When my brother and I were younger we used to love watching The X-Files. Anyone who came of age in the 90s will remember the show. Mulder and Scully were FBI agents trying to track down shadowy figures in government—today we would call it “the deep state”— believed to have knowledge of alien visits to Earth. Apparently, Washington was covering up the spacemen contacts and deceiving the American public. “The Truth Is Out There,” the show’s tagline read. The creepy theme music, the endless layers of misdirection and subterfuge, the oracular, parabolic non-answers uttered by the ultimate insider known as “the cigarette-smoking man”—it all made for can’t-miss TV. Would Mulder and Scully finally get to the bottom of the government coverup? Would they find the truth? Millions tuned in every week to find out.
Even though we were big X-Files fans, my brother and I didn’t put much stock in the underlying premise. We were on board with the government malfeasance bit—who wouldn’t be?—but the UFO stuff was laughable, even for credulous kids like us. Aliens? Yeah, right. The X-Files was top-notch sci-fi, but even back then we could tell that it wasn’t a documentary.
Looking back, it was probably the same thing that UFOs represented during the Cold War that made The X-Files so immediate and unsettling to Americans in the post-Soviet 1990s. Even—especially—after the Berlin Wall came down, we still didn’t know what was “out there.” The fear of the Other; the sense of foreboding in a secular world that had rejected God and the non-materialist side of humanity (Mulder was a big believer in “the paranormal” and other weird psychic events); the Hubble Telescope beaming back images of a vast cosmos in which we were utterly alone—this brain stem-level mix of the uncanny, the unexplained, and the unrevealed was what made The X-Files such a hit, I think. It was social and political commentary, not Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
My skepticism about little green men never really waned as I got older. Of course, I couldn’t say absolutely that aliens didn’t exist. The universe is a big place and we simply don’t know enough to make a priori statements about what kind of beings there might be on other planets “out there.” But so many of the “sightings” and “movies” of UFOs had turned out to be bogus that it was hard not to see the entire aliens schtick as a sad confession of human frailty. Some people crave attention so much that they make hoax films of flying saucers using hubcaps and fishing line. Others crave community so much that they go out into the desert and join the Roswellian Order of the Social Misfits.
I drove through Roswell a few years ago and was confirmed in my suspicions—belief in “aliens” is not about alien life, but about social alienation. People need to be around those who will accept them. The green, triangle-headed fellow with the big black eyes is a badge of belonging for outcasts from a world in which bodily perfection, monetary success, and a high-flying resume are the marks of the socially acceptable.
To be honest, however, my skepticism about aliens and UFOs and all that has taken a hit these past few years. It all started with news reports I saw in late 2017 about some strange craft captured on video and radar by U.S. Navy pilots over the previous dozen or so years. In video clips titled “GoFast,” Gimbal,” and “FLIR,” objects appear to be moving at enormous rates of speed before suddenly stopping or making dizzying right-angle turns. The Navy pilots can be heard expressing their astonishment at what they are witnessing.
Apparently, these videos were actually recorded on U.S. military equipment. In September of 2019 the Pentagon confirmed as much. This is not to say that the objects seen in them are real. There may have been a computer glitch, or someone may have monkeyed with the radar or video systems to produce an elaborate hoax. It’s possible. Maybe the videos are of outlandish new weapons deployed by the Russians or Chinese, and our government is caught flat-footed without any way to counter the threat. Hence, the attempt to build suspicion that the grainy footage is of UFOs. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time our government had lied to us (a pattern of justified suspicion that was the undertone for so much of The X-Files).
But then other videos began to appear, filmed by passengers on commercial airliners, astronauts in the International Space Station, and amateur cell phone videographers pointing their lenses up into the night sky. There were many “unidentified aerial phenomena,” as Washington-speak now terms UFOs, which made the attempts by hidebound secularists and materialist scientists to offer explanations seem forced, even desperate. There is no shortage of charlatans ginning up “aliens!” spookiness in order to get their names and faces on TV. But still, there’s a lot of mysterious footage that I personally do not know how to explain.
In one video, for example, a craft can be seen skimming over ocean waves at an impossible speed before dipping under the surface, moving from air to water as though neither were offering any resistance at all. In other videos, blinking lights and darting objects hover and swarm around Navy ships before jetting away. What are those things? And, even more important—who is flying them? (And what to make of the strange Oumuamua object that sailed through our solar system not too long ago? A Harvard professor contends that it’s not a natural thing, but rather was made by someone. He could be wrong, but then again, he could be right.)
As a prolifer, the possibility that there might be life that’s not from around here presents a challenge to my deepest convictions. If there are beings piloting the weird ships I see in the “unexplained aerial phenomena” videos—and that is a big “if,” to be sure—then that would change everything about how I view human life.
And I’m not the only one running through the variables on the alien-and-humans question, it seems. In 2008, Vatican astronomer Jose Funes caused a stir when he said that it was not possible to rule out the existence of aliens. Another Vatican astronomer, Guy Consolmagno, said that aliens may have souls, and that they could possibly be baptized. Pope Francis has also broached the topic of aliens, stating in a 2015 interview that God’s Creation is infinitely greater than human knowledge can divine.
These may sound like silly speculations. Why must the Pope have an opinion about everything? But imagine the day alien life is unmistakably confirmed. Of course, it may never happen, but if it does it will shake our beliefs to the core. I am rather glad that people who think a lot about God are also thinking about what would happen if one day some other of God’s creatures visited us. Silly, maybe. But not completely outside the realm of possibility.
And yet, for all that, the truth will still not be “out there.” Aliens may come down in glowing ships and share with us their advanced technology. Or they may attack us, à la War of the Worlds. They may be spindly and have newt-like skin and big craniums, as the t-shirts depict. Or be slug-like blobs or even microscopic organisms. Who knows?
What is certain is that we, the human race, will still be responsible for caring for one another. Whoever alights on this planet, we will still be our brother’s keeper. There are many things that prolifers could be thinking about instead of extraterrestrials. We have plenty of human misery right here on Earth, plenty of human life that is neglected and despised while our attention wanders up to the stars.
In our daily lives, we pass by the alienated, the ridiculed, the lonely—these are the “lifeforms” that must command our attention, no matter what happens in the skies above. The real “X files” are human lives that have dropped out of sight, people who have been rejected by the world—even while yet unborn. The truth is not “out there.” It’s right here in our midst. In the womb, on the street, in nursing homes and hospice—all of human life has infinite value. That is the truth, and it eclipses any other encounter we might have.