Unexplained Readings: Flying Saucers and the Scriptures

No grade school class is complete without one kid fascinated by the paranormal. I did my best to fill that role.

I read books on UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, Bigfoot, assorted lesser cryptids, and anything that fell under the label of “the Unexplained.” I watched Unsolved Mysteries faithfully, hoping each time for a UFO case or a haunting instead of those tedious “Fraud” stories. And of course I spent bedtimes and evenings in the fearful hope that a UFO would zag across the sky or, better yet, an alien would phase into my living room.

I read fewer and fewer of those books as I got older, and I was far more skeptical when I returned to the ideas as a teenager and a warped adult. I realized that there’s little credible evidence for extraterrestrials, that Bigfoot would’ve been captured by now if it existed, and that, heartbreakingly enough, Nessie is a fish, a fake, or a swimming deer. Oh, and the Flatwoods Monster, Mothman, and the Hopkinsville Goblins all were just owls.

Of course, that doesn’t shake my fascination for the Unexplained, even when it’s easily explained. I love weird creatures and crazy theories and anything that lurks just outside of the plausible world. So when a friend of mine mentioned a book called Flying Saucers and the Scriptures, I knew I’d have to read it one day. This was due in part to a minor mystery. My friend had borrowed it from the library of a Christian college in Ohio, but it had disappeared from the shelves when he sought it out years later. Someone or something wanted this book to be forgotten. That, or they wanted to sell it to me for twenty bucks on Amazon.

Books that combine UFOs and the Bible generally take one of two paths. Devoted UFO nuts maintain that scriptural accounts of Ezekiel’s fiery flying wheel or the Book of Enoch’s fallen angels are veiled descriptions of alien visitations, refracted through a culture that had no concept of such things. Many Christian interpretations take the opposite track: UFOs, including those of the modern age, are either heavenly or demonic messengers, and today’s secular science interprets them as alien in origin. Flying Saucers and the Scriptures leans toward the latter school of thought…but it’s not what I expected.

John W. Dean’s Flying Saucers and the Scriptures devotes itself entirely to the contactee movements of the 1940s and 1950s, when Americans wanted a flying-saucer craze but hadn’t yet developed UFO abductions and gray aliens and lost time. It was a much simpler era. Contactees usually met perfectly human-looking aliens, took rides in rockets or car-shaped spaceships, and saw the vast civilizations of Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and undiscovered planets. Much of it started with George Adamski, whose encounters with suspiciously Nordic “Space Brothers” led to others claiming they’d taken joyrides with aliens who had cities on the moon and dire concerns about nuclear war. The culture brought around such enduring fiction as the Book of Urantia and the Church of Scientology, but most UFO contactees faded from sight after a decade or so of writing books and giving seminars and founding short-lived, semi-profitable cults.

Dean backs all of them. Issued by the self-publishing charlatans at Vantage Press in 1964, Flying Saucers and the Scriptures is his attempt to reconcile alien contactees with Christian tenets, and it’s a weird collection of uncritical reportage and gullible pseudo-science. Dean recounts the tales told by notable contactees: Adamski’s Space Brothers, Buck Nelson’s dead civilizations of Mars and Venus, and Reinhold Schmidt’s spaceship rides and coffee chats with extraterrestrials. He also reprints benevolent letters from space people, and he charts known planets as well as the Earth’s undetected alternate-orbit sister world, Clarion. It’s perpetually on the other side of the sun, so we can’t see it. You know, just like Gor and Hestia and Melancholia!

When not credulously recounting these stories, Dean points out the religious aspects of the alleged aliens’ beliefs. Schmidt, for example, relayed that Jesus had ascended to Venus after his time on earth and would return around 1998. The Spacemen of contactee stories have laws resembling the Ten Commandments, cosmologies that include Jesus and the Creator, and an enlightened, peaceful way of life. Dean finds all of this superior to the people of his own blighted planet, and he chides NASA and the government for spending millions on space exploration when they could talk with contactees who clearly explored the vast forests of Mars.

It’s an awkward read in many ways. Free of professional editors, Dean apparently dumped a single rambling lecture into the book. He leaps from one subject to another with no chapter breaks, and his mixtures of astronomic measurements and goofy space stories sound delusional even by the standards of the 1950s.

Surprisingly, there’s not much exploration of scripture. The author occasionally delves into Elijah and Ezekiel’s possible encounters with flying saucers, but he’s far more concerned with giving credence to contactee accounts, even when they contradict each other.

Dean also provides drawings and photographs of UFO interiors and star charts. To those who doubt their accuracy, he charges “if you say they are fake, then try to fake one yourself.” Of course, most of the pictures are primitive shots of flying saucers obviously superimposed in the sky, interspersed with photos of contactees. The only mysterious one is a blurred photo of a Venusian named Bucky…and it’s right below a shot of an authentic dog of Venus.

Most of the stories recounted by Dean are routine. Space-folk pick up a contactee, show him or her a few cities, reveal the greater truths of the universes, and perhaps cure some earthling maladies. It’s tame, unimaginative stuff compared to those haunting, vaguer accounts from abductees who floated out of their rooms and awakened on operating tables ringed by huge-eyed greys. If I’d found this book as a kid, I’d have lasted only a few paragraphs before trading it for Monster Hunting Today or Intruders or Mysteries of the Ancient Americas.

If nothing else, Flying Saucers and the Scriptures is an interesting look at just how seriously some people took the contactee movement and how they made no effort to dress up their chicanery—they didn’t even put alien antennae on their Venusian dogs. It’s hard to tell if Dean was running a con or if he was raptly convinced that aliens gave humble Missouri farmers outer-space versions of holy writ, but there’s something amusing about his guileless presentation of just about every detail fed to him. I especially liked this exchange from Dean’s interview with a contactee named James Hill.
Are those from different planets of different heights?
Yes. Some are giants ten feet tall. There are also small men and women—midgets and pygmies—not many, but more than here on earth, and they are not segregated.
Are there any fat ones?
Spacemen of the 1950s may be avatars of interplanetary peace and Biblical truth, but they’re not above fat-shaming.

Poorly organized and dull it may be, but I liked Flying Saucers and the Scriptures for its quaintly insane flying-saucer stories. It’s a look at an era when pop-culture alien encounters meant visits to the cities of Jupiter instead of nighttime kidnappings and cow mutilations. A lot of modern UFO fans ignore that era, perhaps because it seems so silly next to today’s creepier, hazier extraterrestrial sightings. Yet people believed in it enough to write and read books about it.

In fact, John W. Dean believed in it so much that he wrote more books. His Flying Saucers: Close Up came out in 1970 with a special message on its cover.

I think I have to read it. I still have a role to fill.

1 comment:

  1. as one whose Mother was once obsessed (may still be) with
    U.F.O.s. This is, well, neat
    says I.