The 1997 feature film "Contact" is an adaptation of the best-selling science fiction novel Contact, written by celebrated author and astronomer Carl Sagan. Sagan himself is credited as a co-writer of the screen story and a co-producer of the movie adaptation, but he died before the movie was finished.
The novel Contact contains one overt reference to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the movie, a religious zealot from Utah causes a key turning point in the plot.
"Contact" is about "Ellie Arroway," a brilliant astronomer (played by Jodie Foster) whose childhood passion for shortwave radio turns into an academic career studying radio astronomy. After completing her graduate studies, she turns down a teaching post at an Ivy League university in order to focus her research on the project she has dreamt about since youth: SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Ellie manages to secure funding for her research and spends years using powerful radio telescope arrays to search the skies for intelligently patterned radio signals from outer space. Finally she discovers a signal emanating from the Vega star system, 26 light years away. Encoded in the signal, which comes to be known simply as "the Message," are the complete plans for developing a complex machine, apparently a transport device. A worldwide consortium of national governments and private enterprise unites to build the Machine, at a cost of half a trillion dollars. Much to her disappointment, Ellie is not chosen to be the passenger in the Machine. But when the Machine is destroyed by a terrorist, she is informed of a second Machine, in which she will be the passenger. When the Machine is tested, it whisks her to through a series of wormholes to the center of the galaxy, where alien intelligences tell her of a galaxy teaming with millions of civilizations. Upon her return, Ellie learns that her trip lasted only a fraction of a second relative to Earth time. Ellie has no tangible proof of her trip, and officials over the project say they don't believe she went anywhere. The government suppresses physical evidence that the trip actually took place, but many people believe in Ellie's trip, choosing to believe her testimony to the world.
An interesting aspect of the movie "Contact" is the many parallels between its story and the story of Joseph Smith, Jr. In many ways, the arc of Ellie's story parallels the events of Joseph Smith's life as described in Joseph Smith History (in The Pearl of Great Price) and in the film "The First Vision." "Contact" and the story of Joseph Smith's life up through the First Vision touch upon many of the same major themes. Ellie's speech to the investigative committee headed by National Security Advisor Michael Kitz (James Woods) after she has journeyed to the center of the galaxy (but returned without proof) mirrors Joseph Smith's words in Joseph Smith History 1:23-25. Ellie, the scientist, even uses the word "vision" to describe her experience. The similarities between the words of Dr. Ellie Arroway and Joseph Smith are particularly interesting given the context in which they were delivered. Both of these passages come after descriptions of intense persecution associated with vociferous rejection of a miraculous story and monumental message. Ellie has just been pilloried before the world by a Congressional tribunal. National Security Advisor Michael Kitz calls Ellie's journey the biggest hoax in the history of mankind. Joseph Smith was likewise widely reviled.
(J.S. History 1:24-25)
|I had an experience. I can't prove it. I can't even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real. I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever. A vision of the universe that tells us, undeniably, how tiny and insignificant, and how rare and precious we all are. A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater than ourselves, that we are not--that none of us--are alone. I wish I could share that. I wish that everyone, if even for one moment, could feel that awe and humility, and hope, but... that continues to be my hope.||However, it was nevertheless a fact that I had beheld a vision... I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.|
But Ellie Arroway/Joseph Smith parallels are not the focus of this article. The paragraphs below describe overt references in the book and movie, in which Utah and Latter-day Saint are mentioned by name.
"Contact" is as much about religion as it is about first contact with alien life. It is one of the most openly and profoundly religious mainstream feature films released in recent decades.
For a time, Ellie is the frontrunner among ten finalists who are candidates for the person to occupy the Machine when it is tested. Ultimately she was rejected because the selection committee was felt that a person who said she did not believe in God was not the best candidate to represent the people of Earth, 95% of whom do believe in some form of supreme being.
PALMER JOSS (Matthew McConaughey): Madam chairman, I have one more question. Dr. Arroway, would you consider yourself a spiritual person?
ELLIE (Jodie Foster): I really don't understand the point of the question. I consider myself a moral person.
PALMER JOSS: Do you believe in God, Dr. Arroway?
ELLIE: As a scientist I, we rely on empirical evidence, and in this matter I don't believe there is data either way.
COMMITTEE CHAIRPERSON: So your answer would be that you do not believe in God?
ELLIE: I don't understand the relevance of the question.
