Here’s an interesting fact: People who are not religious are twice as likely to believe in ghosts and UFOs as those who are religious. It seems that the less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse ideas about hauntings, UFOs, intelligent aliens monitoring our lives and assorted government conspiracies.
These facts come from a new research study by Pew Research and Clay Routledge, a professor of psychology at North Dakota State University. But perhaps most interesting are the conclusions the professor and his colleagues make about how this relates to our search for meaning. Routledge writes:
The less religious the participants were, the less they perceived their lives as meaningful. This lack of meaning (resulted in) a desire to find meaning, which in turn was associated with belief in UFOs and alien visitors.
There’s just one problem with this. Routledge says that belief in ghosts and UFOS are poor substitutes for religion. While we all need something to believe in, a way to organize and understand the world around us, the researcher points out belief in the paranormal is “not part of a well-established social and institutional support system.” It also “lacks a deeper and historically rich philosophy of meaning.”
There was a time human beings used mythology to make sense of the world.
In The Super Natural, a book about UFOs and alien encounters, Jeffrey J. Kripal writes that “the human species is a mythmaking species. Just as birds instinctively build nests and bees build hives, we “make worlds”, mythical universes to live in. We have no choice. Human beings need meaning, which is to say story, in order to live, much as they need food and air. No human community can live without meaning.”
This need for meaning goes back to the advent of man, when myth was used to explain the world. Just like we never lost the “fight or flight” response, which dates back to prehistoric man fleeing from threats in the wild, we may still possess the need for archetypes, primitive mental images that inhabit our psyche. The renowned psychologist Carl Jung believed we inherited theses archetypes from our earliest human ancestors and that they’re present in the collective unconscious.
Think UFOs are a thing of the past? There are sightings all the time, but most are not reported—and if they are, don’t get much more than a cursory write-up in local newspapers. Check out this compilation of sightings from a single-day this past month, as reported across North America, (courtesy the Syracuse New Times):
- July 14, 2017: At 1:30 a.m. a motorist in Pinon Hills, Calif., observed in the southwest sky a bright blue object moving west.
- July 14, 2017: At 4:30 a.m. a resident of Chandler, Ariz., three bright objects “swooping” over a rural field.
- July 14, 2017: At 12:14 p.m. a resident of Kingston, Ontario, reported a large S-shaped object spinning over a field before it took to the sky at great speed.
- July 14, 2017: At 8:39 p.m. a resident of Midland, Mich., was taking pictures of storm clouds. Upon reviewing the photos he discovered a large rectangular UFO in one of his photos.
- July 14, 2017: At 9:40 p.m. several residents of Alexandria, Va., observed seven bright, blinking lights, silently crossing sky above them in a single-file formation.
- July 14, 2017: At 10 p.m. a resident of Erie, Pa., witnessed a hovering neon green circular light. He reports that it seemed to be motionless and low to the ground.
The primary function of myth is to move beyond the surface and penetrate our inmost core, laying bare our human nature. Mankind cannot part ways with myth. He can distance himself from organized religion, but not spirituality and myth.
The passage above is from Benjamin Riggs and his book Finding God in the Body. If we go along with the idea that we truly need spirituality and myth in our lives, could it be that UFO sightings occur when we have lost the connection to our spiritual nature, when we put our faith in technology and the modern world over our faith in God?
Riggs believes that simply studying myths is a form of spiritual practice. Perhaps it is a way to engage our innermost selves, a way to help us explore the mysteries of the universe and our place in it. The great American mythologist Joseph Campbell believed that myth served several functions within society. This included “awakening a sense of awe before the mystery of being.” In Campbell’s words:
Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.