Faith as an Alien Realm


Interesting interview going on with Douglas Cowan on Sacred Terror at TheoFantastique (see part I and II).

That gives me a wonderful pretext for posting this beauty entitled “Jesus is a Fucking Alien.” Not a sentiment I share with the artist obviously but certainly a raw comment on how many experience Christianity, Christ and Christians.

What I find interesting is the path Cowan offers us, to explore the sacred through the horrific and alien in movies and other media. What do our fears and terrors reveal about us? How does exploring them help us to get under our skins?

5 thoughts on “Faith as an Alien Realm

  1. This reminds me of Novalis’s famous line about the purpose of Romanticism: “to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.”
    Once we see the alien in those symbols and ideas we internalize, it helps us to find the familiar in that which appears alien in the beliefs and symbols of others. Seeing Jesus as a fucking alien opens me up to seeing “Jesus” in other alien guises as well. And that is the heart of of the Gospel – finding Jesus in others as well as my self.


  2. Matt, interesting topic, and you’ve got courage for going with the title of the piece uncensored.
    Actually the idea that we might learn theologically (and missiologically) from horror as well as science fiction and fantasy as it relates to aliens is not at all far-fetched. Philip Johnson’s recent intensive course at seminary in the States gave me an opportunity to probe this in relation to myths and archetypes drawn upon by religious UFO groups and hyper-real spiritualities. I was able to suggest just a few of the contours of a missionaal apologetic whereby the desires for extraterrestrial redemption as portrayed in The Day the Earth Stood still with the an alien Messiah, as well as a technological New Jerusalem coming down at the close of Close Encounters of the Third Kind could be drawn upon to illustrate the “myth become fact” in Jesus’ incarnation, resurrection, and establishment of the Kingdom in history. So the “leap” from the Jesus of the New Testament to the alien Jesus is not much of a leap at all.


  3. What’s interesting about TDTESS is how it’s consistently been misread as a messianic film, I think in part because of the Golden Globe it won when it was released. People seem to forget that Klaatu brings the millennium wrapped in the threat of apocalypse. If you don’t control yourselves, earth people, your planet will be reduced to a burned-out cinder. And I’m going to leave Gort here to keep an eye on things. This actually fits much more neatly with my contention that religion begins with fear. I find it hard to see Klaatu as an alien Jesus, in the way many (most?) commentators do.
    I think that TDTESS is a bridge film between millennium and apocalypse, the one offered on the tip of the other. I go through some of this in a chapter called “Dreams Wrapped in Nightmares: Millennium, Apocalypse, and American Popular Culture,” which is forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Millennialism.


  4. Doug, thanks for the comments and being part of the conversation.
    I drew upon the alien Messiah imagery from TDTESS due to the frequent mention of this in commentaries and academic sources which you note are prevalent. In addition, while director Robert Wise did not see this symbolism and the Christian allegory in the film, apparently the screenwriter intended it as such as reported in Anton Karl Kozlovic’s article “From Holy Aliens to Cyborg Saviours: Biblical Subtexts in Four Science Fiction Films,” Journal of Religion and Film 5/2 (2001):
    “…Edmund H. North himself admitted that the parallels between the story of Christ and Day were intentional: from Klaatu’s earthly name of Carpenter, to the betrayal by Tom Stevens, and finally to his resurrection and ascent into the heavens at Day’s end. ‘It was my private little joke. I never discussed this angle with [producer Julian] Blaustein or [director Robert] Wise because I didn’t want it expressed. I had originally hoped that the Christ comparison would be subliminal.'” (von Gunden, K., & Stock, S. H. (1982). Twenty all-time great science fiction films. New York: Arlington House.)
    Still, your point is well taken in regards to the strong inclusion of the element of fear in regards to any of its religious underpinnings. Perhaps there is a place for greater recognition of this in Christianity as it seems that fear was a significant part of Jesus’ kingdom messages in regards to the ever-present threat of Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in the background. While fear should not the only or sole element or motivator in religion, it is there and must be grappled with appropriately.


  5. Thanks much for this, John. I’d forgotten that para in the JRF article. It makes you wonder about the kind of Christianity North envisioned, if he could place those words into Klaatu’s mouth. Kind of like the horrific faith implicated in Gibson’s PAssion of the Christ. I’ll consider this further, since the case has just become much more complex, and, therefore, more interesting.


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