ANOTHER COMMITTEE MEMBER: Dr. Arroway, 95% of the world population believes in a supreme being in one form or another. I believe that makes the question more than relevant.
ELLIE: I believe that I have already answered that question.
Palmer Joss, who was on the selection committee, was particularly bothered by Ellie's rejection of God. Later, speaking to Ellie in private, Joss questioned the position of those who think the other 95% of the world's population are suffering from a massive delusion.
ELLIE: Why'd you do it?
PALMER JOSS: Our job was to select someone to speak for everybody. And I just couldn't in good conscience vote for a person who doesn't believe in God. Someone who honestly thinks the other 95% of us suffer from some sort of mass delusion.
After Ellie tells Joss that there is no empirical proof of the existence of God, Palmer asks her if she loved her late father. "Of course," she replies. "Prove it," he challenges her. She can't, and she says nothing.
Overall, "Contact" seems like a movie with a remarkable level of balance between religion and science, and between believers and unbelievers. The central protagonist is astronomer "Ellie Arroway" (played by Jodie Foster), a woman who has profound faith in science but is a skeptic about religious matters, and in fact does not believe in the existence of God. The second most important character is "Palmer Joss" (played by Matthew McConaughey), a theologian and major national spiritual and religious leader. Joss possesses a deep and sincere belief in God. Not long after he meets Ellie, he tells of an undeniable experience he had feeling the presence of God. Both characters are warmly portrayed "good guys," with much complexity.
A number of other religious and scientific perspectives are portrayed in the film. There are two "villains" in the movie: one a scientist who is apparently an atheist or agnostic (although he professes belief in God in order to ingratiate himself with a selection committee) and the other a religious zealot.
The scientist "villain" character is David Drumlin (played by Tom Skerritt). Drumlin is the chief science advisor to the President of the United States, and a person who throughout the movie thwarts Ellie's research efforts and then tries to steal credit and influence away from her when she actually is successful in finding a message from extraterrestrial intelligences. Drumlin is a "bad" counterpart to Ellie's character. While Ellie is a pure-in-heart seeker after truth, Drumlin is duplicitous, self-serving, dishonest and greedy. Although Drumlin does not do anything illegal or violent, he is clearly the chief antagonist character or "villain" of the film.
Drumlin's most despicable act occurs when he and Ellie are the top two candidates to be chosen as the sole occupant of the transport machine built by following the instructions in The Message. An international committee has been selected to choose one traveller from among the 10 finalists in the selection process. Drumlin lies and tells the committee what they want to hear, thus securing the position. Thus, despite the fact that Ellie worked tirelessly for years to discover the extraterrestrial radio signal, the man who thought her ideas were foolish and actively worked to thwart her was chosen to test the incredible transport Machine that was the fruit of her labor.
Drumlin gets his comeuppance, however, thanks to the only other character in the film who can be called a "villain": a religious zealot based in Panguitch, Utah. This zealot, named "Joseph" in the closing credits, is played by actor Jake Busey. Busey's other film credits include: Twister (1996); Enemy of the State (1998); Identity (2003); The Frighteners (1996). Interestingly enough, Busey's best known movies were both released in 1997, and both feature explicit Utah or Mormon references: "Contact" and "Starship Troopers."
"Joseph" is first seen evangelizing against Ellie's team of scientists and the Message outside the radio telescope complex in New Mexico where she worked for years in order to find the signal from space. Joseph is first seen 58 minutes, 10 seconds after the start of the movie. Joseph's rants against the Message are part of a scene in which Ellie returns to her radio telescope labs after a trip to Washington during, which the existence of the Message was confirmed to the world by President Bill Clinton. Ellie is being driven through a massive crowd of thousands of disparate people and groups who have come in response to the announcement.
Most of the people who have assembled around the New Mexico radio telescope array are enthusiastic and simply want to be part of this major event. Groups are singing, dancing, holding up signs asking the aliens to come abduct them. Some groups are protesting, however. Joseph is standing on an elevated stand under a makeshift open-air tent, holding a microphone hooked up to speakers. He is clearly denouncing these events. He spots Ellie, and they look each other in the eye before Ellie rolls up the window of the vehicle she is riding in.
While Ellie drives passed by him, Joseph is preaching: "But they have failed! It's the same people who, again and again, have brought us to the brink of destruction! Who've polluted our air, who've poisoned our water! Now these scientists have had their chance. Are these the kind of people that you want talking to your God for you?"
