by PETER HEBBLETHWAITE
Miracles of the Gods by Erich von Diiniken (Souvenir Press £3.75) Occasionally a book appears which has no value in itself but which attains significance as a
portent. Erich von Daniken,
after his success with "Chariots of the Gods," has now produced a book called Miracles of the Gods which matches this
Orounietically sub-titled "A Hard I ilok Li: the Supernatural," it purpow, ti. show that visionaries and lz.elliot,es owe their insights to impukes from extra-terrestrial beings who inhabit some distant planet This remarkable hypothesis is believed to account for the events reported at Lourdes and Fatima, as well as. the propheticgenius of Leonardo da Vinci who is said to have invented "a two-stage rocket that could fly over three miles."
Herr son Diiniken has never heard of. still less used. Occam's Razor. His theory also neatly disposes of God. for the extraterrestrial beings are responsible for conscious life on earth.
Now it would he irresponsible even or hewn to take This drivel seriously. were it not for two hard facts. First. von Milliken is becoming a cult-figure who apparently satisfies a deep hunger For mysteries and the occult.
When we shared a television studio recently he anxiously inquired whether Yuri Geller had appeared on the same "show." and evidedtly watches keenly the progress of his fellow mystery-man. He would like to he in the same league. ;owl already a film, based on the first of his hooks, has been made. so he's doing well.
Another reason for exploding the myth that the media are creating around him is that von J5niken is the most virulent anti-Christian and anti-Catholic writer who has appeared for .many a year. Though he admits to a Catholic education at St Michael's College. Fribourg, churns to pay his Church tax regularly. and wisely does not talk about his theories to his Catholic wife and daughters. the attack on the Church is sustained at a high level of prejudice. The chip on the shoulder is so large that it impedes vision.
The onslaught begins with a dismissal of the Bible. Far from being "God's Word," it is a tissue of falsifications, and the idea that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit "could only he defended by ignorant evangelists and a Bock devoid of any real culture." Turned into dogmas by the early Church. the Christian doctrines of the Crucifixion and the Redemption "became the authority for torture and murder during the trials of heretics" and "today 'inspire' salvation-seeking youth and members of obscure sects to ghastly cwrcistic ritual murders with whose sacrifices these criminals still pretend to 'propitiate' God." The faith which keeps the whole fraudulent show going is defined as "inner certainty without proof," And just to remind his readers of the commercial implications of this gigantic hoax, V011 Milliken's book includes a photograph of the Banco di Sato 'Spirito in the via della Coneiliazione in Rome.
But this wild farrago is only a prelude to the message of enlightenment and liberation brought by von Diiniken. What he has to say positively is even more alarming than his negations.
He has no doubt about the existence of extra-terrestrial intelligent beings, Here is how they arc introduced: "Astrophysicists know that solar systems incomparably older than our; exist and therefore presumably much older intelligent beings. too."
It tieents a little lame to have to ,ay "nre,tinial-ti:sal the vital hinge of the to tlittnify it -argument. Bei e elite a leo sentences these presumed beings are husily engaged in building spaceships which they then dispatch on a mission to planet earth.
After a thorough exploration. they select the most advanced forms of life and "make it intelligent by a deliberate artificial mutation." When these amazing events happened is not made clear,
It might have been thirty million years ago. but in his television appearance von DAniken was prepared to settle for thirty thousand years ago. lie wasn't there in either case.
These same presumed beings continue to communicate with the human race through visions, and what the crowd saw at Fatima was probably one of their spaceships.
When pressed for the evidence for such a theory, von Daniken simply repeats it in other words, and suggests that he is breaking new scientific ground that the obscurantism of the Church is wilfully determined to resist. Or he points out that the theory is not impossible. and then moves swiftly from its nonimpossibility to its likelihood.
i And this s the man who has the gall to define faith as "inner certainty without proof," One is reminded or James Joyce's remark that he preferred a rational absurdity to an irrational absurdity.
It is important to try to oefine the literary genre of Miracles of the Gods. It has a spurious scientific air, bet scientists do not really work through randon quotations from other scientists. It cannot claim to he serious history. for it simply strings together disparate reports from widely different periods without the slightest regard for their cultural setting.
No is it theology, since a theologian can only have contempt for the scissors and paste method adopted by the author. Neither science nor history nor theology. the hook belongs to the genre of unsupported science fiction.
Among the photographs is one captioned: "This is surely the first photography ever of a vision of Mary.' It shows a disappoirtaingly vague, formless cloud drifting above "the Coptic Church near
Calinroacare burst of honesty the caption goes on: "The authenticity and value of this picture have not been inveetigated.' One wonders why not. Questioned on this point, von Diiniken explained that it had appeared in the German magazine, Der Stern, He seemed to think this was sufficient proof.
One simple test of von Daniken is to read aloud what he has to say in a frigid. dispassionate voice. Its absurdity quickly becomes apparent. Here, for instance, is a conversation he reports with Jeane Dixon, an American visionary: By the way, UFOs are piloted by women."
"How do we know that?"
-I can feel the vibrations, and they're feminine."
"Mrs Dixon, you know my hooks. What do you think about them?"
"You're absolutely right about many things Give me your hand for a few minutes. Look, here in your fingertips I can feel the energy of your supra-supra-consciousness .
Mrs Dixon went on to make some apparently unprintable remarks about the next stage in von Daniken's life.
Without claiming supra-supraconsciousness, I think one can predict that he is on to a good thing, for Miracles of the Gods shrewdly exploits the modern preoccupation with the hiiarre and the occult. It has an eighteenth century rationalist approach to religion. it borrows from nineteenth century science fiction is la Jules Verne, and it is orchestrated by the twentieth century media, It was once widely believed that the decline of Faith would mean a steady march towards enlightenment and the age of reason. Miracles of the Gods suggests that the contrary is the case: the decline of faith leaves a vacuum which superstition rushes in to fill. and the age of faith is succeeded by the age of credulity. And con-men like von Milliken gladly meet the needs of the new age.
. In a paradoxical way von Daniken confirms the wisdom of the Church he denounces so enthusiastically. For to be extremely guarded and sceptical about "private revelations" seems to be the only attitude compatible with long-term sanity. Compared with what is given in Christ Jesus, mediator and content OF Revelation, "private revelations" can add nothing of significenee, and an obsession with them can impair the mind grievously. We ought to he grateful to von Daniken for making this lesson clear.