All religions are essentially silly. They’re all predicated on claims that cannot be scientifically proven, and they’re all based on claims that run contrary to reason. So saying that one religion is crazier than another is reductive. They’re all pretty crazy.
Except! Except it seems like UFO religions are just a tiny bit crazier than the rest. Maybe it’s because the ‘traditional’ religions are remnants of stone or bronze age thinking, and were codified at a time when people simply didn’t know any better that we take them more seriously. Yeah, none of that shit makes sense, but we’ve been believing it for thousands of years. UFO religions, on the other hand, are all new, and they all come at a time when we should, as a species, be examining extraordinary claims a little more closely.
What makes UFO religions so fascinating isn’t just the way that they’re even more patently crazy than the crazy claims of the standard religions, it’s the way that they almost acknowledge that by having one foot in science and one foot in religion. The two biggest modern UFO religions, Scientology and Raëlism, are specifically very interested in technological trappings surrounding their bizarre beliefs.
The first UFO cult is probably the I AM Activity, which is an offshoot of the Theosophy movement*; a fellow named Guy Ballard was hiking on California’s Mount Shasta in 1930 when he met a guy who claimed to be the Count of St. Germain, a mid-18th century figure who has some say was not just immortal but the actual Wandering Jew himself. In Ballard’s case, St. Germain introduced him to all sorts of mystical teachings - as well as allowing him to view activity on Venus using a TV set.
The I AM Activity is mostly interested in Ascended Masters - your standard theosophical bullshit - and not so much with aliens, although it’s that Venus-viewing TV that makes the cult the earliest point on the UFO religion timeline. In the coming decades, as flying saucers and UFOs became more of a cultural thing, more UFO religions would sprout up, and more alternative belief systems would incorporate current thinking on alien life into their dogma.
Every now and again a UFO cult will pop up on our popular radar, usually when they transition into being a doomsday cult. There’s the Order of the Solar Temple, a group that merged traditional occult beliefs with Knights Templar mythology and then mixed all that together with the idea that Jesus would return as a solar god-king and take believers to another world (probably near Sirius). The OST have been involved in mass murders and mass suicides over the years. The Heaven’s Gate cult grabbed headlines when their belief that aliens were traveling with the Hale-Bopp Comet led to their mass suicide. Heaven’s Gate founder Marshall Applewhite was a big Ancient Astronauts proponent, and he believed that the Earth was soon to be cleansed by the aliens who created us and that mass suicide was the only way to evacuate (their souls would be picked up by the space ship, he taught). Marshall also used a lot of Star Trek lingo.
There are other UFO cults that fly under the radar more. The Nation of Islam, for instance, has some UFO beliefs (and they’re not even the weirdest shit they believe. One day I’ll write about Yakob, the black scientist who created the white devil race six thousand years ago). Here’s a quote from Louis Farrakhan talking about ‘The Mother Plane’:
"The Honorable Elijah Muhammad told us of a giant Mother Plane that is made like the universe, spheres within spheres. White people call them unidentified flying objects (UFOs). Ezekiel, in the Old Testament, saw a wheel that looked like a cloud by day but a pillar of fire by night. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said that that wheel was built on the island of Nippon, which is now called Japan, by some of the Original scientists. It took $15 billion in gold at that time to build it. It is made of the toughest steel. America does not yet know the composition of the steel used to make an instrument like it. It is a circular plane, and the Bible says that it never makes turns. Because of its circular nature it can stop and travel in all directions at speeds of thousands of miles per hour. He said there are 1,500 small wheels in this Mother Wheel, which is a half mile by a half mile [800 m by 800 m]. This Mother Wheel is like a small human-built planet. Each one of these small planes carry three bombs.