This first scene with "Joseph" the religious zealot lasts 34 seconds.
Below is a transcript of the preaching of the Protestant religious zealot Joseph (from Panguitch, Utah), from "Contact," beginning at 58 minutes, 10 seconds after the start of the movie:
[Joseph is wearing a loose-fitting, long-sleeved white shirt and black slacks. He has long blonde hair, which reaches past his shoulders. He is standing on a stand, underneath a tent roof with a large white cross on it. He wears a cross necklace. He is shouting into a handheld microphone.]
[Behind Joseph, there is writing on the wood or cardboard backing of his tent stand: The writing that can be seen is as follows:
You must PURGE the EVIL among you
...WICKED MEN have arisen among you
and have led the people of their town astray
saying 'Let us go and WORSHIP OTHER GODS
Unless the LORD builds the HOUSE,
its BUILDERS labor in vain. Psalm 127:1]
JOSEPH (Jake Busey): ...But they have failed! It's the same people who, again and again, have brought us to the brink of destruction! Who've polluted our air, who've poisoned our water! Now these scientists... [Joseph spots Ellie, riding by in a vehicle. He looks right at her, pointing to her] ...have had their chance. Are these the kind of people that you want talking to your God for you?
[The crowd proclaims agreement, enthusiasm for Joseph's message. Ellie, looking at Joseph, rolls up the car window as the vehicle slowly drives by. Joseph's reflection can be seen in the car window.]
Later Ellie sees Joseph protesting outside a reception in Washington, D.C. Once again, she and Joseph look each other in the eye, leaving Ellie is visibly disturbed. Joseph is first seen in this scene 1 hour, 12 minutes, 6 seconds after the start of the film. His appearance in this scene lasts 20 seconds.
[Ellie exits a limousine, wearing a fancy dress, her hair done up beautifully in a way she is unaccustomed to. She and other well-heeled guests are arriving at this building in Washington, D.C. to attend a reception held after administration has decided to use the plans provided by the aliens to build the transport machine.
Ellie walks solemnly past a the line of protestors who are noisy, but kept under control by police officers and rope lines. Many different arguments are and chants are being shouted by the protestors.
Joseph, wearing the same loose-fitting, long-sleeved white shirt and cross necklace he wore in his earlier scene, stands among a crowd of protestors. Many in the crowd are chanting "PRAISE GOD." Protesting are holding up signs which say things such as "Science is not our God." and "PRAISE GOD, NOT MAN!!"]
JOSEPH: God created man in the form of Himself, not in the form of monkeys!
[As Ellie passes Joseph, she recognizes him, and he recognizes her. She is clearly bothered. Upon seeing her Joseph stops shouting, and has a crazed look on his face, as if his planning something.]
ANOTHER PROTESTOR, A BLACK MAN: Get a job! Don't waste my tax dollars.
Joseph is next seen in the movie when his actions are the cause a major twist in the plot. During a test of the Machine just before it is to finally be put to use, Ellie is in the mission control room, watching events on board the Machine monitors. Drumlin is on the machine, in the center of things, as he will soon be the test pilot, expected to be sent 26 light years away to the Vega star system.
Ellie, in the control room, spots the religious fanatic Protestant minister Joseph on the monitor, dressed as a technician. Joseph's face can clearly be seen on a monitor inside the control room at 1 hour, 34 minutes, 43 seconds after the start of the film. But he is not immediately.
When Ellie sees Joseph on the monitor, she calls for the test of the Machine to be aborted, but it is too late. Ellie sees that there is something in Joseph's hand. She warns Drumlin, who calls for people to grab Joseph. But as Joseph is grabbed, he opens his coat to reveal that his torso is covered with explosives, and he is holding the detonator in his hand. Joseph is declaring some religious-based objections to the Machine when he detonates the explosives, killing the people on the Machine at the time, including Drumlin and himself. Joseph detonates the explosives 1 hour, 36 minutes, 12 seconds after the start of the film. This, his third scene in "Contact," is 1 minute, 29 seconds long.
[INT. MISSION CONTROL ROOM]
[While watching the test of the Machine on monitors, Ellie sees Joseph, the Protestant/Evangelical Christian religious fanatic, dressed as a technician. Others in the control room don't notice anything amiss, because they don't know who Joseph is. But Ellie remembers him, having twice seem him loudly protesting the Message and the Machine. After Ellie first spots Joseph, she uses the controls of a camera to move it, getting a better look at him. Then she causes the camera to pan down, so that she can see his hands. She notices that he is holding something small and mechanical, something with a button on it.]
