Slow Train Coming: The Continuing Religious/UFO Odyssey of Dr. Barry Downing
By Sean Casteel
Science and religion could end up complementing each other. New – more “radical” – trends in physics point to the existence of parallel universes and other dimensions which could assist in explaining many Biblical mysteries and miracles, at least according to one Protestant minister who has spent a half century pondering the reality of UFOs and extraterrestrials and their possible connection to the seemingly bizarre and unexplainable tales of the Old and New Testaments.
Reverend Barry Downing, who resides in upstate New York, was among the first to see that it wasn’t a given that the “good book” was in conflict with the lore of the flying saucer and the possibility that our universe might be constructed of a bit more than just physical matter. He posited that heaven could be a real place – if not in our timeline then perhaps in a parallel existence just beyond our reach. Could that other dimension possibly be accessible through the guidance of Godly ultra-terrestrial beings and their vehicles? What we think of as spaceships could, in some cases, be divine.
*** Reverend Barry Downing has been preaching the gospel of “UFO angels” for nearly 50 years now, since the publication of his 1968 book, “The Bible and Flying Saucers.” Downing has recently released a new book called “Biblical UFO Revelations” that incorporates hard won wisdom and perspectives gleaned in the intervening years as he steadfastly continues to make his case for his particular take on Christianity and the aliens.
*** Downing is not just an ordained minister and a religious expert, he is also well-versed in physics, having earned his bachelor’s degree in the field. So he is uniquely qualified to analyze Biblical miracles like the parting of the Red Sea from the Exodus both scientifically and as a man of faith. Read more about the “environmental impact” that the pillar of cloud and fire exerted for the sake of the fleeing Israelites.
*** How does one approach the extreme levels of fear experienced by witnesses to angels in the Bible? Is the fear a UFO witness experiences an example of that same kind of fear? Are we actually wise to approach the two phenomena in abject terror and trembling? At what point does a heavenly love enter the picture and cast out all fear?
I was on the air this past summer with Timothy Green Beckley and Tim Swartz, the hosts of the KCOR podcast “Exploring the Bizarre,” with their special guest, the Presbyterian minister Dr. Barry Downing. In a commercial break, during which we all chatted but the audience could not hear us, Downing informed us that he had sufficient new material for a physical/print book.
Thinking quickly on his feet, Tim Beckley wasted no time in offering to publish Downing’s more recent writings through Beckley’s company Global Communications/Inner Light. And so the process began for “Biblical UFO Revelations,” a book that is a long overdue reprise from an important pioneer in the ancient aliens school of UFO interpretation.
Downing made his initial entry into the UFO community in 1968 with his groundbreaking tome “The Bible and Flying Saucers.” The book explored the possibility of extraterrestrial influence in the development of the Old and New Testaments, with particular emphasis on the notion that one can equate the “angels” of the Bible with the “aliens” of our modern era. Which, at the time, was fairly new and unfamiliar territory for the relatively young field of UFO research.
Before writing that first book, Downing had already earned a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburg in Scotland. His dissertation, called “Eschatological Implications of the Understanding of Time and Space in the Thought of Isaac Newton,” combined the religious, the philosophical and the scientific into the kind of whole that would serve Downing well in his years spent researching and writing about UFOs.
When Downing returned from Scotland in May of 1966, he set up shop in his in-laws’ basement and wrote his book while he awaited his first church assignment as a newly ordained minister. He finished the writing one week before taking a job at the Northminster Presbyterian Church in Endwell, New York, in February 1967, and the book came out the following year.
“I was hopeful that conservative Christians would be more positive than liberal Christians,” Downing told me by email. “It turned out to be the case that neither liberals nor conservatives liked my book. So in a sense I was treated ‘fairly’ by both sides.”
THE ‘ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT’ OF A UFO
The parting of the Red Sea is particularly interesting to Downing, and he gives it 20 pages of examination in “The Bible and Flying Saucers” and devotes a chapter to it in the new book, “Biblical UFO Revelations.”
“My argument is that the Exodus UFO, the pillar of cloud and fire,” he explained, “which appeared cloud-like during the day and glowed in the dark, used its propulsion system to split the waters of the Red Sea and save Israel from the Egyptians. The reason the parting of the Red Sea is so important is that it tells us in detail the environmental impact of the UFO presence. Modern researchers go to landing spots with Geiger counters and all kinds of equipment in order to study the environmental impact of a flying saucer landing. Exodus 14:19-30 is a very detailed environmental impact statement.”
