|Image Credit: Jim Nichols|
(Stillness in the Storm Editor) The term and concept of religion is a well-known feature of human life, but as with many things, there is much to explore with this topic.
Generally speaking, religion is that thing individuals employ to make contact with God, the divine, or some other facet of life in a deep and meaningful way. Religions are overtly intended to teach people about the nature of existence and spiritual realities, in a way that helps and improves their daily struggles. They are often incorporate codes of conduct or ways of thinking that improve character and impart strength during times of struggle. At least, this is how most people think of them.
The three standard definitions of religion are,
- the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods; or,
- a particular system of faith and worship; or,
- a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.
Religion is regarded as all these things but when considering each definition carefully, inconsistencies become apparent.
For instance, a belief in something usually means that it is accepted as true, even if evidence to confirm this is lacking. But more to the point, a believer believes even though they haven’t thought critically about it. And since the existence of this or that god can’t be verified scientifically (at least no earnest attempts have been made thus far) then dogma and doctrine become foundations of most religions. Almost every major faith has a set of dogma that believers are required to accept, and in most cases, questioning of that dogma means being labeled a heretic or impious.
In general, dogmatic religious experience, blind belief, is largely dead and unchanging. It’s more of a spectator activity, a kind of entertainment that believers engage in passively. But not all adherents of religious doctrine are so passive. Some want a living, dynamic faith, one that encourages inquisitiveness, soul searching, and contemplation of meanings and values.
If belief in dogma is a static kind of faith then a system of worship is a dynamic faith, something that is considered a pursuit of interest, which someone ascribes supreme importance to. This latter definition suggests motion, movement, and change. Things that people take an interest in and work to discover require an active modality of being, a technique of approach that is more akin to exploration, science, and art, rather than simply accepting a set of doctrines as true and leaving it at that.
Thus, there are two general types of behavior those who engage in religion can be categorized as: the religionist who has living faith, and the religionist who has dead faith.
Living faith is active, dynamic, and provisional. Instead of doctrines being considered unquestionably true, they are theories or suppositions that require exploration via contemplation, and testing via living out discovered principles in life. The golden rule implores the individual to interact with others in honor and trust, to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This principle, if blindly believed, might motivate someone to act respectfully and honorably with others, but without contemplation, understanding why this is important can’t be known.
But by using a technique of living faith, a provisional belief that the golden rule is a wise principle can be established, and from there, it can be lived out in life and evaluated to see if it was actually true. In the act of evaluating a principle of religious faith, a belief goes from intellectual idea to an embedded reality; it becomes wisdom, a skill that can be used to improve the fiber of being to the very core. Living faith imparts real growth and evolution that changes the person inexorably and forever. The hero’s journey is the archetypal pattern of this mechanism of living faith, which unfailingly transforms the individual.
Dead faith, while not entirely deleterious or unproductive, does very little to improve and enhance an individual’s character. A person might follow the imposition to not steal or murder, but they likely won’t be able to comprehend why this is important. And it is in the why where a way of life moves from mindless tradition to purposeful self-discipline. Dogmatic belief won’t change a person fundamentally so as to transform their harmful desires (what religion refers to as sinfulness) into beneficial ones.
While the term religion is often a trigger word for people today, the core principle of learning and growth at the heart of all faiths is the same—although it has undoubtedly been corrupted over time. Religion, as a principal, was never about forcing a person what to believe.
Psychologically, what’s interesting to note is that when a person doesn’t understand what they believe, they defend this dogma aggressively because it is a fragile thing within their minds. Thus, most contemporary religious institutions are oppressive in that they discourage critical thought. If people begin questioning the veracity of their chosen brand of faith, this might cause disagreement. And disagreement among dogmatic followers, due to aggressive defense, leads to religious war—as history so clearly reveals.
Religion is etymologically derived from the latin word religare, meaning to bind. From a dead faith perspective, religious dogma and doctrine, forced on the believer, most definitely binds the mind, preventing personal revelation and recognition of god and spirituality—it replaces intrinsic knowing with extrinsic belief. Since to even question religious dogma is seen as taboo, dead faith religions, by and large, tend to hinder spiritual growth and personality improvement—although even a dogmatic system of personality growth is better than none at all.
