The modern fascination with UFOs has grown exponentially after World War II, when the first official reports of "flying saucers" was made in 1947. Opinion surveys continue to show that at least 41% of Americans believe either in UFOs or extraterrestrials:
Four in 10 Americans now think some UFOs that people have spotted have been alien spacecraft visiting Earth from other planets or galaxies. This is up from a third saying so two years ago. Half, however, believe all such sightings can be explained by human activity or natural phenomena, while an additional 9% are unsure. These findings are based on a Gallup poll conducted in July 2021.
While Americans are still inclined to think UFOs are not alien spacecraft, close to half believe alien life forms exist beyond Earth. A June 2019 poll found 49% of Americans believing there are "people somewhat like ourselves" living on other planets. A much larger percentage, 75%, said that "life of some form" exists elsewhere in the universe.
A few years back, I had a conversation with a colleague which turned to the subject of UFOs. He believed aliens were visiting us. I told him I was not convinced of that thesis. Most UFO sightings are the result of a hoax, mental instability, people using drugs/alcohol, and those which had plausible explanations in nature. He pressed on, "And what about those sightings that don't fit in those neat categories?" I told him they were most likely demonic. My colleague (an agnostic) replied, "I see why you think that---extraterrestrial life would disprove Christianity."
Is that true? Would the existence of extraterrestrials be incompatible with the Catholic Faith? In this post, I will set forth the connection of UFOs with the occult, and explore the theological ramifications if there were rational life forms on other planets.
Unidentified Aerial Objects
From antiquity, individuals have reported seeing unusual and inexplicable things in the skies. Often people observed real objects—natural phenomena that only later could be understood and appreciated in light of advancements in science, particularly in physics and astronomy. To those unfamiliar with astronomical or atmospheric phenomena, the ordinary can appear extraordinary. Nonetheless, some people insist that extraordinary flying anomalies have persisted throughout the ages. Even today, some reports of strange sightings are difficult to dismiss as being misidentified natural phenomena, though natural explanations may yet be found for at least some of them.
Fascination with unidentified flying objects is nothing new. First called "Foo Fighters" during WWII, and then called UFOs, the term was coined in 1953 by the U.S. Airforce to describe any "perceived aerial phenomenon that cannot immediately be identified or explained." Recently, on June 25, 2021, the Pentagon released a report, nine pages in length, on UFOs to Congress. The military has renamed UFOs as unidentified aerial phenomena –UAPs. This was done purposely, at least in part, to avoid the claim associated with the term UFO, namely, that aliens from another planet/dimension have visited Earth. (See astronomy.com/news/2021/07/pentagon-ufo-report-no-confirmed-aliens-but-the-government-wants-to-learn-more).
From 1947 to 1969, the U.S. Air Force investigated UFOs in a top secret operation known as Project Blue Book ("PBB"). PBB investigated 12,618 reported UFO sightings. Each sighting was placed in one of several categories; psychological meant the origin was the result of an hallucination by one or more persons not of sound mind; substance induced meant the person was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol and hallucinated it; hoax meant the person lied, made up photos, etc.; scientifically explained meant the sighting had a rational explanation (e.g., the person(s) saw a weather balloon that flew off course, etc.); and unidentified meant they did not fall into any of the other categories, they were real, yet the scientists working for PBB could not explain what they were. Of those 12,618 investigations, 701 or approximately 5.5% were in the unidentified category.
PBB ended with three conclusions: (a) UFOs are not a threat to national security, (b) there is no evidence that the unidentified category sightings are examples of superior technology, and (c) there is no evidence that the unidentified category sightings are extraterrestrial space vehicles. The finding were eventually challenged by Dr. J. Allen Hynek, PhD (d. 1986)--an astrophysicist who was a complete skeptic, believing UFOs to be either the result of natural phenomena, hoaxes, or hallucinations from unstable witnesses. He was hired by the Air Force to debunk any/all case sightings. Hynek is quoted as saying UFOs were nonsense and "the whole subject seems utterly ridiculous."
By the end of PBB, Hynek had changed his mind. The hardened skeptic and agnostic believed there was sufficient evidence that UFOs were extraterrestrial or extradimensional crafts. In 1985, Hynek explained why he changed his mind:
Two things, really. One was the completely negative and unyielding attitude of the Air Force. They wouldn't give UFOs the chance of existing, even if they were flying up and down the street in broad daylight. Everything had to have an explanation. I began to resent that, even though I basically felt the same way, because I still thought they weren't going about it in the right way. You can't assume that everything is black no matter what. Secondly, the caliber of the witnesses began to trouble me. Quite a few instances were reported by military pilots, for example, and I knew them to be fairly well-trained, so this is when I first began to think that, well, maybe there was something to all this. (See Hynek, J. Allen, The Hynek UFO Report , pg.132).
