Thursday, July 4, 2013

Do You Believe in Extraterrestrial Abduction?

(A parent is called in to speak to the principal of a local day school...)

Thank you for coming in. I appreciate it. I have a question I need to ask you. 

Absolutely. Go ahead.

I don't know how else to put it, so I'm going to ask you straight out - Do you believe in extraterrestrial abduction?

Do I believe in E.T. abduction... You want the honest answer?


No, I really don't.

(Pregnant pause)  

Ok then... Wow, I really thought I knew you. 

You don't know me? I'm the same person I always was. Why does it suddenly change everything if I don't believe in E.T's?

Because you're walking around like you're one of us, and you're not. It's dishonest.

I'm not one of you? I'm living as a contributing member of the community and believe in what we're trying to accomplish. Do I have to broadcast what's going on in my head? Do you think everyone around you thinks exactly alike?

Look, it's your life. You can believe whatever you want. But there are consequences. You can't be a part of our community if you don't believe in E.T.'s.

Why not?

Because this is an E.T. community, that's why. And I'm sorry for being blunt, but by saying you don't believe in the most basic tenet - that makes you a denier. It goes against everything we stand for. So now you want me to let you and your kids come in here with your heretical ideas and weaken people's belief? After all the hard work we put in creating a community of devout believers? No way. I'm afraid your kids can't go to our school anymore.

Seriously? But we love this school. I went to school here. My kids have all their friends here. You're really kicking us out?

I'm sorry. We just can't have it. This is not the community for you.

How can you say that? We've been a part of the community since I was a kid. We're so involved. We've given so much to the school. And we love it here. We love the people. We share the same values. We've never caused any harm... I just don't believe in the E.T. stuff.

What happened to you? Why don't you believe anymore?

It was a gradual process. Several years back, I started thinking about the fact that I've never actually seen an E.T., never seen a saucer. Never been abducted. Never heard any stories about E.T. involvement that couldn't be explained some other way. And I've done a lot of reading... 

But how can you not believe in extraterrestrial abductions? What about all the evidence?

I've seen it, and I don't find it convincing. Besides, if there was really so much hard evidence, why isn't it just common knowledge to everyone? Why is it relegated to X-Files episodes and the like?

Because people don't want to believe it.

Could it be that they don't want to believe it because it sounds unbelievable? Even a bit foolish?

Who's being foolish here? Think for a minute. How can thousands upon thousands of people give separate testimonies about something that never happened?

I hear how that sounds like a proof, but more people probably believe they've seen ghosts and believe in the Ouija board. There's all kinds of crazy stuff out there which people believe is 100% true. And they also produce lots of "evidence". So why couldn't the same be true of extraterrestrial abductions?

First of all, because E.T.'s simply are real. The other things are not. Secondly, the evidence for alien abductions is a tradition that stretches back for millenia - ancient civilizations speak about it. Whole cities of people have watched E.T. ships light up the sky. And you never answered how people could separately report on the same phenomenon with details that match up.

You could say the same thing about near-death experiences. Or any number of supposed "paranormal" phenomena. And everyone is "wowed" by the fact that people give similar descriptions.

And that's a sign that they're not true?

It's a sign that since clearly not "all" of these phenomena are true, that means you can't conclude any of them are necessarily true based on the fact of separate reporting alone. You just have to use a little common sense here.

But the details of the reporting of E.T. abductions are absolutely staggering. The chance of it happening by "coincidence" is one in trillions. Who's the one not using common sense here?

I didn't say it was a coincidence. There's obviously some other explanation. When something as remarkable as alien abduction is supposedly happening on a mass scale, and there's no conclusive proof that's obvious to everyone, obvious to science... What can I say - I'm pretty suspicious. So I'm sorry, I can't force myself believe in something I don't believe in.

It's a shame. You've obviously been influenced by skeptics. This is why we tell people not to look at any non-extraterrestral-related literature.

Why is it such a shame to expose yourself to more information?

Because it's actually misinformation, from people who don't want you to believe, people who just want to go on with their lives without being inconvenienced by the truth.

The truth that...?

That extraterrestrials are real. The abductions are real. People aren't making it up. It's not some sort of joke.

But what difference does it make whether or not I believe it? If they're real and I don't believe it, it doesn't make them any "less" real. So what's the problem?

The problem is that the extraterrestrial beings want you to believe it. They love us, and they want humanity to do better. They want us to follow the Universal Rules.

