Hey, Mr. Spaceman

Published July 6, 2023

The Catholic Thing

I love the summer. It’s a time to read and think about things deemed silly or irrelevant in the more serious seasons of the year. Like aliens. I feel licensed to talk about them now for several reasons.

First, nothing in the Christian faith precludes the existence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, though some would argue it doesn’t exist even here. If God is omnipotent and infinitely creative, why would he limit himself to hominids with an attitude on a small planet in a modest solar system on the tail of a mediocre galaxy? Why would we be his only children? Why would we humans have a monopoly on his love?

In his essay “Religion and Rocketry” (collected here and with some background here), C.S. Lewis asked “How can we, without absurd arrogance, believe ourselves to have been uniquely favored?” He added that, should intelligent life be encountered, “Those who are, or can become [God’s] sons, are our real brothers even if they have shells or tusks. It is spiritual, not biological, kinship that counts.”

Lewis, the author of his own science fiction trilogy, had a great interest in the genre—notably Arthur C. Clarke’s brilliant Childhood’s End—precisely because he saw the best of science fiction as implicitly theological.

Second, when the self-consciously august New York Times hosts a discussion and column like “Wait, Are There Actually Aliens?”, it’s OK for us troglodytes to at least speak of such things.

Third, there’s the recent testimony of Navy fighter pilots who’ve actually encountered, recorded, and tracked UFOs. . .or rather UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena), the new government mouthful of acronymic mumbo jumbo blandifying the whole curious affair. The pilots in question note that the UAPs maneuvered in ways impossible to known physics, and they accelerated at incredible speeds. If they were really of human origin, say some form of Chinese drones, I’d be writing this in Mandarin right now.

Of course, it’s good to be skeptical about such things. Healthy skepticism is a virtue, and I’m a left-brain kind of guy. But it’s hard to be skeptical once you see something real. And when it comes to aliens, I’m a believer. I saw them. OK not quite them, but whatever it is they drive around in. Don’t laugh. I’ll explain.

Exactly 55 years ago this summer, my family had its home in the rural countryside outside of Buffalo. There was an installation 10 or 12 miles north of us that did a lot of work for the government. Much of it was classified. Once or twice a week, the night air would fill with the roar of distant jet engine testing and other odd noises. And then, at least two or three times a year, the local news would carry reports of claimed UFO sightings in the evening sky. All of which, oddly enough, turned out to be weather balloons or swamp gas. . .despite the lack of local swamps.

If this is starting to sound like a Stephen King tale, bear with me.

July 1968 was the summer between my sophomore and junior university years. At the time I enjoyed walking alone at night, in the dark, just thinking. The air was always clean and filled with the warm scent of farms and orchards. And it was silent in a way that only a rural countryside can be alive and quiet at the same time.

On this particular evening, I noticed lights, eight of them, on the northern horizon, moving slowly south. Then I noticed that they were in file formation at maybe, I don’t know, 20,000 feet. They were yellowish white and, obviously, searchlights. Except that they weren’t. They were translucent, solid, and they moved with a fluidity that couldn’t be mechanical.

It was beautiful and soundless. And transfixing. I watched them for three or four full minutes just dancing, disciplined and willful dancing in the sky; first in formation, then splitting apart, speeding up and slowing down, then back in formation; maneuvering in ways that exactly match today’s Navy pilot descriptions: impossible in the realm of ordinary physics. Then they reformed and shot away north.

I know what you’re thinking. College student + summer in the late ‘60s + unauthorized substances in the bloodstream = Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. . .and eight flying saucers. Except I was stone-cold sober that night and every night that summer. And no, I don’t wear a tinfoil hat. And no, I’m not a UFO cultist. I don’t even like Star Wars. I never had that kind of experience again, never went looking for another, and I rarely even think about it. But it happened.

The reason I remembered that long ago evening this week was listening to the hits of The Byrds, easily the best rock band (in my modest opinion) of the 1960s. And one song in particular always made me smile: Mr. Spaceman. The lyrics, while not words of genius, seem especially appropriate these days:

Woke up this morning with light in my eyes
And then realized it was still dark outside
It was a light coming down from the sky
I don’t know who or why

Must be those strangers that come every night
Those saucer shaped lights put people uptight
Leave blue-green footprints that glow in the dark
I hope they get home alright

Hey, Mr. Spaceman
Won’t you please take me along
I won’t do anything wrong
Hey, Mr. Spaceman
Won’t you please take me along for a ride

But here’s the point of this trip down Memory Lane.

Speaking purely for myself, should any “visitors” be listening, I’m busy these days and regrettably unavailable to be probed or abducted. But I do know a number of Church and political leaders, here and in Europe, who’d love to take that ride. I’ve made a list. Call me anytime.

Francis X. Maier is a senior fellow in Catholic studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Francis X. Maier is a Senior Fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Mr. Maier’s work focuses on the intersection of Christian faith, culture, and public life, with special attention to lay formation and action.

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