ELLIE (Jodie Foster): We got a security problem, here!
MISSION CONTROL LEADER: Ellie, are you sure?
ELLIE (Jodie Foster): Yeah. This guy. He shouldn't be there. I know him.
MISSION CONTROL LEADER: Gerry, execute the rapid shutdown sequence. Security, move the emergency response team into position one.
ELLIE (Jodie Foster): Get Drumlin on a secure loop, please.
TECHNICIAN: You got him.
ELLIE (Jodie Foster): David, can you hear me?
DAVID DRUMLIN (Tom Skerritt): Yes, I hear.
ELLIE (Jodie Foster): We've got a security breach here. Right behind you. The tall guy. The technician. See him? He's not supposed to be there. [Once again she uses a joystick to focus a camera on Joseph's hand.] David, he's got something in his hand.
[Seen on a monitor from the control room, Joseph raises his hands high above his head. He knows he has been spotted, but he also knows nobody can stop him. He begins to make pronouncements.]
DAVID DRUMLIN (Tom Skerritt): [Pointing] Him! Take him! Security breach!
TECHNICIAN IN CONTROL ROOM: A bomb! He's got a bomb!
[On the monitors, Joseph can be seen running on a metal platform on the Machine, chased by similarly uniformed technicians.]
MISSION CONTROL LEADER: I want that emergency response team up on the gantry. Now! Security, Stage One Alert! Move all fire and rescue personnel into position one.
[On the monitors, Joseph can be seen tackled by technicians. His jacket comes open, revealing explosives strapped his torso. A technician struggles to grab Joseph's hand. Joseph screams and presses the button of the detonator in his hand. A large explosion can be seen on the Machine, causing the ball which is the transport shell to fall erratically. The explosion came while the Machine was midway through being tested, and it sets off a chain reaction which completely destroys the Machine.]
Although the character Joseph is dead, he has one last scene in the movie.
Not long after the destruction of the Machine, law enforcement officials find Joseph's headquarters, in Panguitch, Utah. They find a video tape that Joseph made, which is played by the media for people around the world to see, in which Joseph explains religious-based objections to the Machine project.
Immediately following the scene in which the Machine is destroyed, the film cuts to a scene showing Ellie arriving back at her New Mexico radio telescope array office. A technician has a television tuned to CNN, and is watching a report about recent events.
1 hour, 37 minutes, 13 seconds:
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (playing herself): The scene earlier today, when David Drumlin, advisor to two Presidents and winner of the National Academy of Sciences lifetime award of excellence, was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. [Pause, while image on television changes from showing Pres. Bill Clinton at Drumlin's funeral, back to showing anchorwoman Natalie Allen.] In a related story, last night's daring raid on a Utah motel has led to the discovery of this amateur video, the apparent suicide note of the terrorist now believed responsible for the explosion in Florida this week.
JOSEPH: [Seen on TV] What we do, we do it for the goodness of all mankind. This won't be understood, not now, but the Apocalypse to come will vindicate our faith.
CNN anchorwoman Natalie Allen mentions the "daring raid on a Utah motel" 1 hour, 37 minutes, 24 seconds after the start of the film. Joseph's last words, as heard on his suicide note video, are heard 1 hour, 37 minutes, 51 seconds after the start of the film. This scene (Joseph's fourth and final scene in the movie) lasts 26 seconds.
Given the fact that Joseph was apparently living in a motel prior to executing his terrorist attack on the Machine, it seems likely that he is not from Panguitch. It is entirely possible that Joseph was not from Utah at all, and that he was only temporarily organizing his terrorist plan from Panguitch.
Joseph's four scenes comprise a total of 2 minutes and 49 seconds.