Downing says he differs from the standard biblical interpretation that a “strong wind” was used to part the sea, because a wind strong enough to do that would also have blown Moses and the Israelites into the sky. The biblical text says the ground was dry when the Israelites crossed over, but since the escape was taking place at night, it could not have been dried by the sun. Downing suggests that some kind of microwave effect may have been involved.
“I believe the best explanation for the parting of the Red Sea,” he said, “is that the pillar of cloud and fire was some type of spaceship, and those in charge of the spaceship planned the parting of the sea well in advance, to save Israel from the Egyptians and to keep Israel from going back to Egypt, once the Jews discovered that the whole Exodus process was not a walk in the park.”
THE NEW PHYSICS: WHAT THE YEARS HAVE TAUGHT DOWNING
Downing has kept up with the worlds of UFOlogy and physics. His bachelor’s degree is in physics, which he earned while on scholarship at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York.
“When I published ‘The Bible and Flying Saucers’ in 1968,” Downing writes in “Biblical UFO Revelations,” “I had one major concern about connecting UFOs to biblical angels. The biblical view of angels was they were eternal beings, they had eternal life. My understanding of the scientific worldview at that time was that we live in a ‘running down universe,’ meaning that at some time in the future the universe will run out of energy and die. If this were true, then no one living in this universe could be eternal.
“I began to explore the possibility,’ he continues, “that there might be more than one universe, that there might be a way to escape from the space-time continuum of our universe into a world that did not decay, did not run down. I thought Einstein’s Theory of Relativity offered us the freedom to explore some possibilities within the framework of the as yet unfinished science of advanced physics. With that in mind, I began to look at the New Testament ideas of the angelic world, looking for ‘some way out’ of our universe, and looked for the possibility that UFOs did not come from our universe, but rather from another dimension.”
These ideas are a large part of chapter five of the first book. Downing’s optimistic search for a dimension that is truly eternal was met by the typical scorn his work receives from mainstream Christianity.
“The Christianity Today review of my book,” Downing writes, “was predictably negative about Chapter Five. ‘Space does not permit a complete account of the scientific distortions contained in the book. In the preface, Downing states that he is not an authority on Einstein or on heaven. This does not deter him, however, from devoting a chapter to the question, “Where Is Heaven?” He admits that his discussion reads very much like science fiction and is not necessarily true, but it may, he says, “help to set our minds free from the somewhat depressing agnosticism we now find ourselves in when we even begin to entertain the idea that we might live eternally – as part of God’s plan.” He then proceeds, with complete abandon, to do violence to both Einstein and heaven with over 20 pages of pure speculation.’”
[The review, which was published in the June 21, 1968, issue of Christianity Today, was written by Albert L. Hedrich and entitled “Flying Saucers in the Bible?”]
In that same section of “Biblical UFO Revelations,” Downing summarizes the liberal and conservative objections to his work.
“Liberals do not want me to take stories like the parting of the Red Sea literally,” Downing writes, “they want it to be poetry, mythology. They want to keep science out of the Bible. Religion is not about reality. It is about something that we make up in our heads, much like music and poetry. Religion may have a beauty about it, it may represent human psychological longings, but it has nothing to do with the physical world.
“The issue with conservatives is quite different,” he goes on. “It has been around 50 years since the publication of my book and I still can’t understand the conservative attack on my work. The conservative Christian mentality seems to be this: the church is a fort, the fort protects the basic treasure we have, which is the gospel, and the task of Christians is to attack all enemies who are trying to destroy the fort. They might be atheists (or other non-Christian religions, New Age mysticism, etc.) or they might be false prophets, or, as Gary Bates says of me, ‘former believers who have fallen away.’ Within this assumption, everyone has to be tested to see if he or she is a true believer or an enemy.”
Downing says it is obvious that the point of view of people like Hedrich is that Downing is the enemy, having done violence to both Einstein and heaven. Downing’s speculation amounts to bombs being dropped on the Christian fort.
“Does Hedrich know where heaven is?” Downing asks. “If he does, he does not tell us in his review. Apparently he thinks it is sinful even to wonder about it. Since when is being full of wonder a sin? Since when is it a sin to believe that ‘with God all things are possible?’” (Matthew 19:26)
The church is not a fort built to defend the gospel, according to Downing. God himself is our fort. We are not called to live in a fort, we are called to live in the wilderness with God, on a journey where we are moving toward the kingdom of God.
