Close encounters of the transformational kind
While watching a football game on TV recently, the network suddenly took viewers to the Dallas Cowboy’s stadium. On the stadium screen, a one-minute preview of the upcoming science fiction movie Avatar was played for both the stadium crowd and the TV viewers. When the “commercial” was over, many in the stadium actually rose to their feet and cheered loudly.
How could a Hollywood-invented story that the audience has not even seen generate such enthusiasm? The answer cannot simply be the sophisticated special effects alone. No, there’s much more than meets the eye here. As a fictional story featuring humanoids on another planet, Avatar represents the latest of a long list of alien creature movies over the past 30 years that deliberately promote the “belief” that life is not unique to earth. Once that belief becomes a perception of reality, the biblical assertion that human beings are God’s special creation is construed as both archaic and scientifically ignorant.
In the absence of any scientific evidence whatsoever, popular belief in alien life, nevertheless, is at an all-time high. Consider the “close encounter definitions” and how preposterous the assumptions: close encounters of the first kind (“sightings”); second kind (“physical effects”); third kind (“contact”); fourth kind (“abduction”); and fifth kind (“bilateral contact”). And, yet, there is no confirmed evidence — excuse the pun — of any kind. But the “faithful” are undaunted as they wait patiently for a history-making response that will never come from the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence radio signals.
Don’t dismiss fantasy
Back in 1977, movie audiences were thrilled by Stephen Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Take particular note of the lead character, Roy. I don’t know how audiences could cheer or even shed tears — as many did — for Roy’s decision to desert his family (whom he had already put through hell with his bizarre behavior) and join the aliens in their departure for who knows where.
Part of the explanation is that this movie is obviously intended to be a subtle expression of New Age religion. The mysterious, brightly shining aliens are portrayed as god-like, ushering in a new age of peace and love. Roy simply cannot resist the compelling religious power that the aliens have over him and, therefore, is not responsible for any antiquated biblical-based moral conduct. This movie was not intended to be a comprehensive story, but rather a spiritual experience.
As Lutheran Christians, we dare not dismiss such a movie genre as mere fantasy. We can’t afford to be apathetic when the subject of life origins is promoted to speculative science. We must recognize we are dealing with a relatively new, but formidable, religion that threatens the message of Christ’s saving grace through the gospel.
Tim Utter is an admissions counselor at Concordia University in St. Paul.