Gregory L Reece. UFO Religion: Inside UFO Cults and Culture. I B Tauris, 2007. -- Reviewed by Peter Rogerson
The title of this book may be a little misleading, for this is not yet another scholarly study of the classic UFO religions such as Aetherius or the Raelians, though these do get a mention. Rather it is an impressionistic journey though the realm of ufolore, from primitive sightings to elaborate theologies. On the way the classic realms of UFO crashes, conspiracy theories, abductions and contactees all get a look in.
There is much here that Magonians would agree with: the common sense look at Roswell, clearly showing that in 1947 this was not a story about a crashed alien spaceship, but of some decidedly low tech and quite terrestrial instrument. Reece also clearly grasps what the likes of Hopkins and Jacobs are really about, and remarks that the fear that this induces has nothing to do with aliens, but what human beings can do to one another, not so much scaring as sickening.
The world of the UFO sub-culture can look strange to an outsider, but is it a religion. Part of the problem with that however is that there is no agreed definition of religion; one definition might go something like 'the set of overarching beliefs, traditions, rituals, practices and customs which bind a community together and separate it from its neighbours'. Another might go like 'the set of beliefs, practices, rituals etc. which have to do with the transhuman realm and humanity's relationship with it'. Reece takes a view which is perhaps more primitive, for he sees it connected with the idea of 'primal awe' in the face of the unknown.
The example he gives of this is his own childhood vision of the aurora borealis, the red and gold in the north-west sky evoking visions of distant sandstorms, atomic fire, Jesus on the clouds of glory, alien invasion, the end of the world; none of them boding good, and all capable of sweeping his fragile little world away.
In this sense ufology is indeed a religion, it is one concerned with martialing evidence for an existence of a transhuman realm, and of humanity's relationship with it. The primal awe at the sight of the infinite vastness of the night sky, at the remoteness of the past and its mysterious and 'alien' cultures, of the deepest hopes and fears. Ufology offered the awe and wonder of the space age, and the allure of the future. The UFOs endorsed our own beliefs in the power of technological wonder and the infinite possibilities of our own future.
Reece sees the contactees of the 1950s as the embodiment of that optimism: if only war could be abolished, hate turned to love, that we can be better, that the new technology can save as well as destroy. But these new gods of the empirical world are growing old, dark and savage like the gods of old, demanding obedience and abandonment of the human.
Now we have the dark conspiracies which speak of our fear of ourselves, and of the abductees which speak of primal fears that no peace dividend can ease, of the dark and the universal predators which sniff around in it. of loneliness and loss, of the darkness in the human heart, and of terrors from which no talisman, no holy water, no scientific formulae nor walls of steel and marble, no missile defence system can protect us.