"The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said these planes were used to set up mountains on the earth. The Qur'an says it like this: We have raised mountains on the earth lest it convulse with you. How do you raise a mountain, and what is the purpose of a mountain? Have you ever tried to balance a tire? You use weights to keep the tire balanced. That's how the earth is balanced, with mountain ranges. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said that we have a type of bomb that, when it strikes the earth a drill on it is timed to go into the earth and explode at the height that you wish the mountain to be. If you wish to take the mountain up a mile [1.6 km], you time the drill to go a mile in and then explode. The bombs these planes have are timed to go one mile down and bring up a mountain one mile high, but it will destroy everything within a 50-square-mile [130 km²] radius. The white man writes in his above top secret memos of the UFOs. He sees them around his military installations like they are spying.
"That Mother Wheel is a dreadful-looking thing. White folks are making movies now to make these planes look like fiction, but it is based on something real. The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said that Mother Plane is so powerful that with sound reverberating in the atmosphere, just with a sound, she can crumble buildings."
The biggest UFO cult in the world, Scientology, has tried (without much success) to distance itself from its oddball alien beliefs. Scientology is a damn strange thing in general, right from it’s very beginning. There’s an often-repeated story that founder L. Ron Hubbard, then a shitty science fiction writer, made a bet with Robert Heinlein that he could get rich founding a religion. Others have claimed that Hubbard, years before Scientology was founded, kept saying starting a cult was a good way to get money. The FBI turned up a memo from Hubbard written in 1953 that baldly states making the Scientology philosophy a religion would be a good way to earn cash.
Setting aside the grossly phony origins of Scientology (they’re honestly no stupider than the grossly phony origins of Mormonism, for instance**), the religion’s basic cosmological beliefs are stuff straight out of the pulps where Hubbard used to publish. If you meet a Scientologist it’s likely they’ll deny or downplay these beliefs, but that’s just because the stranger aspects of Scientology are only revealed to higher level Scientologists. Getting to those higher levels costs lots and lots of money - hundreds of thousands of dollars - so not many in the cult know the truth. Higher level (the levels are called OT Levels, or Operating Thetan Levels) documents were leaked on the internet in the 1990s, confirming many of the whispered stories of Scientology’s belief system.
According to L Ron Hubbard there was, 75 million years ago, an evil overlord named Xenu, who ruled the Galactic Confederacy. There were 26 planets in the Galactic Confederacy, and the civilization was exactly like our modern civilization. The aliens on these worlds were "walking around in clothes which looked very remarkably like the clothes they wear this very minute" wrote Hubbard in the secret doctrines of OT III in 1967. They drove around in cars and rode trains and lived like us, but they were badly overpopulated - hundreds of billions of beings on each planet. And Xenu was about to be overthrown, so he decided to kill two birds with one stone. He would clear up the overpopulation AND get rid of his foes.
Tricking his foes with psychiatry and claims of an income tax inspection (I swear), Xenu had them frozen and then loaded the aliens by the billions onto spaceships that Hubbard described as looking exactly like the Douglas DC-8 airplane (except without propellers, Hubbard explained) and brought them to a planet called Teegeeack... which was actually Earth! Xenu had all these aliens tied up in volcanoes, and then he blew them up with hydrogen bombs. But Xenu was like a LEGENDARY dick, so vaporizing everybody wasn’t enough. The explosion caused their souls - known to Scientologists as Thetans - to be blown into the atmosphere, and Xenu collected these souls using a ‘magnetic ribbon.’
Having captured the souls, he put them into a fully immersive movie theater that reprogrammed them with incorrect beliefs and histories (called the R6 implant) and removed their personalities. The hundreds of billions of free-floating thetans, now confused by this implant, began to either inhabit or hang around residents of Earth, causing them all sorts of mental distress. Only Scientology can clear you of your thetans (and in fact when you reach a certain expensive level you’re a “Clear.”)
Hubbard knew this all sounded like horseshit. It seems to have come to him at a time when he was drinking a lot and popping pills; he later defended it all by saying that science fiction stories are drawn from collective unconscious memories of these events. In other words the design of the DC-8 is based on the spaceships.
