Culture Witness

Ancient Aliens and the Gospel

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Written by Pr. Phil Booe

Answers to the Hard Questions

There are a few universal questions that have always existed out in the zeitgeist of human history. Where did we come from? What is our purpose here? Is there life beyond our world? The good news is that Ancient Aliens on the History Channel gives us answers to all of these questions and more.

Their answers are wrong, but they do give answers. If you’ve never watched an episode of Ancient Aliens, you’re really missing out. It began in 2009 as a TV special that was later picked up as a regular series. It is immensely popular considering the esoteric subject matter, pulling in one to two million viewers an episode over its 13 season run and 140 episode lifespan so far.  In addition to the series, there are also several documentaries on the pseudo-archeological concept of ancient astronauts. There’s no dispute that there is an appetite for all things alien.

I’m not afraid to admit that Ancient Aliens is one of my guilty pleasures. I’ve seen every episode. The claims made by the show of have often sent me to the Internet to research everything from Peruvian Nazca lines to secret pyramids to ancient relics. I think it’s fascinating how easily the presenters can make their arguments seem so reasonable and yet when you encounter the evidence debunking their claims, it seems so obvious how they skew the evidence to fit their hypothesis. A quick glance at their Wikipedia page will give you an idea of the breadth of topics they cover, all of which the presenters clumsily connect to the idea that sometime back in Earth’s ancient history extraterrestrials came here and seeded, cultivated, and influenced our planet’s life and culture.

For viewers of the series and lovers of Internet memes, the guy you might think of when you think of Ancient Aliens is Giorgio A. Tsoukalos. The Swiss-born Tsoukalos, and his distinctive hair style that makes it appear as if he’s in the middle of being abducted, is the the de-facto front man for the ancient astronaut theory today. Toukalos seems comfortable in his role as the Ancient Aliens poster boy. Yet, even in his most earnest moments, I get the sense that he sees himself neither as a proponent nor a fraudster, but a willing participant in what is essentially a new “for entertainment purposes only” endeavor. After all, his credentials, which include a bachelor’s degree in sports information with experience as a bodybuilding promoter, are more suited to an entertainer than a researcher. That doesn’t mean he can’t have passions and expertise outside of his degree, right? Of course, not.

His sole credential related to the subject of aliens is that he was the publisher of Legendary Times which was a magazine connected to the Archaeology, Astronautics and SETI Research Association under the direction of–you guessed it–Tsoukalos. The magazine ran from 1999 to 2008 when it suddenly halted production. Incidentally, this was the year before History Channel started producing Ancient Aliens. Coincidence? I’m not saying it was aliens, but it was aliens. Even if he’s completely sincere about his bizarre pontifications, he’s still likable and part of the reason why the show is so popular.

Ancient Astronaut Theory is Not New

The concepts of ancient alien races, ancient astronauts, and ETs as intelligent designers did not begin with the TV series that has made it so popular. A great deal of credit (or blame?) can be given to Erich von Däniken, another Swiss man whose unorthodox theories sparked the imagination of people looking for alternative explanations to our past.

Von Däniken has been featured on the show and many of the series’ presenters are his disciples. Von Däniken rose to fame in 1968 after he published his book, Chariots of the Gods? With the question, “Could God have been an Astronaut?,” von Däniken essentially launched the idea of alien visitors from our ancient history into the public interest.

Ancient Astronauts and the Bible

In addition to searching out secret meanings behind pyramids and geoglyphs and questioning how ancient humans could have possibly constructed great megalithic structures, the ancient astronaut theory often invokes the mythos of various religions to support its conjectures. Proponents will point to obscure hieroglyphics that resemble flying machines or indigenous folklore about visitors from the stars and will immediately tout them as evidence of alien visitors in the past. Their reasoning is usually that ancient humans did not have the language to describe the alien technology of flying machines that they witnessed and so they described them in terms such as gods, angels, and dragons.

Ancient astronaut theorists apply the same logic to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. For instance, they claim there are examples of extraterrestrials mating with humans to create a hybrid alien-human race in the Old Testament! They say that the “sons of God” in Genesis 6 refer to aliens and the Nephilim are the hybrid offspring born as a result of them mating with the “daughters of men.” The King James Version of the Bible translates nephilim as giants. Modern translations leave it alone since the meaning is not very clear.

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose.Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. (Genesis 6:1-4)

In fact, ancient astronaut theorists will point to almost any angelic or divine activity and claim that it is extraterrestrial contact misunderstood by primitive people. There are plenty of examples. The prophet Elijah taken up in a whirlwind? Nope, aliens. Enoch taken up into heaven without dying? Aliens.

The most famous biblical account that ancient astronaut theorists point to is the vision God gave to the prophet Ezekiel. It begins with a storm in the sky, flashes of light, brightness from the heavens, and the appearance of something metallic from which strange creatures emerged.

As I looked, behold, a stormy wind came out of the north, and a great cloud, with brightness around it, and fire flashing forth continually, and in the midst of the fire, as it were gleaming metal. And from the midst of it came the likeness of four living creatures. (Ezekiel 1:4-5)

Add to this awe-inspiring vision a contraption that, in the limited human language of Ezekiel, is described as a wheel within a wheel that darted across the sky wherever it wanted to go.

