Wednesday, February 02, 2011

From ‘Believer’ to ‘Skeptic’

From ‘Believer’ to ‘Skeptic’

By Billy Cox
De Void

Billy Cox     From the hopelessly opaque fusion of reality and CGI with YouTube comes the latest UFO rave from Jerusalem, a sequence that purports to show a mystery sphere descending above one of monotheism’s most sacred shrines. What makes this footage — said to be unfolding near the Dome of the Rock mosque at Temple Mount — a bit more compelling is that it appears to have been grabbed from at least two angles.

Things that appear too good to be true usually are, and already the critics are assailing its authenticity. And as Dr. David Halperin wonders, “I couldn’t see anything in these two videos that I could identify as the Dome of the Rock.”

Halperin, a retired professor of Judaic studies at the University of North Carolina, has a unique spin on UFOs, and it’s entangled in the protracted demise of his mother. Having suffered her first stroke when he was 18 months old, felled by a heart attack when her son was 3, and succumbing finally to heart disease when Halperin was 16, his mother’s illness was increasingly obvious. “But it became a truth we didn’t address,” he says from his home in Durham, N.C. “It became a family secret.”

Then he read Gray Barker’s controversial 1956 book, They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers, which introduced the so-called Men in Black phenomenon to much of America. Still waters ran deep with Barker, and Halperin couldn’t get enough. “It seemed to mirror a faithful truth about what was going on in my own household,” he recalls. “It appeared to reflect something that was going on that nobody wanted to talk about.”

Before long, young Halperin was writing letters to USAF officers with Project Blue Book, conducting futile field investigations of local UFO reports, and feeling “like a perpetual outsider, like I was different and apart from everyone else.” The journey led him to explore his Jewish ethnicity, to the ancient Hebrew texts, particularly the Old Testament, where Ezekiel’s fabled wheels were preceded by a “whirlwind … coming out of the north, a great cloud with raging fire engulfing itself.” Remembers Halperin, “It struck me, as a little kid, as something exceedingly spooky.”

Halperin’s quest for clarity would produce a dissertation on the prophet Ezekiel. What followed was an adventure in the scholarship of religion and mythology, numerous trips to Israel — where he lived for more than two years — and ultimately a realization: “What UFOs were there for was to give me a mirror to work out my anxiety of my mother’s slow dying. And when belief lost its function, I gradually lost interest in UFOs. Once you lose faith in something that may be potentially important in these accounts, they nevertheless become extremely dull.”

So last month, all these decades later, Halperin produced his first novel, Journal of a UFO Investigator, a somewhat autobiographical fantasy which is receiving critical acclaim. But the irony of his conversion from “believer” to “skeptic” is not lost upon him.

“When I was a teen ufologist, I used to agree with critics who said, ‘Of course these skeptics don’t believe in it because they don’t even bother to read the reports! How true!’ I thought they were dogmatic. And I’m very dogmatic now. I’m the person I once accused others of being.”

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