Pajama Parties in Outer Space

  If you wake up and discover that your pajamas are on backwards, it's possible, says one writer, that aliens abducted you during the night. The author, John Mack, doesn't write for some supermarket tabloid. He's a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1977 biography of Lawrence of Arabia. These credentials make his conclusions in Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens all the more remarkable. The book is based on interviews with patients who believe they were kidnapped by aliens. Under hypnosis, these people supposedly recovered "repressed memories" of those past experiences. They "remembered," for example, that the aliens were short, gray creatures with spindly legs and large, triangular heads who take people aboard their spacecraft. These aliens are not only more technologically advanced than we humans, but they are also spiritually superior. Mack concludes that the patient accounts are authentic and that "some powerful intelligence is trying to intervene in human affairs." This last bit was a bit too much for some of Mack's colleagues, and Harvard conducted a probe of his scholarship. It concluded that Mack should "widen his professional circle of research associates and adopt a more detached attitude toward his subjects" -- that is, he should get outside Harvard more often. Yet Mack still believes that these people were in contact with another kind of intelligence. He compares them to "shamans" and "mystics" and calls their experiences an "outreach program from the cosmos." The use of this religious language helps us understand why even highly educated people, like John Mack, are falling for UFO stories -- without demanding the kind of evidence that scientific researchers generally demand. For most of the twentieth century, intellectuals offered up various replacements for traditional religious belief: materialism, Freudianism, and socialism, to name but three. In addition to being miserable failures, these would-be substitutes had one other thing in common: They all claimed the mantle of scientific authority. When they failed, not only were the particular worldviews discredited, but people also began to divorce spiritual truth from reason and objectivity. Religion was replaced by "spirituality," and "meaning" became a purely personal, subjective matter. So, for example, the beginning of the twentieth century saw the rise of Darwinism and a simultaneous embrace of spiritualism and séances by intelligent people, like Arthur Conan Doyle. That prompted G. K. Chesterton to say that when people cease believing in the Christian God, they don't believe in nothing -- they believe in everything. And today, "everything" includes aliens. But the root cause is the same: an alternate worldview trying to fill what Blaise Pascal called the God-shaped vacuum within all of us. We forget what men like Pascal and Chesterton knew: There is a way to fill the vacuum without descending into irrationality. It's by belief in the biblical God. Dr. Mack is certainly right about one thing: There is a cosmic outreach program. But instead of abducting people and dressing them incorrectly, God came down and dressed Himself in our humanity. And at Christmas, we celebrate the Incarnation: definitive cosmic intervention in human affairs. For further reading and information: John E. Mack, M.D., Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters (Three Rivers Press, 2000) -- follow-up to Abduction. "Kidnapped by UFOs?", a PBS NOVA interview with John Mack. Dana Kennedy, "Writing an E.T. Tale (for the Man Who Made 'E.T.')," New York Times, 24 November 2002 (free registration required). Chris Mooney, "Getting Taken: Steven Spielberg, paranormal huckster," Slate, 27 November 2002. Visit the Sci-Fi Channel's website for more information on Taken. Benjamin D. Wiker, "Alien Ideas: Christianity and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life," Crisis, 4 November 2002. Peter Augustine Lawler, Aliens in America: The Strange Truth about Our Souls (ISI Books, 2002). G. K. Chesterton, "Why I Believe in Christianity," American Chesterton Society (reprinted in The Religious Doubts of Democracy, 1904, and The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Vol. 1). BreakPoint commentary no. 021209, "A Different Kind of Advent: Steven Spielberg's Taken." BreakPoint commentary no. 021210, "Prophets, Gospels, and Aliens: Our Christ-Haunted Culture." Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live without God? (Word Books, 1994).


Chuck Colson



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