The Protestant/Evangelical Christian religious zealot character "Joseph" was made up for the movie. There is no such character in the novel, and no direct references to Utah in the novel. The novel, in fact, does not identify who blew up the Machine. Page 271 of the novel Contact describes some of the confusion about who was responsible:
Organizations publicly claiming responsibility included the Earth-Firsters, the Red Army Faction, the Islamic Jihad, the now underground Fusion Energy Foundation, the Sikh Separatists, Shining Path, the Khmer Vert, the Afghan Renaissance, the radical wing of Mothers Against the Machine, the Reunified Re-unification Church, Omega Seven, the Doomsday Chiliasts (although Billy Jo Rankin denied any connection and claimed that the confessions were called in by the impious, in a doomed attempt to discredit God), the Broederbond, El Catorce de Febrero, the Secret Army of the Kuomin-tang, the Zionist League, the Party of God, and the newly resuscitated Symbionese Liberation Front. Most of these organizations did not have the wherewithal to execute the sabotage; the length of the list was merely an index of how widespread opposition to the Machine had become.Nothing in the movie implies that Joseph is a Latter-day Saint. In fact, when he is introduced, he is preaching from a make-shift tent adorned with a large cross and Protestant-style slogans. It is impossible to determine exactly what denomination he is from. Joseph's his manner and rhetoric suggests a charismatic, extremely conservative background, as if he had trained with a denomination such as the Southern Baptist Convention, the Church of Christ, of the Assemblies of God. His manner of dress, hair style, extreme rhetoric and terrorist actions suggest that at the time the movie takes place, he is probably acting independently of any major established denomination.
The Ku Klux Klan, the American Nazi Party, the Democratic National Socialist Party, and a few like-minded organizations restrained themselves and did not claim responsibility. An influential minority of their membership believed that the Message had been dispatched by Hitler himself. According to one version, he had been spirited off the Earth by German rocket technology in May 1945, and quite some progress had been made by the Nazis in the intervening years...
Despite the profusion of organizations that craved credit, suspicion in the United States focused immediately on two of the few groups that had not claimed responsibility: the extraterrestrials and the Russians. Talk about Doomsday Machines filled the air once again. The extraterrestrials had designed the Machine to explode catastrophically when assembled, but fortunately, some said, we were careless in assembling it and only a small charge--perhaps the trigger for the Doomsday Machine--blew up.
Although the zealot "Joseph" is clearly not intended to be a Latter-day Saint character, it was not an accident that his base of operations was in Utah. Utah is frequently used in films as "shorthand" to suggest strong devotion to religious ideals and a strict code of ethics, putting such values above other common concerns such as money, personal gratification, career advancement, etc. In looking at the dozens of movie references to Utah and movie characters from Utah, nearly always some variation of this "shorthand" is evident.
There is another possible reason why the base of operations of the "Joseph" character is shown being found in Utah. The special effects supervisor for "Contact" was none other than Allen Hall, an Academy Award-winning special effects expert who is a Latter-day Saint from Utah. If Hall had some responsibility for producing the faux CNN newscast, he may have chosen to set it in Panguitch, Utah as a sort of "inside joke." Latter-day Saint special effects artists and supervisors have similarly included Utah and/or Latter-day Saint references in a number of other movies, including "Starship Troopers", "Bicentennial Man," etc.
Joseph's act of terrorism is of course deplorable, and Ellie feels terrible that the Machine has been destroyed before it could be used. Soon, however, she is told that there is another Machine that was built on the island of Hokkaido in Japan. The second Machine was built in secret by the Japanese systems contractors who built major components of the first Machine. The existence of a second Machine means that Ellie yes another chance to sit in the chair of the transport device.
The second Machine and Ellie's assignment to test it are announced to the world, but monumentally heavy security is in place to prevent another act of terrorism from sabotaging it. When the Machine is tested, it takes Ellie to the center of the galaxy, through a series of wormholes arranged as a galactic transport system. Ellie learns profound truths, essentially has a spiritual awakening, and her life is changed forever.
Before Utah is mentioned as the base of the religious zealot Joseph, the state is seen briefly on a United States map in one of the film's first scenes. The first scene in the movie is a lengthy outer space shot that zooms out from the Earth, moving outside the solar system, outside the galaxy, and finally so far from the Earth that the Earth's Milky Way galaxy is just one of numerous galaxies in numerous clusters of galaxies. The scene suggests the enormity of space, which is a major theme in the film.
The second scene shows Ellie (the film's protagonist) as a 9-year-old girl, talking on a shortwave radio. She contacts a fellow shortwave radio enthusiast and finds that he is in California, a thousand miles from her home. With her father, the young Ellie looks at a map of the United States, putting a pin in the Florida location they reached with the shortwave radio. The map can be seen beginning at 4 minutes, 37 seconds after the start of the film. Utah can be seen on the United States map for approximately 9 seconds in two separate shots in this scene. The shot does not appear to focus on Utah, however, and shots were not meant to foreshadow the home state of the man (Joseph) whose actions would change Ellie's life forever by inadvertently giving her the opportunity to travel to the center of the galaxy.
