Sarah Scoles spent months in an intense dive into the UFO community. She talked with true believers. She pondered the deeper meanings of the UFO faith. She departed with a sympathetic view for those who look into the sky and see invading planes and creatures.
“But I’m not a, like, believer,” she says from the kitchen table of her apartment on Denver’s Capitol Hill. “I don’t know if there’s life in the universe or not, but I don’t think they drove spaceships here. I never heard a story when I said, ‘That sounds truly incredible and I believe what you say.’”
The UFO era began in earnest June 24, 1947. Kenneth Arnold was flying his CallAir A-2 near Mount Rainier in Washington when (he said) he saw a fleet of flying objects whizzing along at 1,000 miles per hour.
A craze had begun. Or maybe Scoles has the better word: “epidemic.”
Soon, thousands of Americans started seeing flying saucers, a trend that never halted. Americans reported 121,000 UFO sightings from 2001-2015. And that’s likely only a fraction of the sightings. Most go unreported.
“All of a sudden, we’re starting to see this thing that we are starting to make ourselves, but a better version,” Scoles says. “The same spaceships we are making at the same time we are doing it. ... We are always projecting our own technology up into space.”
Scoles wrote “They Are Already Here, UFO Culture and Why See Saucers,” a book released last week. It’s a difficult book to describe, and I mean that as a compliment. It’s both a celebration and skeptical examination of the UFO movement. Scoles is a scientist, but she’s also an artist. With words, I mean.
“Seeing a UFO, and interpreting it as something extraordinary, seems a little bit like the doomed, lost kind of romantic love,” she writes. “It comes along when you’re not looking for it. It amps up your ordinary experience, invigorates you every day. ... And it’s not the kind of thing you can ever really explain satisfactorily to anyone who wasn’t there. It’s not even an experience you can really experience yourself, once it’s gone.”
I join Scoles in her UFO skepticism. I’ve spent dozens of hours driving the darkest roads in America. In West Texas. In New Mexico. In Nevada. In Colorado’s San Luis Valley. While staring into those dark nights, the stars seem poised to jump out of the sky. It’s a great show, but I’ve never spotted an object from another galaxy.
If you are not a believer in the possibility of UFOs and visitors from somewhere far away, you’re unlikely to ever be swayed into belief. If resistant, you remain resistant.
But if you look into the skies with the expectation you will see something strange and fantastic and wonderful, you probably will find it.
UFO belief, Scoles writes, is not just similar to religion; it is one.
“It is a New Age religion,” she writes. “It’s not a science, it’s not a hobby, it’s a faith system.”
Does belief in UFOs seem a bit, well, wacky? Sure, Scoles says. But the concept of Christianity, if it landed fresh and untold in 2020, would sound wacky, too. The Son of God sent to Earth in a complicated and tragic crusade to save mankind? That’s a wild, and wondrous, tale. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a Christian, but it’s important to remember any faith system requires a leap from mere logic.
I have no friends who have shared UFO experiences, but it’s not as if these Americans are rare. According to a Gallup poll released in September, 16 percent of Americans believe they have seen a UFO and just under 34 percent — 34 percent of men, 33 percent of women — believe in alien spacecraft.
Do aliens walk among us? I don’t know about that. Do UFO believers reside in your neighborhood? Oh, yes.
“I wanted to write a book where I wasn’t being mean to people or making fun of people who believe what I don’t believe,” Scoles says as she looks out her window.
She succeeded. Not all of us look at those dark skies in the same way, or with the same expectations.