“If you hole up in a fort, you will not arrive at the kingdom of heaven,” Downing cautions. “The incarnation of Christ means this journey through the wilderness is so important to God that God became human in Jesus, and lived, and died, on the journey with us. On this trip, we look for signs of buried treasure.” (Matthew 13:44)
THE UFO PHENOMENON AS ‘BURIED TREASURE’
For around 50 years now, Downing has been pointing at UFOs and saying, “This may be buried treasure hidden for us to find.”
The UFOs are not buried in dirt, of course.
“They’re buried by the greed and lust for power of the military-industrial complex,” he writes, “which decided years ago that UFO truth needed to be kept from us. Our modern Pharaohs are no different from the Pharaoh who challenged the God of Moses. I suspect that many world leaders did not want us to even think about the possibility that the angels of God are not only watching us, but are, on occasion, shutting down our nuclear missile sites.
“And I suspect that for many conservative Christians, defending fortress America and fortress Gospel are so similar, that seeing UFOs as demons, rather than angels, enemies of both America’s military power, and enemies of the Gospel, was a very natural way to interpret the UFO mystery. This is my best understanding of why I am not only the enemy of liberal Protestants, but also conservative Protestants. By and large, it is Roman Catholics who have not demonized me.”
THE ROLE FEAR PLAYS IN THE UFO DRAMA
When I interviewed Downing by email for an introduction to “Biblical UFO Revelations,” I asked him about how fear often plays a major role in the UFO drama, especially in terms of the alien abduction experience.
“We are inclined to think fear is a bad thing,” he replied, “and in a sense it is. If God in His essence is love, then ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.’ (1 John 4:18) At the same time, we are called, according to Paul, ‘to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.’ (Philippians 2:12) The biblical view is, the closer we come to knowing God’s love, the less we will fear. Nevertheless, inclined as we are to sin, to pride, to jealousy, we need to live our lives in fear and trembling, aware that we are never more than a bad thought away from offending God and hurting the divine love bond.
“Fear is very much a dimension of our modern UFO story,” he continued. “One reason for governments of the world keeping UFO information secret is that release of the information would lead to panic, the stock market would crash, the world economy would be destroyed.”
Downing also offered an interesting analogy.
“If a stranger walks into my house and points a gun at me, fear will be my response, and it is a very appropriate response. I may die if I do not fear the intruder; I may die even if I do fear the intruder. But fear in this situation gives me a survival edge, a better chance of not being killed. I will treat the stranger with the gun with respect. The basic idea of God is that He is the one with the gun. He has the power to take our life, or save it, even to raise us from the dead. So fear of God as a sign of respect is an appropriate response.”
When the angels appeared to the shepherds in the fields, Downing said, fear was the understandable response of the shepherds. “The angel said to the shepherds, ‘Be not afraid, for behold, I bring you news of great joy.’ (Luke 2:10) Fear of angels when they appear is a frequent response reported in the Bible. An angel of God descended from the sky and rolled back the tomb where Jesus was buried. ‘And for fear of him, the guards trembled and became like dead men.’ (Matthew 28:4)
“Whenever we meet a strange power greater than ourselves, fear is a natural response. It is a frequent response for by those who have a UFO encounter, or have an abduction experience, or have a bedroom visitation from an alien. Fear of aliens is no more proof they are evil than fear of angels proves THEY are evil.”
Downing also commented on the abduction experiences of Betty Andreasson Luca and Whitley Strieber, calling their stories “mini forms of disclosure.”
“They are not disclosure at a political level,” Downing said, “that is, landing on the White House lawn and saying ‘Take me to your leader.’ But modern UFO abductions are a limited form of disclosure, examples of what I call ‘targeted intervention.’ The Second Coming of Christ, according to Christian hope, would be a form of an angelic army invasion. At the same time, the biblical story of the angel at the tomb of Jesus, or the conversion of the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, represent forms of ‘targeted intervention.’
“The story of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt seems to be something like a major invasion,” he continued, “but the ‘pillar of cloud and fire’ keeps its distance from both Pharaoh and the Jewish people. And the Jewish story has spiritual and moral power in human culture to this day – proof that targeted intervention can have consequences for human culture for thousands of years.
“The work of the pillar of cloud and fire during the Exodus should make us aware that, even if modern UFOs are working for our good, they represent a power of judgment over us such that ‘fear and trembling’ may be a very wise response to the UFO presence.”