Sci-fi Televangelism – Part 5: Alien Christology

We have been reviewing a presentation called “Science Fiction: Televangelism for ET Religion” given by fellow science fiction author Dr. Michael Heiser gave  at the 2017 Roswell UFO Festival. Basically, Heiser has set out to demonstrate that sci-fi is isn’t just escapism entertainment but is “deeply theological.”

So far, we’ve covered four of his proposed elements of the ET Gospel:

  1. New Myths replace Old Creeds
  2. Sci-fi and Speculative Science as the ET Canon
  3. Alien Gods
  4. Alien Salvation & Transhumanism 

Now we come to preaching the ET Gospel. 

Heiser claims that “Science fiction propaganda blurs the line between ET and Christian theism. It’s about messaging… Hundreds of thousands of pages and hours of print science fiction, TV, and films have transmitted these memes since the late 19th century.”

Here I must object that as he did when discussing speculative science and speculative fiction as a Canon for the ET Gospel that he acts as if there is one clear message. The very thing he calls ET Theism is but one of several memes propagated by science fiction. He is purposely avoiding the implications of apocalyptic sci-fi and dystopian sci-fi because they do not line up with his claim that a clear alien Gospel is bring preached. He is forced to cherry pick to make his case.

He points to a scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind in which a member of the Christian clergy reads Psalm 91:11 before the humans are chosen to join the aliens:

“For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”

While he admits that this can (should) be taken to be a reassurance that God is watching over the volunteers as they step bravely into the unknown, Heiser poisons the well by suggesting that the scene really represents the idea that “the minister hands off the human race to the ‘real truth or a greater truth.” Monstrous nonsense! There is plenty to object to in film without such conspiratorial speculation.

Regarding E.T., the Extraterrestrial:

“ET possesses powers to heal and to soar through the air. Spiritual connection with Elliot. Rises from the dead.”

I belong to several social media groups where a commonly played game is “Sum up a movie badly.” This would certainly qualify. E.T.’s powers are never painted as supernatural acts but simply as inherent abilities. His connection to Elliot isn’t spiritual; it’s psychsomatic, which is not the same thing at all. In fact, E.T. severs his connection with Elliot, which he had used to allow the boy to better understand him to facilitate communication, in order to keep him from dying alongsids him. 

According to the movie script, a scene with Elliot’s brother, Michael, gives us our first clue that simething is amiss. This scene takes place immediately after Elliot’s connection to E.T. has been severed.

Michael enters the closet space where E.T. stayed. He looks at the objects, including the cartoon page from the newspaper, then huddles down among E.T.’s possessions.

There is a time transition, for Michael is asleep in E.T.’s space when the morning sun shines on his face. Michael wakes up, then watches the plant (which represents E.T.’s life force) wilt. He screams.

The script gives the details of the scene that follows in the medical room:

Doctors state that he has no blood pressure and there is no pulse or respiration. A bell rings, which signifies a life and death situation. Doctors run into the room and tear down the plastic coverings surrounding E.T.

We assume that E.T. is dead because he severed the link to Elliot, the flower he’d rescuscitated earlier in the film has died, and because the medical staff give up on a failing E.T. and pack him in ice. Whether he actually dies has neen debated. Many fans have suggested that E.T. never truly dies, but rather was dormant as a part of his alien physiology, especially since he revives so soon afterward. 

Either way, this is hardly a Risen Messiah or extraterrestrial Christ moment. E.T. is just a feeble or able as he ever was and must make a mad dash to escape the planet.

The Day the Earth Stood Still:

“Jesus is swapped [for an alien].”

In this case, the truth is that apparently the screenwriter Edmund North wrote Christian elements into the film without discussing the matter with director Robert Wise or producer Julian Blaustein. 

 In a 1995 interview, North said:

“It was my private little joke. I never discussed this angle with Blaustein or Wise because I didn’t want it expressed. I had originally hoped that the Christ comparison would be subliminal.”

In his essay “Technology and Ethics in The Day the Earth Stood Still” in Steven Sanders’ The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film [2007], philosopher Aeon J. Skoble notes how the Christ allegory ultimately falls apart:

“Tellingly, The Day the Earth Stood Stillhas very few special effects and derives its power from the story and its characters. Perhaps for this reason some see the film as a Christian allegory: Klaatu comes from beyond the world, with a message of love and peace, is misunderstood and killed, gets resurrected, and returns to the sky. Despite his adopted identity as “Carpenter,” I find this interpretation implausible, first because Klaatu’s message is not that we must all love one another—it’s OK if we don’t, actually, as long as we don’t threaten others—and second because Jesus didn’t threaten to have his robot friend blow up the planet if we didn’t listen.”

The Man of Steel

Speaks of Superman as a Christ figure and points to a cruciform pose in the Man of Steel as evidence.

Lots of people have pointed to Superman as a Christ figure, so this one isn’t exactly subtle.  Superman saves the people all the time (physically anyway). He belongs to the House of El, calling back to the Hebrew expression for God, El. He even came back from the dead in the comics after sacrificing himself to save the planet from the arch-villain Doomsday in the 1992 Death of Superman event. 

