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UFO cults are a great counter-example to the rationalist assumption that religion’s faults stem from supernaturalism. UFO cults have all the same faults as other religions, but make only naturalistic claims. Naturally-occurring space aliens substitute for the gods and demons of supernatural religions.
Of course, these space aliens don’t exist, any more than gods and demons do. But that is exactly the point: the problem with religions is not that they are supernatural, but that they are wrong. And actually even that is not the problem. The problem is that they are harmful, because they are eternalistic. UFO cults, and alien abduction beliefs, are just as eternalistic as the big monotheisms; and that is why they mess people up.
Because they are so similar to primitive polytheisms, and so simple and familiar in their beliefs, UFO cults are a great case study in naturalistic eternalism. That makes them a useful background example for more sophisticated non-supernatural eternalisms.
Particularly, I’ll draw an analogy between UFO cults and singularitarianism. In some versions, singularitarianism is closely parallel to Christianity, with the supernatural God replaced with a hypothetical superintelligent computer program. Singularitarianism is a rationalist eternalist religion. It’s much more sophisticated than UFO cults, but structurally similar.
The emotional dynamics of specialness is a central feature of space alien beliefs (and of singularitarianism). Space aliens make contact with only a few humans. Because the aliens are superintelligent, they must have selected them for extremely good reasons. Even though space aliens perform sadistic sexual torture experiments on most contactees, those must have been very special people to have been chosen for the ordeal. Most are otherwise exceptionally ordinary people, with no obvious outstanding qualities. Their selection by UFO aliens validates their existence in a way that nothing else could.
One useful source is Susan A. Clancy’s Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens. From a review in Scientific American:
The book explains how individuals can have memories of events that never occurred and describes the types of people who are more likely to become believers. In a nutshell, they are fantasy-prone and are often unhappy and trying to make sense of their lives. The abduction provides a touchstone. At the very end, and with obvious reluctance, Clancy concludes that abduction beliefs provide “the same things that millions of people the world over derive from their religions: meaning, reassurance, mystical revelation, spirituality, transformation.”