13 June 2014


Ted Peters. UFOs: God's Chariots? Spirituality, Ancient Aliens, and Religious Yearnings in the Age of Extraterrestrials. New Page Books, 2014

This is the second edition of this book, the first appearing in 1977. Ted Peters believes in the soundness of his thesis in the first edition, that the UFO phenomenon exposes a widespread cultural tendency to translate traditional religious or spiritual sensibilities into scientific or materialist language and categories.
Peters explores the UFO phenomena, by which he means not the UFOs themselves, but the beliefs and activities of the ufologists, by dividing them into four basic explanatory models. "They are the Interstellar Diplomat (a political model); the Research Scientist (a scientific model); the Celestial Saviour (a religious model); and the Hybridizer (a model that combines the scientific and the religious)."

The interstellar diplomats are those who believe that UFOs are piloted by extraterrestrials. Peters cites Michael Michaud, a foreign service officer working for the Department of State in Washington, who has considered the possibility of negotiating with other worlds. He says that our first concern would be to protect ourselves from any possible threat from extraterrestrial visitors. Our second concern would be to attempt to participate in developing a stable system of interstellar politics. The third concern would be to learn from the aliens and advance our mutual knowledge of the universe.

There are many people who speculate about the possibility of contact with ETs (extraterrestrials), but some people claim that it has happened to them. Peters gives us the example of police officer Herbert Schirmer, who claimed to have seen a low-flying UFO when on patrol at night on 3 December 1967. Eventually, Schirmer was hypnotised and told a story of being taken aboard the UFO by ETs, who told him they were surveying Earth and its people. Another alleged encounter, similar in many ways to this one, was reported by Charles L. Moody in September 1975, near Alamagordo, New Mexico, where he reported being taken aboard a spacecraft and informed by the ETs that they were considering inviting Earth to join their "league of races". These cases fit Peters's Interstellar Diplomat model. It is also a model which has inspired some films, notably The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

The models which Peters has devised for trying to make sense of what he calls the UFO phenomenon, but others might call the UFO mythology, do not account for all aspects of what is generally referred to as ufology. These include crop circles, cattle mutilations, Men in Black, etc. One aspect, which is particularly prevalent in the USA is "the preoccupation with a U.S. government conspiracy to withhold information from the general public". It does not precisely fit the Interstellar Diplomat model. Peters remarks: "It baffles me. Despite its ubiquity, I find it difficult to comprehend". I, too, find it difficult to comprehend how it is believed that the U.S. government could keep secret indefinitely something which it does not control.

We are asked to consider whether the rage over alleged government conspiracy combined with the demands for "disclosure" fits neatly into Model I, the Interstellar Diplomat. Peters considers that parts of it overlap with Model II, the Research Scientist and Model III, the Celestial Saviour. This is illustrated by considering the furious Roswell controversy. He refers to an article by Joe Nickel and James McGaha which deals with Roswell as an example of mythmaking ufologists. He asserts that they seem to be oblivious to "the larger myth that frames their own inquiry, one that relies upon modern science to supersede atavistic mythological thinking". He argues to the effect that UFO sceptics and UFO believers share an evolutionary world view "replete with the doctrine of progress and reverence for knowledge in the form of intelligence, science and technology".

The book continues with discussions about interpretations of UFO reports related to the author's models, some of them rather convoluted. Particularly interesting, though, are his remarks on the interpreations offered by some prominent ufologists.

Jacques Vallee is said to challenge the idea of nuts-and-bolts spacecraft. He aims to examine the apparently religious qualities of the UFO phenomenon, but to do this "strictly from within the safety zone of science". Peters thinks that Vallee's greatest contribution is his demonstration of the inadequacy of the Research Scientist model and towards the religious qualities of the phenomenon.

It seems to be almost axiomatic among American ufologists that contactees are liars, whereas abductees tell the truth, or what they believe to be the truth. To put it simply -- contactees bad, abductees good. However, Peters considers the religious content of the stories told by contactees, and investigators who study what they have to say, and contrasts this with the generally negative reports of abductees, encouraged by such investigators as David Jacobs and Budd Hopkins. The abduction experts are said to want to eliminate any spiritual or religious dimension from ufology.

In the discussion of the Hybridizer, the model combining the Research Scientist and the Celestial Saviour models, there is an important section on sexual abuse and satanic abductions, which describes briefly such social changes as more professional women working outside the home and requiring the services of preschools to look after their children. The anxieties which this provoked led to rumours and urban legends of children being sexually abused in these places, although it was eventually established that such accusations were almost always false.

A review which deals with all of the questions raised by the author would be almost as long as the book. There is much of interest and importance that I have not mentioned. Readers who wish to investigate the likely or possible reasons for the fascination with UFO reports and UFO lore will find much to think and argue about.
  •  John Harney.

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