In bringing Superman Returns to the screen, Bryan Singer admitted in an intervuew with Steven Skelling that he crafted his story to be an intentional Christ allegory:

“It celebrates that notion.  These stories are told in so many different ways.  From Sunday School to pop culture…

But if you’re going to have lines like Marlon Brando saying, “I send them you—my only son.”  And they’re being spoken with absolute seriousness, then when you carry it forward and you have him return after five years, face an immeasurable conflict and then…  I mean, if you’re going to tell that story, you’ve got to tell it all the way.  You’ve got scourging at the pillar, the spear of destiny, death, resurrection—it’s all there.” 

Singer is of course calling back to Maron Brando’s portrayal of Jor-El, Superman’s father in Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie.

Pointing to the portrayal of Superman and his father, Jor-El, in the movies, Heiser claims that as part of the alien Gospel, “We have a new heavenly father and a new heavenly son.” 

I’m still waiting to hear back from Klaatu or E.T.’s father… but more on that a bit later.

And as for the aerial cruciform scene Heiser alludes to:

SINGER: I remember sitting with one of my writers and we were watching the visual effects of him [Superman] falling to Earth [after pushing the kryptonite-laced landmass into space].  And his hands are extended and he falls to Earth in that very…

SKELTON: It’s the crucifixion pose; it’s beautiful; it’s fantastic

SINGER: Yes.  And he [the writer] looked at me—and he went to Catholic school, it’s very interesting—and he said, “Are we…?  Are we…?  Shouldn’t he open his legs a little bit more?  Are we…?  Is this too on the nose?”  And I said, “If we’re telling this story, we’re going to tell this story.  Some parts are going to be subtle.  But this one is not.” 

“Either we’re going to have him float down kind of in the position [of the crucifixion] or not…But if there was ever a time to hammer it home, this is it.”

Thor Odin-son.

Heiser also points to Thor as an example of an Alien Gospel with a new heavenly father and a new heavenly son.  He should have stopped at Superman. He fails to note that this relationship is derived directly from Norse mythology. Marvel just co-opted the existing mythology. The only major things Marvel changed about these characters is how bloodthirsty their mythological counterparts were. In myth, Odin trades his left eye for magic; in the Marvel universe, Odin trades his eye for the Odinforce which allows him to do just about anything except when he needs to recharge his batteries during the Odinsleep. Heiser’s beef is that in the 2011 movie if the same name, Thor is sent to Earth where he appears to die sacrificing himself to humanity from the Destroyer, until Odin decides he is now worthy, Mjolnir returns to Thor and our hero saves the day. In reality, the hammer was preprogrammed to return to Thor when he was once again worthy of its power and Thor’s offer to sacrifice himself for Earth fulfilled those terms. In other words, Odin (who was then in the Odinsleep) did not look down from the heavens, “approve” of his son and raise him from the dead (Thor was only near-dead). Heiser is basically skewing the plot and setting up a straw man here.

Heiser then points out that Christian missionaries used similarities between Christianity and Norse mythology, including the Father/Son relationship, to help evangelize the Nordic people’s. “This is called syncretism. I’m not recommending it because it gets you into all sorts of theological trouble.”
Syncretism is actually the blending of two or more religious belief systems into a new system, or the incorporation into a religious tradition of beliefs from unrelated traditions. It is not merely pointing out similarities between religions or narratives. Bringing up syncretism here is simply poisoning the well.

One of the problems with Heiser’s assessment is that he has failed to take into account (as an author no less) that many of his Christ figure correlations are simply a result of the hero archetype. John Campbell famously argued in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949) that enduring myths and stories from around the world all share a fundamental structure, which he called the monomyth. He summarized the monomyth thus:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

According to TVtropes.com, The Hero with a Thousand Faces discusses the following tropes:

  • Back from the Dead: The hero usually dies and returns, either literally or figuratively.
  • Big Bad: Every journey needs one to drive the plot.
  • Deity of Human Origin: Buddha, Jesus, and others become this after apotheosis.
  • Eternal Hero: This is what the phrase “hero with a thousand faces” describes, the idea being that all mythological heroes are facets or reflections of one heroic archetype.
  • Eternal Recurrence: In many cosmologies the world is in cyclical decline and improvement.
  • I Choose to Stay: The hero is tempted to but usually doesn’t and instead brings the boon back to their people.
  • Messianic Archetype: The classical hero is often one or at least aids one.
  • Standard Hero Reward: The boon they find is often represented by a woman.
  • The Underworld: The hero might wind up here, either while spending time dead or entering it themselves without dying.
  • Vision Quest: Again, the hero might find themselves on one.

Sound familiar? The Hero’s Journey sounds a lot like Jesus. Perhaps God ordained the narrative of Jesus’ life in such a way that the story would resonate with all the great hero stories so that such stories could be used to point back to Him!

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