Ross Douthat is a religious man. I believe he is Catholic, although at the moment I am too lazy to look it up. Either way, he is definitely a god-fearing type, and has fired quite a few salvos across the bow of the New Atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens. Some of them have even drawn blood. This weekend’s, entitled Superstitious Minds, though, leaves me feeling all cold and cynical.
The general point is that, using some polling done on atheists and people of various religious tendencies on the question of credulity in various so-called “paranormal and occult” beliefs. I’ll quote the same passage Ross does:
The Gallup Organization, under contract to Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, asked American adults a series of questions to gauge credulity. Do dreams foretell the future? Did ancient advanced civilizations such as Atlantis exist? Can places be haunted? Is it possible to communicate with the dead? Will creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster someday be discovered by science?
The answers were added up to create an index of belief in occult and the paranormal. While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.
Even among Christians, there were disparities. While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama’s former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin’s former denomination, did. In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.
Obviously, the goal that Ross is trying to get across here is that atheists shouldn’t be so high-and-mighty about the overwhelming power of their rationality, since “people who never worship” are more likely to believe in Ridiculous And Crazy things like Atlantis and Bigfoot.
I know that Ross is trying to make a point here, but it’s always problematic when you put the very refutation of your argument in your own blog post. The whole point, to me, is that the group of people from whom 31% believe in paranormal phenomena were called “people who never worship.” Not “people who don’t believe in God”, or “people who call themselves rationalists”, or, heaven forbid, “atheists.”
People believe in all sorts of crazy shit. Atlantis. The power of crystals. UFOs. Revivification of the dead after 3 days. God. The transmutation of bread into fish, or of a cracker into flesh. Rudy Giuliani believes in the Tax Cut Fairy.
Simply pointing out that people who don’t go to church are more likely to believe in other things points out very little, indeed. I would argue that most of these beliefs are somewhat mutually exclusive. Especially if you are very deeply believing in an evangelical religion, that religion is likely to tell you that it has all the answers, and so if Atlantis and Bigfoot aren’t in the Bible, then they can’t be true. So, yes, people who are members of well-structured belief system A are less likely to believe things that belong in slightly-less-well-structured belief system B. Congratulations for pointing out something that’s so obvious, it gives a bad name to the term ‘obvious.’
At the very least, I can say that belief in Bigfoot never led to a Crusade, or the bombing of an abortion clinic, or the attack of a major US city with hijacked commercial airliners. Can you tell me that about your precious monotheistic religions, Ross? And MBD, how’s that for “moral superiority and the unnerving urgency”?