But am I not doing what I'm supposed to be doing? Do I not follow the Universal Rules? In fact I think I'm doing a better job than most - and that includes a lot of "believers" whose kids you let go to this school. So let me ask YOU - even if the E.T.'s exist, why isn't that enough for them? Why do they care whether I believe they're here and abducting people?

You seem to be forgetting that the very first Universal Rule is that you need to believe in them. 

No, I'm very much aware of that. I'm saying that I'm doing 99% of what the E.T's supposedly want. Isn't that enough?

It's a good start. But why are you even following the rules if you don't believe in E.T.'s?

Because even though I don't buy the "back story" about the Universal Rules (I think we came up with them ourselves), I think there's a great deal of wisdom in the system. I think it has a lot of intrinsic value. It has a great deal to add. And it's my community. I'm proud of it.

Ok, so tell me this - What's the "intrinsic value" of the rule of putting an alien bobble-head on the dashboard of your car? The only reason we do it is because they told us: "You shall place us on the dashboard in your coming and going."

Fair question. It's true - not all the rules make sense or are obviously connected to the goal of improving humanity. But that doesn't mean they don't have value. My kids like the bobble-heads. And they have symbolic value. When I look at it, I think about who I am and what I'm doing here.

And the green spacesuit?

Same thing. Wearing a green spacesuit reminds me that I'm a part of a community, a people.

If I found out there were no E.T.'s, and the whole abduction thing was a sham, I'd take off the spacesuit immediately. It's ridiculous - and it costs a fortune to dry clean.

Great. Take off the spacesuit if you don't like it. Or just wear the boots. I don't care. The nonexistent E.T.'s certainly don't care.

So again, WHY BOTHER?

I'll tell you why. We need to preserve some of the "ridiculous" stuff, because that's what makes us identifiable as a community. If all we did was just the "improving humanity" part, and not the ritual, we know from experience that we don't survive. We just assimilate and that's that.

Then we should assimilate, because if there are no E.T.'s, there's no point of preserving our community. 

You're saying there's no point to the Universal Rules if there are no E.T.'s?

I didn't say there's no point to the Rules, but if all you want to do is improve the world, then join Greenpeace or the Salvation Army. You don't need us.

So you'd just advocate communal suicide? Would you tell the same thing to the Irish? Native Americans? They and their traditions should just go out of existence since there are no E.T.'s?

If you put us on the same plane with the Irish and Native Americans - as just another "culture", then that's pretty sad. And no, the world wouldn't end if there were one less culture. I'm sorry.

I agree the world wouldn't end. But it would be missing something. And I happen to believe in that something.

I'm sorry to tell you but you really don't believe in it.

Oh, I don't? Let me ask you: What about the Universal Rule of truthfulness? Do you believe in that?

Of course I do.

Well so do I. And how am I supposed to uphold that rule if I have to reject the truth and live with a fairy story?

It's you who are living the fairy story, my friend... I think we're done here.

What about my kids and the school?

Why don't you try the Irish school down the block.


Just to know, this was a completely made-up dialogue. None of my kids have been kicked out of school... Baruch E.T.!


  1. AJ,

    Do you raise your children to believe that E.T.'s exist? If yes, how can you convey sincerity when they ask certain questions about E.T.'s that require answers which you don't actually believe are true?
    If no, how can you educate them in a way that they don't leave the community when they are teenagers/young adults that don't yet grasp the values of being in the community in the way you did after having gone through the full process of being raised a believer and only concluding that E.T.'s probably don't exist at a more mature age? Once they leave and get used to the freedom of a non-orthodox life (+change of social circle that usually comes with it), it is almost certain that they won't return and hence the values and culture that you find so important are unlikely to survive

    1. Good questions. I'm going to switch over to God-language if you don't mind...

      Do you raise your children to believe that E.T.'s exist?

      I'd say we live in a fairly "Hashem-neutral" home. Meaning my wife and I don't talk about Hashem - what Hashem wants from us, how Hashem did this or that, etc. When I give divrei Torah, it's very "light" on Hashem-talk except where it directly relates to psukim in the Torah. So by osmosis, without our saying anything either way, the kids get a version of Torah that focuses on the *content*, not any supernatural/miracle-talk.

      If yes, how can you convey sincerity when they ask certain questions about E.T.'s that require answers which you don't actually believe are true?

      Depends on age. Younger ones use more Hashem-talk - I see it as compatible with a healthy imagination and fantasy life. So if it comes in the form of a question, I answer them on their terms. But in my experience, the Hashem-talk tapers off as they get older. And for the occasional question that comes up, I just try to reframe it/redirect it in rational, human terms. I can't remember feeling insincere with my kids.

