Join our Lenten Campaign 2024.
Humans can find it difficult to grapple with things that lie outside the “normal” realm of their experience. Consider the challenges that scientists face in explaining quantum physics, a theory that is a century old. Einstein called the phenomenon of quantum entanglement “spooky action at a distance,” while the physicist Richard Feynman stated: “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.”
A similar fog seems to exist around the topic of UAP, Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (popularly known as UFOs). Ufologists have long held that reports of flying saucers and alien encounters should be taken seriously, while skeptics have insisted that such sightings were nothing more than mistakes, hoaxes, or mass delusions.
A secret UFO program revealed
In 2017, however, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon had a secret program to study UAPs. Members of AATIP (Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program) leaked a series of US Navy videos that seemed to show flying objects behaving in ways that might defy the known laws of physics. Were these weird objects mere system glitches, examples of exotic foreign technologies, or something far more mysterious and otherworldly? One whistleblower, David Grusch, has even claimed that the government has possession of alien craft and bodies. Congress, spurred by public interest, passed laws that mandate further study and investigation.
Suddenly, the topic of UFOs is no longer fringe. Even Fr. Mike Schmitz has joined the conversation. And those scientists and scholars who have long advocated studying UAP have become more public in their advocacy and efforts.
Scientists and scholars weigh in
Earlier this year, Stanford University professor Dr. Gary Nolan and cultural anthropologist and philosopher Dr. Peter Skafish co-founded the SOL Foundation as an independent entity to “bring together experts from academia and government to address the philosophical, policy, and scientific problems raised by the likely presence on the Earth of UAP.”
The foundation’s inaugural symposium was held on November 17-18 on the Stanford campus. While transcripts of the presentations have not yet been released, we do know that at least two writers with Catholic backgrounds participated in the proceedings.
UFOs and miracles?
Diana Walsh Pasulka is a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina. Her book American Cosmic is considered a groundbreaking work in the field. It looks at the UFO phenomenon from a religious studies perspective. Though she says her Catholic beliefs play no part in her research, Pasulka has discovered interesting parallels between alleged UFO encounters and reports of miracles throughout Catholic history.
The last chapter of American Cosmic tells the story of a UFO researcher who accompanies Pasulka to the Vatican and ends up converting to Roman Catholicism after hearing a lecture by Brother Guy Consolmagno, the director of the Vatican Observatory. He received his first Communion “at a small Mass with Pope Francis,” Pasulka reports.
The intersection between religious faith and UAP studies gets even stranger in her next book, the recently released Encounters.
An angel with a sword
One scientist, called Gray Man in her book, reports an encounter with a shining entity possessing long hair and a sword – a figure that Pasulka soon recognizes to be St. Michael the Archangel. Other interactions are even more bizarre and at times disturbing. Both of Pasulka’s UFO books often read like real-life versions of C.S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, where forces of darkness and light do battle not just in people’s souls but perhaps also in science labs, classrooms, and office parks.
Pasulka ultimately leaves readers of American Cosmic and Encounters with far more questions than answers, reflecting her own sense of disorientation before the strange testimonies that she shares.
She also points out that, contrary to popular misconceptions, Christians already possess the cognitive tools to calmly consider mysteries like the UFO phenomenon. Angels, demons, Eucharistic miracles, bilocating saints, and apparitions of the Virgin Mary are all facts that believers are more or less comfortable with. Flying saucers and alien beings, should they prove to exist, would be no stranger (perhaps even less so) than many of the other realities that populate a Catholic’s universe.
The Catholic Church and extraterrestrials
Also presenting at the SOL symposium was Paul Thigpen, whose book Extraterrestrial Intelligence and the Catholic Faithwas recently published by Tan Books. A PhD, Thigpen has served on the National Advisory Council of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. His book is a comprehensive look at how Christians have regarded the question of alien life. You may be surprised to learn that the Church has thought about this issue for hundreds of years. Thigpen believes that it is important for Catholics to seriously consider whether extraterrestrials might exist, and even to seriously consider the possibility that UAPs might be signs of nonhumans in our midst. He writes:
Consider: Our government may well possess physical evidence (as many investigators have suspected for years) of spacecraft (and their occupants?) visiting from another world. I asked myself, shouldn’t we be talking about this matter?
“Time will tell”
Others, like astronomer Fr. James Kurzynsk, are taking a wait-and-see approach. Back in 2021, when UAPs were still a breaking story, he advised readers of the Vatican Observatory website not to jump to conclusions and that “Time will tell.”
When I’ve had the opportunity to explore things I didn’t understand in the sky, there has always been a logical answer, making me think these images and events will have a logical answer too. And, from that standpoint, I think it’s safe to say that, for now, we’re being notified of things very smart people can’t identify that is concerning to them. However, let’s be careful not to jump to false conclusions and drink the Kool-Aid of cultural hysteria and sensationalism. Let’s figure out what they are so the unknown can become known.