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Once I served a parish where we had enough guys swept up in ancient astronaut fantasies to have started our own MUFON chapter. I enjoyed things from the fringe, but one guy in particular was a true believer, if not a proselytizer: UFOs are real; there is every reason to accept the ancient astronaut “theory” and, importantly, no reason not to; the universe is simply brimming with intelligent life.

He was a fellow Trekkie so I did try to go easy on him when he’d start up with it.

Asked for the evidence for any of that and, just like the theorists he admired, he would go in a circle: The existence of UFOs and the artifacts left by ancient astronauts confirm a universe filled with intelligent life. Or, using a different circle, a universe filled with intelligent life explains present UFO visitations and explains the “paleocontact” with aliens implied by the machine-cut stones of Puma Punku .

So how do we know ancient astronauts were real? The UFOs, again, like those in DaVinci’s painting, and in all the Australian aboriginal pictographic art with people wearing space suits, not to ignore the Inca pictorial stones (some creationist Christians love these but for different reasons) carrying etchings of both dinosaurs and UFOs.

The fun of finding paradoxical logic used in arguing the existence of ancient astronauts is what keeps me glued to almost every episode of Ancient Astronauts, Finding Bigfoot, UFO Files, and all that other cool paranormal stuff. I think making my youngest daughter watch them with me, as I pounced on the many fallacious assertions, accounts in part for her numerous debate trophies. Some day she will thank me.

Oh, sorry, back to my parishioner.

I decided to teach a class on UFOs and the Bible, about six sessions of it. I’m no scientist, nor the most rigorist of logicians, but I can pick my way through any debris field left by the astronomical gods. It’s pretty easy, really. When it comes to ancient astronaut “theory” and the like, the sequiturs are spectacularly non.

I was surprised at how many turned out for the class. So I pulled it out for my next parish, as well, with a similar result.

It taught me pastors should be alert to the pseudoscientific weird factor in American life, the influence it has upon some of our parishioners, and the questions arising from the weirdness that people find just ordinarily intriguing. There is hardly any doubt in my mind that not a little of it has drifted into the pews, the simple perplexity honest Christians feel when trying to make sense of things in the context of their faith. Assailed by ancient alien gods, how does an interested Christian sort it through? With the pastor’s help, I hope.

The possibility of ancient alien visitors cannot be ruled out; Carl Sagan didn’t . But he also said at best the idea should be treated skeptically as a tightly guarded speculation. That it has become an almost certain fact, at least to my parishioner, is interesting and says something about contemporary living.

Why do some folks need stories of ancient astronauts to explain the origins of humanity?

Ancient astronauts don’t really assault our faith, but they do provide some of us with a “scientific” rationalization for our existence. Not one that necessarily contradicts or rules out an ultimate theological explanation, either, not as my parishioner saw it.

Adam and Eve and that garden thing, really? It made no sense to him, unless they were part of an alien genetic experiment. The old story no longer carried any freight for the guy, and, well, Darwin was too cold and impersonal. He needed a story, a deep story, and since the one he was given didn’t work anymore, he found one that did.

In a way he was right. Ancient astronauts make us, the human species, special. The ancient aliens looked upon Earth and found promise. They crossed an interstellar distance and they invested time and resources and maybe even a few of their own lives doing it. For whatever purpose they planned (creating human slaves or establishing a cosmic classroom) they found us worthy of the effort. For a brief time in the childhood of our race, we were the center of someone’s attention, someone from out there. Maybe they will be back, just to see how we have done.

Mainstream science, instead, says we must give up our sense of importance to the universe. “With the laws of physics,” says a physicist, “you get universes.” That’s it.

This, after all, is a tiny planet circling a common star lodged on the edge of a backwater arm of an average galaxy. We should just get over ourselves. If there are indeed 8.8 billion potential Earth-like habitable planets in our galaxy alone, we once again have been rudely pushed further away from our unique place in creation’s order.

Of course, if there are 8.8 billion Earth-like planets in our galactic home, more questions come to mind. But, like Scarlett, I’ll think about that tomorrow.

Russell E. Saltzman is dean of the Great Plains Mission District of the North American Lutheran Church , assistant pastor of St. Matthew’s Church in Riverside, Missouri, and an online homilist for the Christian Leadership Center at the University of Mary. His book Speaking of the Dead is nearing completion. His previous “On the Square” articles can be found here . Image from Memory Alpha .

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