      Once they leave... it is almost certain that they won't return and hence the values and culture that you find so important are unlikely to survive

      You never know who's going leave, who's going to stay, or who's going to return - no matter what you do. Different kids have different natures, different experiences. So it's never a given. All we can do is present a Torah/Judaism that's vibrant, healthy, rational, enjoyable, meaningful, idealistic, giving them a strong educational basis, and let them make the final choice. And even then, much of it has *nothing* to do with Torah per se - it's whether they have positive memories of home and growing up. If so, they're much more likely to want to recreate that in their own lives.

      being raised a believer

      Just to know, the dialogue isn't completely autobiographical. I didn't grow up religious.

      I also want to give a general caveat: I can't possibly say that what we've done would work for anyone else. This is our family's experience. And yes, so far so good, but I don't know how it's going to turn out in the end. Stay tuned!


    2. Would it truly bother you if some of your kids made a conscious decision not to be observant? To violate some commandments (as in the case of an active homosexual male child)? To intermarry someone they truly love - someone who would respect Judaism but not necessarily want to become Jewish?

      I'm past the point of caring. I'd like to see my kids live happy, productive lives, period.

    3. The humanist in me is with you 100%. The Jew in me would like my kids to be connected Jewishly, be enriched by it, be inspired by it, have it be a strong part of their identity and help inform the good work they do in the world. Would I be bothered if they weren't observant at all or intermarried? Honestly, I'd probably be a bit sad about it initially, but I'd fully accept and respect their decision and continue loving them just the same.

      That said, if it's a choice between a miserable, unfulfilled observant life and a happy, productive secular life - it's not at all a question.

  2. Excellent post!

    Sometimes, though, I wonder what other people (those outside of the E.T. community) think of me when they see me wearing my fuzzy green flying-saucer deflecting skull-cap. "Oh, he's one of those wacko believers in E.T. abduction!" they must think. On the other hand, those inside of the E.T. community who suspect me of not really believing look at me as a pariah for excactly the opposite reason. Bottom line is that some people look at me as a lune, whereas others see me as a heathen. Nowhere am I looked at as "normal". You know what? That's a lousy feeling.

    1. some people look at me as a lune, whereas others see me as a heathen. Nowhere am I looked at as "normal". You know what? That's a lousy feeling.

      So, so true. It is a lousy feeling. I suppose I've created a "bubble" that works. I have a circle of close friends who know where I'm at and who I can feel very "normal" around. And living in Israel walking around with a kippah is par for the course, so I don't often get that "loony" feeling.

      But I do have a related experience: Nowhere do I feel "at home". Besides my actual home, and this small circle of friends, I live with a distinct sense of not feeling at home anywhere - not in the religious world and not in the secular world.

      But part of me wonders whether that itself is perhaps a distinctly "Jewish" experience, in the Avraham Avinu sense - the sense of not fitting in with the larger society, not quite being with the program, looking at the world from a slightly different angle. I think that holds the possibility of "chidush" - introducing novel approaches in the world. Of course, that doesn't make it any easier to live with! So I think it's a question of creating a bubble of comfort to help us live with the discomfort.

      Thanks for the comment,

    2. > Nowhere do I feel "at home". Besides my actual home, and this small circle of friends, I live with a distinct sense of not feeling at home anywhere - not in the religious world and not in the secular world.

      I’ve got that too. In the frum world, I’m constantly bombarded by things I think are ridiculous. In the non-frum world, to the small amount I interact with it, I stand out because of my apparent religiosity, and, worse, I don’t feel I belong because of my lack of experience with it and my childhood indoctrination that non-frum people are the “other.”

    3. It's a tough position, no getting around that. Regarding the last thing you mentioned though, have you tried interacting more with non-frum people?

  3. Hi AJ:

    I’ve been reading Eric Hoffer a bit lately – he has a book about the “True Believer.” He says a lot of things in there, but one impression he left on me was that the true believer who joins a mass movement (religious or secular) is someone who carries around a dissatisfaction with society. Maybe feels unconsciously overlooked, unimportant, unresolved. Doesn’t see society as a way to achieve that important feeling of wholeness. Among other things.

    It got me wondering whether those who stayed frum, and those who become frum, have some of this – alienation, angst, anger, frustration. And then of course they marry and just genetically pass on to a high proportion of kids a kind of alienation with the world, particularly the outside world. In a way, they may feel it with their own world as well, but of course to a much lesser extent.

