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article imageAre UFOs just a symptom of the stresses of 21st century life? Special

By Stephanie Dearing     Apr 17, 2010 in World
When it comes to UFOs and extraterrestrials, there are two main groups of believers: those who believe extraterrestrials visit Earth routinely, and those who actively seek evidence of extraterrestrial life.
The last group, represented by organizations such as the SETI Institute, would love to find other-worldly life forms, but are disappointed that their 50 year search for life in the universe has netted nothing.
There is no shortage of news items concerning the first group of believers. Stories of presumed animal mutilations are blamed on extraterrestrials, while continued sightings of UFOs make the news on a regular basis.
It is the obsessiveness of the last group, with claims of UFO sightings as well as abductions, that demands explanation, particularly because belief in aliens is now widely accepted.
Dr. David Halperin, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was once a self-described teen-aged UFO investigator who grew up to become a scholar, author, and novelist. As a scholar, Dr. Halperin wrote five books on Jewish mysticism and messianism, as well as some 20 articles on the same topic. Dr. Halperin has been examining his own childhood beliefs in extraterrestrials, an introspection that has resulted in his first novel, Journal of a UFO Investigator, available in 2011.
"I don’t know whether there are extraterrestrials or not. My guess is that there is intelligent life somewhere out there. But it doesn’t make sense that the UFOs are spaceships visiting us—the distances between us and the nearest possible star are just too great. UFOs are about us, our longings and our terrors. And that’s why they’re so important," Dr. Halperin said in an email. He suggested that there is a link between the belief in ascension to heaven, and the belief in extraterrestrials, something some religious sects share.
Dr. Halperin might be on to something, because those who believe in extraterrestrial visits to Earth also cite fear as an emotion that clouds the truth. A promotion for a book on alien abductions, called Awakening said "Up until now, the phenomenon of alien abduction has been presented in a bleak, oppressive, threatening, and fear filled fashion. As we all "know", abductees are victims and counsellers help them cope.
But what if its not like that at all? What if its only our fear that makes us see this way? What if its our fear prevents us from seeing the truth? What if alien "abductions" are not about experimentation and probing but about spiritual awakening and galactic contact?"
Asked when the belief in extraterrestrials arose, Dr. Halperin pointed to an incident that occured over the Cascade mountains in the US in 1947, when a private pilot saw 9 "silvery discs" flying over the mountains, saying, "The UFOs began—as a belief system; people had always seen odd things in the sky—in 1947, less than two years after the end of WWII. My guess is that the rise of the belief had something to do with the appearance of nuclear weapons, the realization that the end of humankind was a real possibility. Jung said something of the sort back in the 1950s, in his book Flying Saucers—A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies."
One of the biggest fears humans hold is that of the end of the world. The majority of the world's population subscribes to a religion, many of which predict a cataclysmic end to the world. With the support of daily human behaviour, such as armed conflicts, environmental degradation, political despotism, and economic uncertainty; the idea of the apocalypse has always had a strong influence on beliefs.
Fears about possible apocolypse highlight the general fear we have about our ultimate demise. This, said Dr. Halperin, is instrumental in understanding our belief in aliens. "Consider: my death is an intimate part of myself. It was born with me; it grew with me; it’s with me every day of my life, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. Yet it’s also the most alien thing I can possibly conceive—the thing through which I cease to be me, cease to be anything at all. How better to express this than with a myth of aliens among us?"
Dr. Halperin attributed his own juvenile belief in aliens to his mother's slow physical decline and eventual death from heart disease, a decline all were aware of, but something that his family did not discuss openly. Knowing something was wrong, Halperin was seeking an answer, he just didn't know what the question was at the time.
Assessing the daily turmoil humans must negotiate, it is easy to understand why people like to believe in a benign species of extraterrestrials who come to Earth to provide assistance, or dazzle us with light shows. But many tales of human-alien interaction involve fear, uncertainty, a lack of control and even pain. This, Dr. Halperin implied, is a reflection of the human condition. "God gives us a sense of order, security, that things are being cared for. UFOs express our stubborn sense that there is something alien and ominous among us that cannot be rooted out."
There is a commonly accepted description of what an alien looks like. Dr. Halperin thinks the archetypal caricature of extraterrestrials "... was set by the painting on the cover of Whitley Strieber’s bestseller Communion, which came out at the beginning of 1987 and created the image of the “UFO alien,” of which the most striking feature is the uncanny, incredible eyes. These crop up again and again in the recollections of UFO abductees. They also crop up, weirdly enough, in ancient Jewish documents describing heavenly ascents, which tell of how the journeyers must encounter beings with huge, terrifying, “split-open” eyes. I think there’s something here that’s fundamental to human psychology, that crops up again and again in different lands and different centuries. And this “something,” along with the direct influence of stuff like the Communion cover, lies behind the similarities."
Extraterrestrials almost certainly exist, based on the size of the universe. But are they advanced enough to create vessels to travel through space? And if so, do they visit us regularly, performing experiments, teaching our special children, and taking samples from animals? If they are visiting, why do they ignore SETI scientists, who are seeking to make contact?
Ultimately, when it comes to extraterrestrials coming to Earth, there is no hard scientific proof. As Dr. Paul Davies said recently, promoting his book, Eerie Silence, extraterrestrials "probably don't even know that we're here."
More about Ufo sighting, Aliens, David halperin, Whitely streiber, Communion
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