But living faith tends to do the reverse. The animal mind (or ego) is a concept often described in living faiths and schools of thought, like Hermeticism, which asserts that the spiritualizing effect of life and experience is transcendent of animal mind. What this means is that the animal mind’s desire to keep things the same acts as an opposing force against growth and evolution. Thus, the ego or animal mind, in living faiths, needs to be held or tied back, it needs to be bound. In this sense, religion is the living method, technique or process by which those seeking spiritual growth reckon with the temptations of life, specifically, the temptation to form a dogmatic rigid conception of the existence. This living faith or dynamic religious experience is a decidedly personal process, although it can be informed by social and cultural institutions.
The animal mind doesn’t like change; it tends to act selfishly, seeks to consume and devour things in an impulsive unsustainable way, and would rather be passively entertained than actively engaged. But the spiritualizing mind tends to act selflessly, seeks to consume only what is needed, and craves dynamic inspired experience.
Comparing the two meanings of religion, it can either be the tool that moves the individual forward in personality progress or holds them back. It should hopefully become apparent how these distinctions manifest in ufology circles.
Firstly, most ufology schools of thought, which contain dogma and doctrines, would never refer to themselves as religions. But the rather dogmatic nature of most ufology groups and the manner in which followers tend to defend their core beliefs suggests similarities of expression.
Religion, by and large, requires faith of some kind, an assertion that can’t be wholly tested but is still accepted for various reasons. In this sense, a great many things can be classified as religions, but ufology, in particular, tends to be similar in scope and context to spiritually-centered religious groups.
Ufology deals with the origins of humanity, the nature of existence, the purpose and nature of the cosmos, and the purpose of life. Religion and spirituality deal with the same deep concepts. And what’s more, many alleged extraterrestrial encounters have a spiritual overtone. Furthermore, various UFO groups have doctrines of belief and even “religious relics” like events, sightings, or a body of evidence, like documentation or whistleblower testimony, which is revered as a centerpiece. Consider the Roswell crash site, which acts as a kind of mecca for some UFO enthusiasts.
Although there are clear similarities between religious groups and UFO groups this doesn’t mean everyone espousing these beliefs is foolish or negative. But like any belief system with social ramifications, the potential for controversy is ever present, as one group wars with another for domination of the overall narrative.
For example, some prominent ufologists and those who follow them, assert that only documented evidence is valid, and all else is a hoax, fabrication, or disinformation—unverifiable and therefore suspect. But surely just because a claim can’t be verified doesn’t mean it is untrue, although it needs to be considered properly.
This raises another point about beliefs, which is that they are usually not scientifically derived, they are more like ideological assumptions that help sort through the available data. Because there is so much uncertainty and raw data to analyze, researchers need some way to sort the information, and a few assumptions can help do that. But sometimes, if one isn’t careful, their assumptions can be exalted as dogma and used as a shield against reality.
In this sense, all UFO religions can be classified as methods of interpretation, sometimes based on an ideology. For example, some researchers contend that all extraterrestrials are benevolent, and any claims of negative contacts are part of a government disinformation program. The manner in which persons who ascribe to this belief deal with dissenting points of view is usually that of religious zealotism—people tend to react aggressively to opinions that counter their own.
Or, as another example, a UFO religion might assert that all extraterrestrials are negative and are here to conquer humanity. And again, dissenting opinions are often dismissed with prejudice, in a similar way that radical dogmatic followers of religions tend to react.
Although UFO religions might not be branded under a name or title, their followers can most definitely act like major religions in a dogmatic sense.
But as rigid and fixed as some UFO religionists can be, there are still others who adhere to the living-faith technique described earlier. And as time goes on, it seems more and more people are developing a dynamic process for making sense of the field of ufology.
The fact that new information and discoveries are constantly emerging implores the seeker to develop an open-minded approach. Although adhering to dogma might impart short-term comfort and stability, eventually, even the most well-established precepts crumble against the flowing waters of time.
At present, the field of ufology is being unsettled, as the age of the internet makes information and data gathering much more effective. Every day more and more information is being unearthed that needs to be analyzed, assessed, and contemplated. What’s more, for decades, officialdom ridiculed and covered up genuine research, and even went so far as to push disinformation to confuse the truth-seeking public. But now, that program seems to have switched to one of preparing the public for the eventual disclosure of the knowledge of extraterrestrial life in the cosmos, often given the label soft disclosure by ufologists.