Hynek developed the famous "Close Encounters Scale" which he published in his 1972 book The UFO Experience: A Scientific Inquiry. The scale has "Close Encounters" of the First, Second, and Third Kind. A Close Encounter of the First Kind is alleged visual sightings of a UFO at a range of about 500 feet away. A Close Encounter of the Second Kind is a UFO event in which a physical effect is alleged, such as pets acting wildly and machines failing to function properly. A Close Encounter of the Third Kind is contact with UFO in which a non-human entity is present. There was a blockbuster 1977 movie entitled Close Encounters of the Third Kind based on Hynek's scale and in which Hynek himself is given a cameo appearance at the end of the film.
What are the 5.5% of "Unidentified"?
The Church does not assume that just because something is unexplained, it must be of supernatural origin. There is, however, a strong link to the occult that would make the positing of demonic origin plausible. As of May 2019, the US Navy has drafted new guidelines for pilots and other military personnel to report encounters with “unidentified aerial phenomena,” formally called UFOs.
(See Bryan Bender, “U.S. Navy Drafting New Guidelines for Reporting UFOs,” Politico, April 23, 2019, politico.com/story/2019/04/23/us-navy-guidelines-reporting-ufos-1375290).
The guidelines are designed to destigmatize self-reporting of such observations and allow for assessments of them. According to the reports, there has been an uptick since 2015 in the number and frequency of unknown but “highly advanced” aircraft encroaching on US Navy aircraft and strike groups and overflying governmental facilities. Descriptions of these aircraft vary. Sometimes they are described as flying “tic tacs” and sometimes as oblong spheres. Most importantly, however, these objects act in ways that defy the laws of physics. These "unidentifieds" that don't fall into the other categories (hoax, mental illness, etc.) are called residual UFO, or RUFO phenomenon. RUFO activity fails to conform to the laws of physics, just as these pilots have reported.
The Occult Connection
In 1977, Stanford astronomy professor Peter Sturrock reported results of a survey taken among members of the American Astronomical Society, the principal professional organization of astronomers. Of the 1,356 respondents (professional astronomers), 62 of them (5 percent) reported witnessing unidentifiable flying objects (RUFOs), and a couple of these respondents had seen more than one. However, there was no correlation with relative observing time on the part of these professional astronomers.
These RUFO witnesses were not astronomers with the greatest amount of observing time. In fact, the sample indicated a reverse correlation. Astronomers with only a few observation hours per year witnessed RUFOs, whereas astronomers logging more than a thousand hours per year saw nothing. The reverse correlation noted here demonstrates that something besides observing time determines who sees RUFOs and who does not. The most significant factor appears to be the activities that people pursue. Observations reveal that professional astronomers deeply involved in occult pursuits often see RUFOs, whereas professional astronomers who stay away from such pursuits never encounter RUFOs. (See Sturrock, “Report on a Survey: Part 1,” 1–45; Sturrock, “Report on a Survey: Part 3,” 309–46).
Fred and Bobby Dimond (the Feeneyite "monks" obsessed with UFOs) have a book entitled UFOs: Demonic Activity and Elaborate Hoaxes Meant to Deceive Mankind. Like everything else, the Dimonds have it backwards; the RUFOs are not demons sent to deceive, rather they are demonic manifestations of those already involved with them. Many documented cases provide support for this correlation where two or more people are together at a residual UFO event but not all experience the event. For example, four people may be standing side by side looking at the same place in the night sky: two see the residual UFO and experience physical and psychological effects; the other two see nothing and experience nothing. The ones who have the sighting were involved in occult activity such as trance states, seances, clairvoyance, spiritism, automatic handwriting, peering into crystals, levitation, and out-of-body experiences. (See John Spencer, ed., The UFO Encyclopedia, , pgs. 253–54). Invite evil into your life (unwittingly or on purpose) and it will take you up on the offer.
Demons can make people see things and even experience things via Diabolic Obsession, in which strong disturbances are imposed on the mind, e.g., thoughts of suicide, committing serious sins, or gender dysphoria. It can also take the form of an "infestation" in the house (e.g., hearing mysterious footsteps, bad odors with no cause, seeing strange animals--and all can be experienced by more than just the one primarily afflicted). According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "But the influence of the demon, as we know from Scripture and the history of the Church, goes further still. He may attack man's body from without [obsession], or assume control of it from within [possession]."
(See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12315a.htm; See also theologian Delaporte, The Devil, Does He Exist and What Does He Do?, [reprint from 1871], pgs. 129-130).