    It feels very Jewish to me to look around and feel something is wrong.

    It may be also be a factor in the Jewish world turning more to the right. Alienated and unhappy, they look to find a truer experience even more removed from the world.



    1. Tuvia,

      Thanks for introducing me to another writer/thinker - I hadn't heard of Eric Hoffer. Just from what I gleaned from his Wiki page... In "True Believer" he apparently speaks about Nazis becoming Communists and vice-versa - this is a good point. I often think when I see someone who's highly opinionated that it's the "opinionatedness" which is the ikar (main thing), and the particular opinion they're espousing is really almost incidental. If their life-circumstances were slightly different they'd be arguing the exact opposite opinion with equal fervor!

      It strikes me that there's a significant difference between leaders like Hitler, whom Hoffer describes as not only alienated but angry, and people who follow such leaders or seek to join any mass movement. Alienation from and/or dissatisfaction with society (or family) might be one reason that people join such movements. But there can be other reasons as well - the desire for meaning and purpose, for friends, community. And the alienation can also be "learned alienation", in the sense that the group indoctrinates people with the idea that there's something wrong that the group aims to correct.

      When I became frum, the idea of a tight community with people looking out for one another was a strong attractor. I was always reticent to be identified with any group, and it was nice to "let go" and allow myself to align with a group I felt an affinity toward. Also a factor was the sense of idealism I had about "Mashiach" and the idea of creating a better future. (And no, I didn't become frum through Chabad!) The whole Mashiach concept for sure presupposes that something is wrong with the world - though I have to say I think that's a perfectly rational presupposition! And moreover, I was anything but "angry". Neither was I lost or depressed, or even looking for something. I simply "happened upon" Torah Judaism. I liked what I saw and wanted to learn more, and I eventually became frum. Of course that's just me, but point being I think it might be an incorrect generalization to say that people necessarily become frum out of things like alienation, anger, etc. (though no doubt though there are some who do).

      As far as "staying frum" - I'd say that far and away the biggest factor is INERTIA. You make a life choice, start to dig in your heels in terms of identity, friends, family and community. It's not an easy thing to leave even if you're single and a ba'al teshuva - all the more so if you're FFB and/or married with kids.

      (Oops, comment too long - to be cont'd...)

    2. Now it's definitely true (even take G*3's comment above as an example) that when you're raised in the system, you can't help but come away with a profound sense of alienation from the outside world. It's driven into people ideologically, at school and at shul, nearly every time you pick up a sefer. And even if you weren't taught to fear or dislike the non-frum world, there's the simple fact of "being" different - not eating in the same places, not wearing the same clothes, not partaking in the same cultural experiences. And of course there's antisemitism.

      However... We're mistaken if we think we're the only ones who feel alienated. Just focusing on the U.S., I'd say MOST people probably feel alienated. Blacks do. Latinos do. Poor people do. Even rich people feel different. Anyone with a disability does. Jews do. Muslims do. Christians feel under attack. Atheists feel under attack, and on and on.

      So it seems to me the question is what do you DO with that feeling?

      Do you let it develop into full-fledged paranoia and adopt a siege mentality? Do you use it to play the "victim" card? Do you teach your children a seething dislike for anyone outside the group? A good chunk of the Charedi world seems to have taken this route, as have other groups to various extents.

      Or... Do you leverage the feeling of alienation to stay "sharp" and not get lulled into unconsciousness by the surrounding society? Do you use it to create art? Comedy? Tell stories? Do you use it to educate, pioneer and forge new paths, fight for justice, say YES when everyone else says no (or NO when everyone says yes)? Do you use it to try to make a difference in the world? That's what I think we should do - and honestly that's what makes me so proud to be Jewish, because I think in large part we HAVE done that.

      Hmm, all that and I'm not even sure I properly answered your question. Well, I tried at any rate!

      Take care,

  4. This goes back to the Pasta Monster parody.
    Look, it's not the belief but the consequences of that belief that matter. If I change my beliefs and say that while I accept that God exists I now deny Matan Torah then my whole life changes (lots more free time, for one thing). If I change my beliefs and think that aliens are abducting people, well that doesn't change much of my daily life. It doesn't change my sense of ethics. It doesn't change my moral focus.
    So the two situations simply aren't the same.

    1. garnel i don't know if you are trying to argue you sound like your agreeing with AJ that as long as the consequences of ones beliefs are shared with his community he belongs and should be fully accepted in that community regardless of how different his underlying beliefs may be from the others