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.”
Over the course of the series, we covered Heiser’s proposed elements of the ET Gospel:
- New Myths replace Old Creeds
- Sci-fi and Speculative Science as the ET Canon
- Alien Gods
- Alien Salvation & Transhumanism
- Alien Christology
- Syncretic Alien Theism
Heiser ends his presentation with a warning
“Comic books, the movies – We didn’t really get into TV shows. They retell Biblical stories and Biblical theology through their characters. Now you could say, Well maybe they do that because they’re just good stories. It’s good storytelling. And it is. It’s compelling storytelling. But its hard to believe that over and over and over… that there’s not some intentionality behind it… Intentionally or unintentionally it get masses of people, millions and millions and billions of people to think about God, Jesus, humanity, human destiny and salvation the major core elements of theology. it gets them to think about all of these things in a different way and in such a way that they erase God. It erases all those things. It completely redefines them. It becomes part of the way people process the whole message.”
The question is: Did he prove his point?
First of all, he’s been forced to cherry pick his examples. Science fiction has no over-arching message. Instead, it delivers a multitude of messages which is precisely what you would expect from a genre that it added to daily by authors, illustrators, screenwriters, film makers, and everyone else who contributes to it. Heiser’s appeal to incredulity (viz., “But its hard to believe that over and over and over… that there’s not some intentionality behind it…”) requires an Illuminati level conspiracy that he has provided no evidence for.
In science fiction literature, he was forced to ignore two other major portrayals of extraterrestrials (i.e., antagonistic and otherworldly) to suggest that the idea of the intelligent, moral, benevolent alien was firmly entrenched in Western thought by the end of the 19th century.
He has a similar problem when it comes to film. Independence Day doesn’t teach the sort of ET Gospel he has described. Nor does Predator, Signs, Mars Attacks, Arrival, and a whole host of other sci-fi films alone that I could cite. Most films do not preach the UFO cult religions and contactee messages even if they include saucers. They are the exception, not the rule.
While science fiction presents its hopes and warnings concerning possible futures, if anything, we could say that science fiction is useless as a predictor precisely because it predicts everything! It predicts death ray wielding, brain-eating aliens as easily as Space Brothers (who often turn out to be here for the long pork anyway!). In retrospect, we may call a scifi author a prophet but that same author usually ends up being wrong about a great deal else.
The Christ types Heiser sees are largely the result of good storytelling which must needs reference the inevitable monomyth of the Hero’s Journey. Oftimes this is done quite on purpose.
Television is worse allies for Heiser’s argument. V and the X-Files teach us that benevolent aliens aren’t to be trusted. Star Trek occasionally shows aliens with god-like powers but they always turn out to be less than advertised. I’m hard pressed to think of any show that actually promotes an ET Gospel as Heiser has described.
In trying to present the extraterrestrial as a thing we would see as God, he ignores his own refutation of Shermer’s Last Law.
In the end, I’m not sure why he felt the need to give this presentation. It reminds me of David Laughlin’s regrettable “peer-reviewed” article, “Science Fiction: A Biblical Perspective,” which Gary Bates cites several times in his heavy-handed chapter on sci-fi in Alien Intrusion. Heiser obviously sees a danger in the often antichristian messages of the experiencer phenomenon. He sees some parallels in the scifi genre and proceeds to paint it with a wide brush. Sweeping generalizations always fall apart under scrutiny.
We’re left with no other conclusion but that Heiser has not proven his point. The truism that science fiction is “deeply theological” is refreshing in the face of multiple accusations from Christian leaders that sci-fi is largely irreligious (For example, the purposeful irreligion of Star Trek or Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series is seen by some as damning evidence against the genre.); however, it is only true that some sci-fi fare is religious, much less deeply so, but that it presents no cohesive Alien Gospel or Alien Theism with which to evangelize the unsuspecting masses.