Why would demons pretend to be other-worldly creatures? I'll respond with another question; why would demons pretend to be the souls of deceased people during seances or while speaking through mediums? All of the mediums will tell the grieving person who has lost someone that the deceased are "fine and happy." Of course, this is what we would all like to hear, but how is it possible that all people died within the True Church in the state of sanctifying grace? Hell and damnation are never even considered as possibilities. In the case of impersonating the souls of the dead, demons prey on the fear of death and the unknown. People want to hear "you will be happy when you die" no matter how they live. They want to hear that their father, grandmother, aunt, etc., are in Heaven no matter what they believed or did. In the case of aliens, demons would prey on humanity's hopes, rather than fears. Humans have always been fascinated by space (astrology has always been popular) and space exploration (astronomy has also held a high popularity). Millions of people want an end to disease, hunger, war, poverty, etc., and what better way to appeal to them than to pervert these hopes and tell them you can have paradise in this life and apart from God?
Extraterrestrial Life and Theology
(The opinions expressed in this section are just that--mere opinions of a layman. To the best of my knowledge and belief, no approved theologians ever wrote on this topic. I submit everything to the judgement of Holy Mother Church, if and when a true pope is restored. I will immediately, and without reservation, submit to the Magisterium's decision.---Introibo).
Suppose, ad arguendo, intelligent alien life does exist. Sadly, most speculation about intelligent aliens leaves out God entirely. In science fiction, Catholicism is never mentioned except in the novel The Sparrow, (2008) by Mary Doria Russell in which a team of scientists and Jesuit priests (V2 sect) travel to another planet to meet an intelligent species. Even more rare are stories in which the True God is also God of the alien species. If religion appears at all, it is often a mystical religion in a primitive alien culture, not something relevant for the human characters. Another exception is Protestant C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, in which a human meets creatures on Mars and Venus who also know the True God.
Some people say that since the Bible doesn’t mention life on other planets, such cannot exist. However, the Bible also doesn’t mention Saturn’s rings, galaxies, or DNA, yet it obviously doesn't mean they don't exist. Traditionalists see them as God’s creation. Many parts of the Bible are provincial, and intentionally so. The Bible does not attempt to be comprehensive about the entire Earth or people living on other continents. Nevertheless, the Bible’s claims are also cosmic in scope. Passages like Genesis 1, St. John 1, and Colossians 1 clearly speak of God as the Creator of all things, with no exception. St. Paul writes in Colossians 1:16 “For in Him all things were created: things in heaven and on Earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him.” It certainly seems that these passages speak not only of the Earth but of the entire cosmos, including any intelligent life beyond Earth, if such exists. God is the Creator of all the worlds and whatever life is in them.
I've read certain arguments, which make a case from theology, that humans must be the only intelligent species in the universe. Humans have a unique, special relationship with God that is not shared by other species on Earth. This can be extended to say that humans are unique in the universe as well. Humanity has an exclusive relationship with God.
A case from theology can be made that humans could be one of many intelligent species. Scripture shows that God is generous, even extravagant, in creating an Earth that is fruitful in producing many life forms. This can be extended to say that God has created a fruitful universe with many intelligent beings. Yet that wouldn’t diminish God’s love for us—just as God loves each individual, God has the capacity to love each species in a special way. God will not "waste all that [outer] space." Whether or not God created other intelligent beings, His love for them would not make humans less significant to Him. What relationship would an extraterrestrial species have with God?
Three Possibilities for Extraterrestrials or "Aliens" and Their Relation to God
1. Aliens never fell from God's grace. Perhaps other worlds have the situation we would have had on Earth if Adam and Eve had chosen to obey God. They passed their test and are not under the dominion of Original Sin. As the world (universe) was affected by Original Sin, this might explain their extraordinary abilities, such as visiting earth contrary to the laws of physics (if indeed they do visit).
2. Aliens were tested and fell from God's grace in a way different from humanity. This could be similar to the situation of angels in Scripture. There is no Redemption for fallen angels. Some aliens are in God's grace and others went straight to Hell.
3. Aliens are fallen but Redeemed by Christ. It would be heretical to state, or even imply, that Christ had multiple Incarnations. According to theologian Pohle, "The Logos will never dissociate Himself from His Manhood. This proposition embodies an Article of Faith." (See Dogmatic Theology, , 4:174). Is it possible that Christ, after His Resurrection, visited another planet and set up a "planetary diocese" where they would be informed of the papal decisions on Earth? Why would Christ become Incarnate here and not there? I don't know, but perhaps it's possible, even as it elicits more questions than answers, and really doesn't seem tenable . The idea of Bergoglio that he would "baptize aliens" seems just as implausible that God would leave a race without a means of salvation until they stumble upon us and ask for baptism.
People who have an unhealthy fascination regarding UFOs will many times get involved in the occult. Then the "alien encounters" begin. Mostly, it goes the opposite way; people involved in the occult will see UFOs. Given this occult connection, it makes sense that the "occult explosion" in the wake of Vatican II is behind the increasing UFO sightings and "abductions." If there really are extraterrestrials, it is in no way a defeater for Christianity. Stay away from the occult. Give evil an invitation to visit, and you'll have an Encounter of the Worst Kind.