And in general, reality itself is emergent. Thus, it is decidedly unproductive to try and maintain an unchanging and dogmatic belief about the world.
Those who are seeking answers and ultimate truths would do well to develop the capacity to provisionalize their beliefs—to draw a conclusion but leave the door open for reevaluation when new information becomes available. Such a technique is initially difficult for those accustomed to definitive beliefs, but eventually, imparts incredible emotional stability because an old conclusion can easily be replaced by a better one that incorporates more evidence.
If the past five years of discoveries are any indication, the next five years will be turbulent, as more and more of the truth pours out for all to see. But so long as a dynamic and collective technique for comprehending these emerging discoveries is used, people need not battle with each other for domination.
In closing, although mainstream institutions seem to have maligned the idea of religion, the principle of developing a personal method, technique, and process for understanding reality is still sound.
Become the master of your own religion, the head priest of your own brand of faith. Don’t let anyone else bind or tie back your personal desire for living truth and dynamic understanding.
by J. H. McKenna, Ph.D., March 6th, 2017
UFO Religions. noun. Those creeds/rituals/god-beliefs originating from other planets/galaxies/universes.
In the sixteenth century, the good-looking Italian cosmologist Giordano Bruno published his opinion that the universe consisted of infinite solar systems with infinite habitable planets housing an infinite array of beings.
To Bruno’s mind, as a devout Christian, an infinite God could conjure these things in a day and a half of creative labor and thereafter manage the menagerie for His entire life.
But the notion of extra-earth beings did not align perfectly with the reigning Christian orthodoxy of sixteenth-century Europe, and so handsome Giordano Bruno and his handsomely bound books were burned to cinders.
In fact, no ancient religion dreamed of other worlds or moved beyond its local locale, even though some ancient notions of God included divine attributes like omnipotence and omniscience, two bullets on a heavenly resume that should suggest ease in supervising many billions of inhabitants on many billions of planets.
And so I say:
Just as a human being cares nothing for the near endless eons that precede or follow his ninety years of oxygenated existence, so too a human being cares not a whit for the near endless cosmic spaces that surround his square patch of Tierra de Madre, Momma Earth. Hence the adage, coined just this minute by your truly: As with time, so with space.
Theologies in all historic moments only confirmed these prejudices, until century twenty.
UFO was coined in the twentieth century and it refers to an Unidentified Flying Object, presumably piloted by beings from other galactic neighborhoods than our own.
It is one thing to imagine life beyond the third stone from our sun. Most educated people can admit this is likely.
It is quite another thing to think that other planetary beings have been flying low over rural New Mexico since the 1940s. Some educated persons believe this but most do not.
It is quite another thing entirely to think that extra-terrestrials, ETs for short, are communing with, and abducting, human beings. Most disbelieve this, although some educated persons of stable mind (both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial) have testified to its truth.
Finally, it is another issue completely when someone draws a religion out of the whole UFO universe. But this was indeed done, beginning in the latter half of the 1900s.
For these many UFO Religions, belief in extra-terrestrialism is either a peripheral tenet of the faith (but nonetheless important), or it is a central tenet of the faith. In America’s Nation of Islam (unrelated to Islam, per se), extra-terrestrialism is peripheral, but important. In Raelism, extra-terrestrialism is central.
UFO religions disagree about who UFO pilots and passengers are. Are they golden Gods? Or are they simply messengers of the Gods? Or are they only copper-plated creatures like us?
For some UFO religions, ETs are the Gods that earthlings have been referring to all along: these ETs created life on our planet un-miraculously with simple materials and measuring spoons.
For other UFO religions, ETs bring divine messages from the Gods (usually warnings about imminent disaster). And for still other UFO religions, ETs are merely religious seekers, not unlike Homo sapiens.
A field of inquiry called Exo-Theology arose in the late twentieth century, attending to ETs.
As with all theologies, exo-theology speculates on something it knows absolutely nothing about: (what alien entities from distant galaxies believe about, compose creeds about, and debate to death about) The Inner Life of God.
About The Author
J. H. McKenna, Ph.D.Senior Lecturer, History of Religious Ideas, University of CA Irvine
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