Thursday, April 5, 2007

Downing's The Bible and Flying Saucers Part I

Downing’s first chapter in The Bible And Flying Saucers (hereafter TBAFS) is on “Space and the Bible”, yet he deals more with the theological scene of his day. The chapter deals with two main camps: the “honest to God” followers of Bishop John A.T. Robinson and the demythologizers following Bultmann.

Beginning with Robinson’s ideas on the Ascension being “mythical”, Downing poses his argument that instead of the “either or” proposed by Robinson, the possibility of a third option exists: Jesus did ascend, but that it was on a “flying saucer” shaped like a cloud. The flaw in Robinson’s argument, according to Downing, is that he “failed to add that the Bible provided a vehicle – a “cloud” – to do the lifting.”[1] Downing never makes mention that Jesus on a cloud is a reference to the Son of Man in Daniel (7:13), however, it would fit well within his theory.

Downing then stumbles crudely over to the demythologization camp. He gives a brief overview of Bultmann’s ideas. Downing suggests that this ideology has separated the church into two groups: conservatives who want to interpret the Bible “realistically” and liberals who “are more concerned with ‘demythologizing’.”[2] Downing attempts to reconcile the two groups with what he calls his “realistic” reading that boils down to : UFO’s did it. Who led the Israelites out of Egypt? Why, UFO’s of course. Jesus’ ascension? You got it, UFO’s.

Apparently the main scientific criticism to Downing’s theory was that UFO’s were a post-WW II invention. Downing claims that people had seen objects in the sky for hundreds of years, however he gives no sources. He also states that the increase in UFO activity was due to the human discovery of nuclear power.[3] Downing sees nuclear power, satellites, and radio waves as a sort of cosmic “fishing hook” by which humans have managed to attract life from other planets.

Back to theological matters, Downing takes to task the demythologizers and John 20:25, the account of Thomas’ doubt. Downing rightly states that “if the Resurrection is mythological, then this passage is meant deliberately to deceive us.”[4] Downing believes that if the Resurrection is mythical, then “we have little right as a Church to preach that the ‘existential resurrection’ of Christ will ensure Christians eternal life.’”[5]

Downing concludes his first chapter with his differentiation between “truth” and “honesty”. Essentially, honesty is internal whereas truth has an external referent. Downing gives the example of a blind man being “honest” about there being no light, but not really subscribing to the truth of the matter: that light exists. Downing discusses the main difference between science and theology; that science is more focused on truth while theology is focused more on honesty. He believes Robinson and Bultmann both are being honest, but not focused on the truth.

Downing closes his chapter with a short critique on demythologization and how it limits theology to a small sphere – the world. Downing’s theory, however, leads into a whole new realm – space. The next chapter in TBAFS deals with the inhabitants of space and the probability of Flying Saucers.
[1] Downing 26
[2] Ibid. 31
[3] Ibid. 22
[4] Ibid. 34
[5] Ibid. 34


Patrick George McCullough said...

Nice assessment! I will be awaiting the future posts with bated breath. Downing really deserves a nice long Chris-Tilling-like analysis :)

Josh McManaway said...


Thanks! I'll try to do the book justice.