Like the movie, Sagan's novel also grapples with many religious issues. The novel includes references to many religious groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Contact by Carl Sagan was first published in 1985 by Simon & Schuster (New York). On pages 133 to 134 a passage notes how various of the world's major religious groups have reacted to the news that a message has been received from outer space:
Attendance in churches had soared all over America. The Message, Ellie believed, was a kind of mirror in which each person sees his or her own beliefs challenged or confirmed. It was considered a blanket vindication of mutually exclusive apocalyptic and eschatological doctrines. In Peru, Algeria, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Ecuador, and among the Hopi, serious public debates took place on whether their progenitor civilizations had come from space; supporting opinions were attacked as colonialist. Catholics debated the extraterrestrial state of grace. Protestants discussed possible earlier missions of Jesus to nearby planets, and of course a return to Earth. Muslims were concerned that the Message might contravene the commandment against graven images. In Kuwait, a man arose who claimed to be the Hidden Imam of the Shiites. Messianic fervor had arisen among the Sossafer Chasids. In other congregations of Orthodox Jews there was a sudden renewal of interest in Astruc, a zealot fearful that knowledge would undermine faith, who in 1305 had induced the Rabbi of Barcelona, the leading Jewish cleric of the time, to forbid the study of science or philosophy by those under twenty-five, on pain of excommunication. Similar currents were increasingly discernible in Islam. A Thessalonian philosopher, auspiciously named Nicholas Polydemos, was attracting attention with a set of passionate arguments for what he called the "reunification" of religions, governments, and peoples of the world. Critics began by questioning the "re."In this passage, Sagan's awkward use of Latter-day Saint related terminology and concepts indicates that he has limited familiarity with Latter-day Saints. Many major science fiction authors (including Robert Heinlein, Greg Bear, Isaac Asimov, Piers Anthony, John Barnes, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Dean Ing, and others) have indicated far greater fluency with Latter-day Saint terminology and familiarity with Latter-day Saint beliefs and culture.
UFO groups had organized round-the-clock vigils at Brooks Air Force Base, near San Antonio, where the perfectly preserved bodies of four occupants of a flying saucer that had crash-landed in 1947 were said to be languishing in freezers; the extraterrestrials were reputed to be one meter tall and to have tiny flawless teeth. Apparitions of Vishnu had been reported in India, and of the Amida Buddha in Japan; miraculous cures by the hundreds were announced at Lourdes; a new Bodhisattva proclaimed herself in Tibet. A novel cargo cult was imported from New Guinea into Australia; it preached the construction of crude radio telescope replicas to attract extraterrestrial largesse. The World Union of Free Thinkers called the Message a disproof of the existence of God. The Mormon Church declared it a second revelation by the angel Moroni.
Joseph's message may seem like the irrational, anti-scientific rantings of a religious fanatic. But, as noted before, "Contact" is not at all an anti-religious film and Joseph does not represent the film's only religious viewpoint. Joseph's methods and manner of delivery are clearly off-putting, yet his core theme is largely the same message voiced eloquently by the film's male lead protagonist (and Ellie's love interest), Palmer Joss.
In his books, his messages delivered on TV talk shows such as "Larry King Live" and in his personal discussions with Ellie, Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey) cautions against embracing science and material things to the exclusion of spirituality and real human connections. Joss asks profoundly if, with all the advancements we have made in science and technology, are we any happier? Joss is an eminently reasonable and likeable man, which is why he has the ear of the nation and has been appointed as a top advisor to the President of the United States. Joseph and Palmer Joss represent opposite ends of a spectrum with regards to their methods, but the core of their actual message is very similar.
At the end of the film, Joss states his belief that the goal of science and the goal of religion is ultimately the same: the quest for truth. When a reporter asks Palmer Joss if he believes Ellie's story, he answers: "As a person of faith I am bound by a different covenant than Dr. Arroway. But our goal is one in the same. The pursuit of truth. I for one believe her."
Ellie has sought for evidence of extraterrestrial life, and Joss has found a connection to God, both of them doing these things in order to find a connection to something larger than themselves, so that they need not feel so alone in the universe.