Now as I looked at the living creatures, I saw a wheel on the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them.As for the appearance of the wheels and their construction: their appearance was like the gleaming of beryl. And the four had the same likeness, their appearance and construction being as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went in any of their four directions without turning as they went. (Ezekiel 1:15-17)

As any ancient astronaut theorist will tell you, these verses are possibly proof of UFOs and aliens in the Bible, probably. Oh yeah, that’s another thing they do, at least on the show Ancient Aliens. Every statement is modified by “possibly,” “probably,” or “perhaps.” The theorists always “suggest” or “suppose” their explanations and avoid definitive statements at all costs. As for the vision in Ezekiel, theological explanations are disregarded and replaced by ancient astronaut dogma. Don’t take my word for it, there has been plenty of ink spilled over the alleged UFOs in Ezekiel.

Whereas the ancient astronaut theorists accuse our ancestors of reframing what they saw in their own limited language (on this we can agree), the theorists themselves are taking supernatural events (as in the case of Ezekiel) and reframing them in terms of aliens. It’s simple eisegesis. If all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail.

Ancient Aliens Fills a Void

So why do people enjoy Ancient Aliens despite its absurdity? I know why I do. I grew up on Unsolved Mysteries and the X-Files. I’ve always enjoyed paranormal literature, conspiracy theories, and unusual tales. I find it fascinating how humans can find and cling to the slimmest correlation between events and weave them together into complicated scenario that almostmakes sense. Almost.

In fact, if presented as pure fiction, I don’t think I would find Ancient Aliens as interesting. It’s the fact that people actually believe this stuff that makes it so compelling. I suspect that’s where most people who like Ancient Aliens find themselves.

But what about those who buy into these wild theories? I suspect that they are searching for the answers to those universal questions: Where did we come from? What is our purpose here? Is there life beyond our world? As our society continues to reject God’s answers to these questions, a void is left behind. Just because people refuse to listen to God doesn’t mean they no longer yearn for the answers.

Ancient Aliens answers these questions with wild speculation that seems scientific and reasonable. Two traits that the world accuse Christianity of lacking. Still, what could this search for meaning mean for Christians? I believe it represents an opportunity to witness to the truth revealed by God and faith that comes through hearing the gospel.

Co-belligerence

Ancient astronaut theorists and Christians end up being unwitting co-belligerents against the world because there are a few things they share in common. The world doesn’t believe either. The world pokes fun at both. Both proclaim things that cannot be proven to scientific satisfaction. Both require a great deal of faith to believe in. Both claim to have answers to the big universal questions.

The way we look at ancient astronaut theorists might give us insight into the way atheists look at us. It should make us stop and examine ourselves, why do we believe what we believe? Ancient Aliens presents the tenets of its faith as human reason interpreting sketchy archeological evidence. The faith of Christians is in a person–Jesus Christ–through whom God desires us to know him. We encounter Jesus in the Holy Scriptures. So to that end, I hope you are in the Word of God which strengthens your faith and equips you to answer that important question of why you believe what you believe.

For Christians, we know that the Gospel we believe is considered a joke by many.

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:21-25)

A huge difference between ancient astronaut theorists and Christians is that we as Christians know that faith and belief do not come by mounds of evidence but as a gift from God. This takes a lot of pressure off of us to prove that what we believe is true, but it doesn’t remove the responsibility we have to share that which God uses to bring others into the fold: the Gospel.

…faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17)

It doesn’t take but a 10 minute Google search to debunk the answers that Ancient Aliens gives to the big questions. Ultimately, it raises more questions than it answers. While their theories might give scientific and reasonable sounding responses to those big universal questions, they still do not explain the creation of the universe. They offer no purpose for man’s existence. They provide no hope for life after death. In the end, ancient astronaut theory is neither science nor religion, but a pseudoscience and pseudo-religion. The theories expressed on Ancient Aliens contain no more value than the passing entertainment they provide.

Alien Righteousness

What we as Christians offer those who are lost and searching for the truth is the very the Word of God. God’s truth is powerful, performative, and resilient to the attacks of the world. We get to introduce others to God who not only created all that exists out of nothing, but continues to preserve that creation until Jesus’ return. God’s Word provides real answers to the big questions we wrestle with each day. Ultimately, our faith, hope, and trust is not in nameless alien overlords out in the cosmos, but in Jesus Christ–God in the flesh–who lived among us, died, and rose again to restore us to a right relationship with the Father. What’s so amazing is that we do nothing, God does everything. Many who believe in God or life after death contend that we must somehow work our way into God’s favor; that we must be good enough or do something to be worthy of eternal life. The Bible teaches that our salvation is completely God’s Work. It’s Christ’s righteousness and not our own which is applied to us. Martin Luther called this… are you ready for it? Alien Righteousness. 

I like watching Ancient Aliens, but it will always be nothing more than a curiosity to me. I’m thankful for the mysteries that still exist in our world, but I’m more thankful that there is no mystery about God’s Will for us in Jesus.

About the author

Pr. Phil Booe

The Rev. Dr. Phil Booe is a husband to Becky and father to Alex and Katie. Originally from North Carolina, he currently serves as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church in Luverne, Minnesota (LCMS). He holds a B.S. in Criminal Justice from Western Carolina University, an M.Div. from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and a D.Min. from Bethel University in Congregational Counseling and Catechetics.

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