Why the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis Dominates Ufology

Recently an article has been making rounds amongst Christian Ufologists which seeks to explain why the public thinks of space beings rather than ultraterrestrials when they think of the UFO phenomenon. The article, Alien Addiction: TV Shows and Why We Can’t Shake the ET Hypothesis by MJ Banias, claims that UFO documentaries, “along with various other forms of popular media, typically revolve around the UFO phenomenon being caused by aliens from another planet. The extraterrestrial hypothesis basically pervades the UFO question to those in the mainstream. In other words, those who do not actively engage in UFO discourse regularly, but are ‘tourists,’ have a coerced notion that the UFO debate primarily concerns otherworldly aliens.”

First a little about the source. MJ Banias is a field investigator for MUFON who has appeared on various UFO programs. He’s also a pretty prolific writer. In addition to the various sites he’s contributed to, he has an essay included in a book called UFOs: Reframing the Debate and his own site, Terra Obscura. You can read his bio here. I really like the photo he chose of himself.

In the interests of full disclosure, I also noted that the first comment on the post was by Greg Bishop co-founder of The Excluded Middle and fellow contributor to the aforementioned book of UFO essays. Both are advocates of the Interdimensional Hypothesis  (IDH), by whatever name you call it.

In the article, Banias asks “why do cable networks and TV producers focus only on the ET hypothesis, when the UFO discourse is a chorus of many different hypotheses as to the ‘source’ of the phenomenon?”

I found his answers unsatisfying. For example, he seems to suppose that biological aliens produce the sort of anxiety thst we find addictive (if ratings are any indication), but that “mystical beings” do not. Really? What if the mystical beings were identified as demons, the very boogeymen that many religions and cultures still view as very real and very scary. Demons produce a lot of anxiety for some folks; I’ve even had Bible-believing Christians ask me if I thought a believer could still be demon possessed! Why do you suppose LA Marzulli’s painfully obvious “demon fairy” hoax got such serious attention in some Christian circles?

Anyway, I thought that his article ignored the elephant in the living room, so I responded.

“This article ignores two very important facts: [1] the interdimensional hypothesis (IDH) is minimized in TV programs attempting to get Ufology into the mainstream because it is in fact a minority position within Ufology, and [2] the principle of mediocrity suggests that a minority of the UFO phenomenon is extradimensional so, coupled with the fact that science looks for material answers, the interdimensional hypothesis smacks of woo and the occult… ironically proponents of woo and the occult make up IDH’s chief and original advocates (e.g. Borderland Sciences Research Association). The fact that some fundamentalist and charismatic Christians have translated IDH to demonology rather fascinates and alternately irritates me, but they are the minority position even within Christian Ufology… and that’s with Most Christian UFO documentaries pushing IDH (which is an interesting side note to this article.”

Again, the IDH is not just one voice in a “chorus of many different hypotheses;” it’s a minority opinion. It’s a voice that has always been a part of the chorus. In fact, the Etheric theory of UFO predates the Kenneth Arnold sighting that began the modern obsession with the subject. Unfortunately, that version of the IDH was associated with Theosophy and the occult. When military personnel and airline pilots began giving their opinion that the movements if UFOs were too advanced to be aircraft currently made by any human government, their endoresement resonated with a public raised in a material age. This is an era wherein the scientific method is valued as an authority and a means of knowledge; the natural explanation will be more readily accepted over the supernatural, which is expected in a universe where the supernatural is the least likely reason for any given phenomenon. In other words, we acknowledge that demons do not generally spoil crops or sour milk, even if we believe they exist and operate in this world; rather we generally expect that natural causes are at the root of blight and acidification.

While the modern IDH has been given an air of scientificity by the idea that aliens and UFOs are extradimensional in nature, anyone who investigates the history of the idea comes up with mediums, telepathy, contacted, the occult and a whole lot of other woo. If you want to build the level of dread and anxiety most UFO documentaries try to go for you simply cannot include this element, which leads to more scoffing and head shaking than anything else. People are looking for reasons to dismiss the phenomenon after all.

Ironically, the Christian UFO documentary market seems to have recognized this. In painting IDH as identical to the spirit realm and then specifically relating the UFO phenomenon to Christian angelology and demonology, they have managed to brand a sort of anxiety reminiscent of the ministries of some of the demon-obsessed Christian fundamentalist culture warriors of the 1980s. And really it’s just a rebranding after all…

Despite the fact that the majority of Christian UFO documentaries push IDH, the idea that aliens are interdimensional beings or even fallen angels posing as aliens remains a minority position within Christendom. Sites like the Northwest Creation Network’s CreationWiki insist that only non-fundamentalists entertain the possibility of extraterrestrial life.  I stand as a personal testament to the fact that they are wrong on that assumption. Nevertheless, almost no one in Christian Ufology seems to believe that the UFO phenomenon is extraterrestrial in nature. We either suppose it is natural, supernatural or psychological in nature (or some combination of the three). This means that we would not expect the extraterrestrial hypothesis to dominate Christian UFO documentaries but we do wonder why there aren’t more Christian UFO documentaries pushing natural or psychological explanations. Perhaps Banias is onto something; perhaps the more rational explanations do not as readily engender the sort of anxiety that sells UFO documentaries…

Food for thought.

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