In Scientology Earth remains a pariah planet, off-limits to the other worlds of the Galactic Confederacy. Xenu was eventually overthrown and placed in a prison, where he still rots to this day. There are a lot of other alien groups out there, and the solar system has been the target of many alien incursion forces. Two such forces had a major war in the Himalayas 8000 years ago. There’s the Marcab Confederacy, which is located in the tail of the Big Dipper. They’re pretty huge assholes too, it seems - they use Earth as a prison planet and are constantly dropping off new thetans here to vex us. Hubbard said he was once a race car driver in the Marcab Confederacy (did I mention that thetans keep reincarnating over and over, and that they have existed since before the universe?) who broke the speed record before dying. He reincarnated as two subsequent race car drivers who kept breaking that record before he got bored of it.
Somehow all of this makes the Raëlians seem less weird. They were founded by Claude Vorhilon, a French pop singer and race car driver now known as Raël. He claims that in 1973 he met an extraterrestrial with the profound name of Yahweh. Yahweh is a member of the humanoid Eloha race, known to us as Elohim - angels. They came to Earth long ago when it was covered in clouds and shallow seas and terraformed it. The incidents in the Old Testament - the Garden of Eden, the Tower of Babel, the Great Flood, Noah’s Ark - are actually retellings of real scientific milestones in the development of our world (the Tower was a spaceship that could return to the home planet of the Eloha, the Ark was a repository for DNA).
It turns out that all of the great spiritual leaders - Moses, Jesus, Joseph Smith - have been emissaries of the Eloha (who live on the Planet of the Eternals. One time Raël himself went there and had sex with female robots). And the Eloha will one day return to Earth - it will appear as if humans are falling out of the sky and into a massive Alien Embassy the Raëlians want to build (they were trying to do it in Jerusalem for a long time, but you’ll soon understand why that ain’t happening).
Raël wrote some books about the knowledge he received, and then he incorporated the symbols he saw on Yahweh’s ship (which was parked in a volcano near Auvergne in France) into the official symbol of the Raëlian religion. It’s a swastika in a Star of David.
The Raëlians have a very pro-science belief system. They don’t like standard democracy and believe we should be ruled by a geniocracy - a governing body made up of people who have scored high on tests for problem solving and empathy. They’ll be voted into office, but only by others who have also scored high. Dummies need not apply.
They support cloning; Clonaid, the group that claimed to have successfully cloned a human in 2002 (they probably didn’t) is closely aligned with Raëlism. The Raëlians believe that cloning is the first step towards immortality, and they believe that eventually you’ll be able to be cloned into a body that will have all your memories and feelings. Eventually they’ll be able to raise the dead with cloning.
They also support GMO food (they have supported Monsanto in GMO battles in Brazil) and are really excited about nanotechnology. Raël said that while on the Planet of the Eternals he played with nanotech flowers that changed colors and danced. He also talks about self-cleaning clothes a bunch. He believes that capitalism will help bring about advanced nanotech which will, in turn, end capitalism as we won’t need money anymore once the nanotech becomes self-replicating.
The Raëlians are into all aspects of free love and sensuality; Raël wrote a book called Sensual Meditation, and the group is very into legalizing and promoting all homosexual, bisexual and heterosexual relationships. They have very... liberal policies on child sex education, which have led to claims of child abuse over the years. The Raëlians are also really into advocating toplessness for women.
Like Scientology, Raëlism has been recognized as a religion in the US. It’s considered a cult in France, and Raël is regularly subjected to mockery on television. Besides their scifi beliefs (and really, this UFO religion is much more enjoyably scifi than Hubbard’s ludicrous space opera), the Raëlians are also activists. Their sexuality and cloning beliefs have brought them into direct conflict with the Catholic Church, and as a result they do stuff like hand out condoms to Catholic school kids and protest about Catholic clergy sexual abuse. Raël also started a group called Clitoraid (I swear), dedicated to stopping clitoral mutilation in Africa.
2012 is a big year for all sorts of wackos, so I wouldn't be surprised if more UFO cults make the headlines in the coming months. Sadly, it'll probably be because of the mass deaths of the deluded fools who buy into crazy religion.
* a fascinating quasi-religious movement itself, which is magical in nature.
** The Mormons believe God lives on an alien planet, but I'm not quite certain they qualify as a UFO religion.