Review by Thomas D. Carroll, 2002
Strieber, Whitley; Strieber, Anne (eds.). The Communion Letters, HarperPrism, 1997. 288 pages.
On the face of it, this may seem an unusual choice for a text collected amongst works dealing with religious experiences. The Communion Letters is the follow-up to Whitley Strieber’s best-selling book about encounters with aliens and UFOs, Communion. In this follow-up text, the Striebers collect a few of the reported nearly 200,000 people who wrote them reporting their own putative experiences with aliens.
However, once one opens the cover of this book, one sees quickly the relevance of alien abduction narratives to a study of religious experiences. Many of the stories catalogued here, first-person accounts of putative encounters with aliens, show many characteristics of anomalous experiences often associated with religious experiences. For example, some writers experience multiple anomalous experiences as part of the greater alien encounter narrative (such as out of body experiences, telepathy, hallucinations, and near-death). Furthermore, while some of those who write in describe qualities of their alien encounters that appear to be religious in character, others have subsequent responses to their experiences that suggest religious interpretations of the experiences: “I only hope and pray that people will realize that earth is just the school of life, and that it’s true that love and helping each other is all that matters. I believe that incredible intelligence is awaiting us all, and I am trying to be worthy of their interest in me.” (p. 76).
As an anecdotal collection, this book is no substitute for systematic psychological or sociological study. However, the text may be of interest to those curious about the variety (or similarity) of experiences people claim to have. Many of these narratives include the pattern of encounter, abduction, being the subject of experimentation by the aliens (sometimes including sexual dynamics), and return.
The tone of the editors is one of acceptance of the veracity of the claims of those who have written in. While the academic inquirer ought to take a skeptical stance, one can see through this anecdotal collection of reports that there is a genuine social phenomenon going on here. I do not here mean the mere popularity of these sorts of books, although that is not irrelevant to my point. Rather, I mean that the sheer number of alien abduction reports reveals that there is a psychological and sociological story yet to be told here. Insofar as those who report alien abduction experiences derive meaning for their lives (and many do, for better and worse) from these experiences, then it makes sense to explore the religious dimensions of these experiences.