Mollie Ziegler Hemingway flags a fascinating study in her Wall Street Journal op-ed today:
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.
This actually makes a lot of sense. It jives with the most quotable thing G.K. Chesterton never actually said: “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing– they believe in anything.“
Last year, I found that even some of the heavy-weight class “New Atheists” seemed to believe that meditation, or monkish solitude could improve their ethical intuition.
Those non-believers who scrupulously avoid superstitions, almost as often take ideology as their comfort. Providence is substituted for strange progressive fantasies, as in H.G. Wells extremely popular work, The Outline of History, or it’s later, more humble imitators.
Of course, just because non-Christians very often believe in pseudo-science, base superstitions, or ideology doesn’t vindicate Christian theology. But it should be recognized and sap some of the moral superiority and the unnerving urgency of the new ath