The death of critical thinking or just bad journalism?

Woo hooThere was a recent article on Patheos.com with the scary headline, “Young People Are Choosing Horoscopes and Crystals Over Fundamentalist Religions.” The last part of that might seem good news, but the first part is highly troubling. It suggests a continued descent into the New Dark Ages where science, logic, and reason are replaced by woo hoo.

Let’s be clear from the start: astrology is bunk. Magic rocks are bunk. Guardian angels, reiki, homeopathy, psychic readings, tarot cards, energy healing, reflexology, phrenology, and iridology are all bunk. None are based on anything close to science, reality or fact. At the very least destructive they are mere entertainment, at their worst they are a cultish belief in magic and superstition. But the piece is more sensationalism than fact.

The author of the Patheos article – supposedly a skeptic who describes it as a trend towards a “less violent form of nonsense” – writes,

Believe it or not, I don’t oppose this. We should be moving away from fundamentalist adherence to ancient dogmas, and more toward this type of relaxed take-what-works-and-drop-the-rest approach. And if you can make yourself feel better without hurting anyone, I say you should go for it.

No, no, no. The test for meaning, for benefit, relevance, utility or truthfulness is not whether it makes you feel better. That’s simply being selfish. You can get the same from eating ice cream or splurging on something you want to own. The news is full of politicians – local to federal – doing something to benefit themselves, not the people they supposedly serve. Epicureanism notwithstanding, there ought to be a benefit to more than just yourself.

Not harming anyone is good, of course, but by itself not good enough to make it the sole basis of anyone’s beliefs or practices. Where is the ethical or moral substrate? The greater good? Too easily not harming anyone can become simply avoidance and excuses for not actually doing something.

But who is to determine harm? if children see their parents believing in something, they are likely to follow suit. Nonsense is as harmful to their minds as a religious cult. Believing in magic stones can easily lead to question all forms of science, reason and medicine (hint: New Age anti-vaxxers…)

And for all their faults, fantasies and flaws, at least most religions have a moral and ethical basis – you don’t get that in any form of woo hoo. It’s trite to consider all aspects of religion as “nonsense” just because you dismiss the supernatural aspects of it. 

Furthermore, belief – even in nonsense – spreads like a virus. Look at the anti-GMO and anti-gluten fads, the anti-vaccine wingnuts, the chemtrail and reptiloid conspiracies, and every diet fad. Behind all of these woo hoo beliefs are hordes of con artists, bullshitters and hoaxsters eager to get rich by prying money away from the gullible. Being scammed or conned by them is surely a form of harm.
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More rapture, less reality

The end? According to some, the rapture is coming again, April 23. I’m so tired of this event. I’m still cleaning up after the last rapture. And the one before that. And the one before that, and before that, and before that… it’s even more frequent than an annual event. But next week it’ll come again. the whole shebang: Christians rising from the dead, the messiah prancing about, angels flitting about like birds, the confetti, the glitter, champagne corks and party balloons all over the place. Raptures are always such a mess.

Seriously. April 23, according to a report on Faux News. Sure, Faux News has almost as much credibility as any supermarket tabloid, but they wouldn’t lie, would they? (insert gales of laughter soundtrack). But according to a piece on Patheos, that’s just what Faux predicts: the rapture.

And like all alt-facts, fake news and other codswallop Faux spews, the story got picked up by media and the many wingnut websites, and soon spread around the fields of the internet like the manure it is. Which of course sparks the inevitable cycle of debunking and ridicule (these hoaxes are called viral for a reason: they are an intellectual disease).

This is good for David Meade, because it fuels his book sales about the end of times and Planet X (although whether the ignorati actually read their purchase is anyone’s guess – and why write anything if the world’s going to end?). It’s truly a sad comment that anyone credible feels the need to debunk such feather-brained codswallop, but I’m sure they are alarmed at how many people are gullible enough to fall for it. It and the many other woo hoo ideas, hoaxes, conspiracies, cons and scams online.

The hoax is fanned by the self-described “Christian numerologist” David Meade (a pen name for one of the internet’s uber-wingnut conspiracy theorists). But this is an oxymoron: Christians are forbidden from practicing witchcraft, and numerology is one of the things witches practice. But that doesn’t stop Meade, who has predicted this event several times in the past (September, October and then November last year; each one failing to occur).

Well, sure, witchcraft and numerology are puerile superstition, but that doesn’t mean they can’t find a comfort zone among the fringe Christian eschatologists or hoaxers like Meade when it suits their purposes (and sells their books). Being a “Christian numerologist” is one of those made-up job descriptions like nail technologist or dog chiropractor. Who will dispute your title?

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