This week provides one final look at the ever so interesting connection between Mormon theology and UFO myths and folklore. I highly recommend catching up with the last installment here before we take a look at more modern theories. Grab your tin foil hats and let’s begin.
In 1947 Roswell New Mexico was host to an incident that supposedly involved a crashed UFO, (or was it a weather balloon?) a government conspiracy, and the re-introduction of alien life to pop cultures across the world. This event, in conjunction with the massive onslaught of UFO sightings in the decades to come, invited religions worldwide to examine their doctrine about life on other planets. For many, this idea posed a big problem to the idea that the earth was the center of God’s universe. For Mormonism however, this wasn’t so much of a struggle. Thanks to the ground work laid down by Joseph Smith (wrong though it was) and other early leaders; belief in life on worlds besides our own was already laid down as doctrine.
In fact not only was belief in alien life supported by doctrine, it was even encouraged over the pulpit and in church publications. While other religions were contemplating what extraterrestrial life meant for God’s plan, Mormonism was capitalizing on the zeitgeist in order to lure in potential converts. Take this 1971 New Era article for example, written by BYU professor Kent Nielson. Giving us a more science driven description of what alien life would look like, Nielson even goes as far as to speculate that God himself was once a mortal inhabitant of another world. A statement that has been taught by other church leaders in the past. This unfiltered approach to the wonders of the galaxy was a source of inspiration to many members; the most high profile example is probably Battlestar Galactica creator Glen Larson. The show, now considered a cult classic, features many themes and ideas borrowed from LDS doctrine. For example, Kobal is featured in the show as the home world of the human race, while a “Council of Twelve” serves as governing body. Additionally, I come across dozens accounts of church members having their own UFO close encounter experiences, like this one, where an accomplished entrepreneur invests millions of dollars into UFO research after having a close encounter of his own, and earning himself the title of “Fox Mulder of Silicon Valley” in the process. Worth it.
In the 1973 General Conference we have this talk delivered by First Presidency member N. Eldon Tanner, where he seems to appropriate the UFO phenomenon for his position that yes, celestial messengers have been visiting earth for centuries, and they are angles and prophets.
This works both ways however. As much as LDS leaders capitalized on UFO headlines to teach about heavenly messengers, UFO theorists used religion as evidence for UFO theories. It is not uncommon to find allegations that celestial visitors in the Bible were actually alien visitors who made appearances to impart wisdom to mankind and steer us in the right direction. This ideas is also certainly not limited to western religions either. To go even further, there has been many a speculation that Joseph Smith was actually visited by alien beings on that spring day in 1820, an idea that was given mainstream attention when it was briefly featured on the History Channel program “Ancient Aliens”. At this point in researching my findings took a turn for the (even more) bizarre. Mormon conspiracy theories seem to invite fringe opinions and theories almost like bad fanfiction (think lots of websites with green font on a black background). While we won’t spend a lot of time on the more evidence starved ideas like lizard people, ancient aliens, and baby eating shape shifters, just know Mormonism has been linked to all of them in some way in the deep dark corners of the internet. But just for fun, take a look at Raelism, which uses Joseph Smith’s story as a point of evidence.
Moving to present time, we don’t really hear much about extraterrestrial life from church leaders, and certainly not in a general conference address. The reasons for this are various, while science fiction remains as popular as ever in pop culture, sightings are hardly front page news now. As mainstream interest in UFO’s died down, so too did the church’s willingness to talk about it; the subject would almost be taboo now. What we have now is at least a fascinating, if not often misguided, long tradition in Mormonism to define our place and divine purpose in the cosmic quilt that is being sewn together every day.