by Rick Hiebert
October 21, 2002
THE idea intelligent life exists
somewhere other than on earth has a powerful hold on western
culture. But whether or not stories of the archetypal "little green
man" are true, accounts of people's supposed meetings with aliens
reveal something compelling about the human race, if not the
That, at least, is the theory of
anthropologist Krista Henriksen of Simon Fraser University
(SFU) in B.C., who recently completed a master's thesis in which she
analyzed what people say aliens tell them when they visit earth.
The 32-year-old Ms. Henriksen, who is now a federal government
policy analyst in St. John's, became interested in the subject when
a friend's books on alien messages reminded her of medieval legends
of monsters and fairy abductions. So she set about analyzing 60
accounts of alleged human-alien meetings. Today, four years later,
she is skeptical about aliens' existence, but is, nevertheless,
intrigued by what we humans say about visitors from outer space.
Because there are tens of thousands of stories of human-alien
encounters each year, Ms. Henriksen had plenty of data from which to
"It's a subculture in North
America," she says. "Much of the existing popular literature
says that you too could have a buried memory of meeting an
alien. You just don't know it yet."
The accounts differ widely, Ms.
Henriksen says, but several themes repeat themselves. Aliens say the
world is in trouble - threatened by war and ecological collapse.
The person to whom the aliens speak,
however, is special in some way and can, with the aliens'
assistance, help save the world.
"They are communicating to people
that there is meaning in life, and in their individual lives in
particular," she says.
Also, aliens always talk to humans, but
humans do not talk back, which implies aliens are not true explorers
who want to interact with other intelligent species.
"The people who report these
experiences had profound experiences of some kind," she
continues. "Something happened to them. The same experiences can
be interpreted in other ways. Some might interpret it as a
visitation from an angel. In medieval times, they might have
interpreted it as an abduction by a fairy."
Barry Beyerstein, an SFU
psychology professor who is also chairman of the B.C. Society of
Skeptics, agrees the subject is worth studying, but that does
not mean aliens exist. It is easy to be fooled by natural and
man-made phenomena in the sky, he points out.
Also, the technology necessary for
road-tripping aliens to travel here from the depths of space is
"For one UFO from the nearest star,
it would take the equivalent of all the energy that humans have
ever used," Prof. Beyerstein says. "I would wonder why they
would waste their time on a small planet by an insignificant
He himself has interviewed many "sincere
but deluded" people who say they have encountered aliens.
"People have to make an educated
guess when they have an unusual experience," the professor
concludes. "Since you see UFO experiences in the media, it's a
way to make sense of it in your mind."
As for the alien messages, Prof.
Beyerstein says they correspond to psychological needs all people
have - a need to be seen as special. In other words, people hear
what they want to hear.
Moreover, the flexible nature of the alien-encounter experience
allows people to fit it into their moral world view. Christians
and New Agers alike seem to have their faith strengthened
by the experience.
But therein lies a problem.
"The [alien] messages seem to
purport peace and good will, but the problem with the messages
is that they are promoting another world view, one antithetical
towards traditional christianity," says William Alnor, an
American writer and researcher.
The author of two books on UFOs, he
suspects aliens are actually a demonic deception.
Prof. Alnor, who teaches journalism at Texas A & M
University (Kingsville), thinks it peculiar that the thousands
of supposedly random "alien" messages he has read always have good
things to say of other faiths, yet denigrate
"They'll say Jesus and
Lucifer are brothers, or that Lucifer has become a
good guy now, or that Jesus was only one of many gods.
None of them that I have ever seen have ever promoted the
biblical idea of Jesus Christ," Prof. Alnor states.
"A lot of them will say something
good about Jesus, but none of them will declare him to be
God in human flesh, the historic christian message."
UFOs and aliens meet the spiritual needs
of people who have been influenced by the progress of science, have
believed New Age concepts and have rebelled against monotheism,
especially christianity, Prof. Alnor theorizes.
"UFO-logy has kept people in
confusion. It's led to people looking at all these alleged crazy
signs in the sky instead of looking to the God who made
Nevertheless, Ms. Henriksen believes the
religious aspects of alien messages
merit further study.
"The messages that people receive
seem to be highly theological," says the scholar, a United
"There are definite links with
christian theology in particular, that you're not alone, that
you have a purpose in life. The aliens are somehow quite
omniscient, but don't have any hands-on abilities to make any
changes. This phenomenon seems to reflect the search for meaning
in western society."