Understanding the Dark Side
An interesting review of Christopher Partridge, Understanding the Dark Side: Western Demonology, Satanic Panics and Alien Abduction, Chester University Press, (2006).
Although the subtitle promises to be a survey of western demonology, Satanic panics, and alien abduction Partridge’s survey is more a deconstruction of UFO religion and the eclecticism of its sources. The extra-terrestrial religious ideas may have had their origin in theosophical strains of Eastern thought but the religion of groups such as Heaven’s Gate is in fact more rooted in western demonology, specifically the adaptation in popular culture of the idea of the nephilim (Gen 6: 1-4). In the space of a short lecture Partridge has done a good job at delineating the dialectic between theory and popular culture and so, from the perspective of those interested in alternative and fringe religions the author has done a good job in charting the field. However, for those like my self who do not spend much time thinking about the theology of the Raelians a more interesting phenomenon – why as the stranglehold of ‘Christian’ understandings of the world been dissipated have these religions relied on parodies of Christian demonologies. In understand that popular culture is tapping into a latent understanding in invoking such ideas from Christian sources – however, the fact that the UFO religions have followed suit strikes me as a far more interesting question both theologically and sociologically.
Father Seraphim Rose, a Western convert to Orthodoxy, in his book Orthodoxy and the religion of the future maintained that UFOs were in fact demonic manifestations.
UFOs, however, are one area where I’m inclined to be modernist rather than postmodernitst or pre-modernist; in fact I’m altogether prosaic and literalist about them. As I see it, if you believe that you have established that UFOs are demons, or creatures from another planet, they are no longer UFOs but IFOs — Identified Flying Objects. A thing cannot be both identified and unidentified at the same time.
A few years ago I was visited by a member of an Old Calendrist group, Paul Inglesby, who seemed quite obsessed with UFOs, and was trying to drum up support for his campaign of appealing to governments to do something to stop the abductions by space aliens that he was convinced were taking place. He simply didn’t see my point at all when I said that if he had identified them as craft of space aliens they could no longer be UFOs (he pronounced it “you foes”). It wasn’t exactly a UFO cult he was advocating, more like a conspiracy theory.
He asked me if I “believed in” UFOs. I said I didn’t believe in them, though I had seen one. He asked me what I thought it was, and I said if I knew that, it wouldn’t be a UFO. For what it’s worth, here’s what I wrote about it at the time, on an autumn evening in 1964, when I was at university
In the evening I went over to the Union to phone Fr Hallowes. It was about 6:00 pm, and as I walked across the car park I saw a red object travel across the sky from south to north. It was almost due West of the Union, and then it looked like an artificial satellite, moving slowly across the sky, very much as I saw the first Sputnik moving, nearly seven years ago now. That was the only satellite I had ever seen before, and I almost stopped looking and went on to the Union, But then I stopped, because when it was almost due west it seemed to stop, and then moved in a series of jerks. Then it started to move round a star — at least that’s what it looked like to me, but parallax probably meant that it only looked like it. Neil Perrett came along then, and we both watched it. It was higher up in the sky moving back more or less the way it had come, still in jerks, and it seemed less bright. Obviously it was not an artificial satellite, but must be an aircraft of some kind. Too far away for a chopper, but it may be a fast plane, very far away, but somehow it didn’t look like it. Not a satellite, not a plane, what the hell can it be? A piece seemed to fall off it, and then it was travelling back, moving north to south, when it dropped a few more pieces, and finally disappeared — disintegrated altogether. I went on to the Union, and Neil went back to res.
Not a bird, not a plane, not an artificial satellite, not an alien spacecraft, not a demonic manifestation, simply an unidentified flying object – a UFO.