is “literalism” anyway?) I only raise the issue since many Christians tie the question of aliens (married as it is to abductions) to their view of end times, so much so that it makes me wonder which one parses which.

There are typically two passages used to defend tying aliens (and again, by virtue of the sexual violation of alien abduction accounts) to the end times: Daniel 2:43 and Matthew 24:36-38 (cp. Luke 17:26-27). Without getting bogged down in too many details, Daniel 2:43 occurs amid a description of a prophecy about a succession of ancient empires, described as parts of a great image / statue. Literalists agree that these kingdoms (Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome) came as prophesied. Even though the last of these kingdoms, described as the feet of the statue that were made of mixed iron and clay, is Rome (accepted by basically every Daniel interpreter, liberal or fundamentalist), what is said about this last kingdom is frequently re-applied to a presumed “revived Roman empire” that is presumably described in the book of Revelation. This “new empire” to come had an unusual characteristic (or so it is thought) described in Daniel 2:43“As you saw the iron mixed with soft clay, so they will mix with one another in marriage, but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay.” Literally, the Aramaic here has “they will mingle themselves with the seed of men.” These “mixed marriages” or “mixed mingling” are taken to refer to alien-human intercourse in the eschatology of many who hold to an aliens=demons view. The justification of this interpretation is usually that the phrase is unusual or doesn’t occur anywhere else, or that the prhase “seed of men” is very odd (well, what other kind of seed is there?).  These are bogus arguments with respect to the Hebrew text. Those who think the phrase doesn’t occur anywhere else can only make that argument if they are doing their work in English Bibles. Sorry, but the Bible wasn’t given to us in English.  It was given in Hebrew, Aramaic (this passage), and Greek.  If one searches the entire Hebrew and Aramaic text of the Old Testament for all occurrences where the root word “seed” (zera’) occurs in a phrase followed by any of the words for “mankind” (’ish, ‘enosh, ‘adam - see the screens shot of my search below), you get two other occurrences besides Daniel 2:43.

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The first of these two additional occurrences is 1 Sam 1:11, where the child Hannah prays for  is described as “a seed of man” (it’s a Hebrew idiom for “son”) and Jer 31:27, where God promises to return the “seed of men” and the “seed of beasts” to Israel and Judah (a promise of blessing that the land, soon to be emptied and destroyed, will be repopulated (see the context of 31:23-26). For our purposes, the noteworthy parallel is 1 Samuel 1:11. The boy Samuel wasn’t an extraterrestrial (!) so that sort of ruins the point being made by that interpretation of Dan. 2:43. That verse has other problems.  Who are the “they” who will mingle their seed with the seed of men? Are there hints we are dealing with ETs or demons in the context of Daniel 2 prior to v. 43?  No.  In biblical theology, intermarriage between people groups (which is NOT synonymous with biological race as we think of it) is always viewed unfavorably, especially by Israelites, but also as a general bad behavior of non-Israelites.  In other words, it’s viewed as self-destructive behavior, mostly because of the view held throughout the ancient world that intermarriage dilutes culture, which can only have ill effects on society and empire.

In regard to Matthew 24:36-38, here is the passage (ESV):

37 ?For as were the days of Noah, ?so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38 ?For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, ?marrying and giving in marriage, until ?the day when Noah entered the ark, 39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, ?so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

The key phrase is the “marrying and giving in marriage.” In the Old Testament, the flood narrative is Genesis 6-8. That narrative is introduced by Genesis 6:1-4, the account of the sons of God. The argument is made that Matthew 24:36-38 teaches us that, just as in the days of Noah, when the sons of God were having sexual relations with human women, so shall the days be when the son of man (Jesus) returns. There are a number of problems with this view, and I will try to distill them here. My point is NOT to say that the aliens=demons literalist view (hereafter, ADLV) is impossible or should be rejected. (Perhaps it can be articulated better without certain fallacies or without over-reaching the biblical data). Rather, I’m saying that those who take this view should be honest with its difficulties (and, so, its uncertainties).  I’m just advocating honesty, which is an important part of a Christian ethic.

First, the ADLV would have us believe that the phrase “marrying and giving in marriage” must only refer to the demonic marriages of Genesis 6:1-4. If it refers to other marriages (normal human ones) then the argument fails or (at best) loses a lot of steam. I think it would be quite fallacious to assume that Jesus was referring to only those marriages, since (a) we know people were getting married left and right during the days of Noah — humanity still needed to reproduce the species –  and (b) Jesus uses the same phrasing to speak of humans in his own time period having normal marriages (Luke 20:34-35).

Second, the combination of “marrying and giving in marriage” with “eating and drinking” strongly suggests that the phrase, as used by Jesus, is generic (= “having a good time, oblivious to care of life”) and not a specific reference to Genesis 6:1-4, which does NOT have this phrase in it.

Third, the fallen divine beings and their sexual relationships with women occurred well before the flood. According to the biblical account, the flood was preceded by the events of Gen 6:1-4 by at least 120 years. If 1 Enoch is to be trusted, the sons of God activity occurred beginning with the “days of Yared” [the proper name Yared can be translated as "the coming down" - i.e., when the angels "came down" to earth, as Enoch describes, to commit the sexual transgressions]. In biblical chronology this was centuries before the flood.

Fourth, The Bible never actually tells us that the sexual sins in Gen 6:1-4 was the CAUSE (or even primary cause) for sending the flood. For sure it tells us the sons of God were punished (and that was before the flood, too, at least according to 1 Enoch and 2 Peter cites this punishment).  Genesis 6:5 tells us the flood was punishment for HUMAN sins of all types.  The literal biblical sequence is this: (a) sons of God cohabit with human women, which was a transgression; (b) they have offspring, known as nephilim-giants; (c) humanity is overblown with wickedness; (d) God sends the flood as judgment for human wickedness.  The book of 1 Enoch puts extra information before (a) and in between (b) and (c) the sons of God corrupt humanity with forbidden knowledge of various sorts] and (c) and (d) [the giants go on a rampage, killing humans]. My point is that 1 Enoch clearly has humankind being corrupted by the sons of God and the giants to the point where the flood was the solution. NEITHER ancient book (Genesis, 1 Enoch) has the sin of the sons of God as the exclusive reason for the flood. At best (or worst) it is a precursor to the flood judgment, which is squarely directed at evil humanity, not the sons of God or their offspring. Those two groups are put forth as agents of corruption of humanity.  THIS point, in my view, ought to be the focus of the ALDV, not that aliens are going to be used to explain the rapture, or that the antichrist is busy creating alien-human hybrids for an army, or something like that.

I would hope it’s clear that ET life isn’t needed to parse biblical eschatology (end times), but the two are so tightly woven by some that to suggest another view of aliens might feel like an attack on a view of eschatology.  When that happens, a demonic view of aliens has become non-negotiable.  But if a rigidly literalistic brand of Christian eschatology is flawed, then its incorporation of aliens (or demons disguised as aliens) will also fail. Given that eschatology is in large part about presuppositions — assumptions BROUGHT TO the text — and not the biblical text itself, this is pretty shaky ground. I know Christians who read this will think that isn’t true, but it is. Everybody cheats when they need to in this area. Having taught all of these views for years, I know it’s true and ought to be admitted as true (there are good reasons why the believing Church hasn’t agreed on eschatology for a couple millennia — it’s not about one group “believing the Bible” and other groups refusing to do so).

Hope this generates some discussion.


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