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One way to delve into the strange and unexplained is to examine supernatural experiences that occur outside of existing religious traditions. In such instances, there is no pre-existing framework to shape people’s interpretations and make sense of their encounters. This article will explore the concept of UFO encounters as a form of religious experience, potentially giving rise to a new, half-formed 21st-century religion.
Unveiling the Strangeness
When individuals have mystical experiences within the context of a specific religious tradition, such as a Pentecostalist faith-healing service or a Roman Catholic Mass, their interpretations are often influenced by the existing theology of that faith. However, when religious experiences occur in unconventional settings, their sheer strangeness becomes more apparent.
Reading the Christian Gospels without Doctrinal Expectations
One way to grasp the inherent weirdness of supernatural experiences is to read the Christian Gospels without the structuring expectations of Christian doctrine. By approaching the first-person reports of the Jesus phenomenon from a fresh perspective, one can recognize that their mysteries cannot be adequately explained solely by an overactive theory of mind among Jesus’ disciples or the social control advantages of Christianity.
UFO Encounters as Religious Experiences
Another approach to understanding the strange and unexplained is to explore accounts of UFO encounters. The fact that the Pentagon has recently disclosed information on this topic further emphasizes the significance of these experiences. Diana Walsh Pasulka, a religious studies professor at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, presents the idea that UFO encounters can be seen as a form of religious experience, even serving as the basis for a new, nascent 21st-century religion. This perspective is also explored in Matthew Bowman’s book, “The Abduction of Betty and Barney Hill: Alien Encounters, Civil Rights, and the New Age in America,” which focuses on a notable early UFO encounter involving an interracial couple in 1960s New Hampshire.
Mysterious Encounters Defying Explanation
Both the Hill story and the broader array of narratives discussed by Pasulka feature individuals who have unexpected encounters with entities that defy easy categorization and explanation. While certain aspects of these encounters align with science-fiction tropes popularized by filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, our secular and scientific age tends to embrace these templates and engage in debates about the plausibility of extraterrestrial visitations from distant planets. However, delving deeper into these narratives reveals that many details and consequences resemble the supernatural experiences reported in early modern and premodern societies, ranging from fairy abductions to encounters with saints, demons, and gods.
A Landscape of Destabilized Agnosticism
The communities that have formed around these UFO encounters do not simply affirm existing religious structures. While some individuals may interpret these experiences through the lens of Christianity or other established faiths, the overall landscape is characterized by destabilized agnosticism. Within this sphere, various theories compete to explain what is truly happening, half-formed theologies and metaphysical frameworks merge with scientific and pseudoscientific narratives, and self-proclaimed gurus rush to embrace specific visions while skeptics caution against potential malign intentions of the visitors.
Supernatural experiences that occur outside of existing religious traditions present a unique opportunity to explore the inherent strangeness of such encounters. By examining UFO encounters as a form of religious experience, we can gain insight into the emergence of a new, evolving 21st-century religion. The narratives and communities that arise from these encounters defy easy categorization, challenging established religious structures and fostering a landscape of competing theories and beliefs. As we delve deeper into the mysteries of the supernatural, we are confronted with the complexities of human spirituality and the fundamental questions of our existence.