Very Superstitious

    Last month, the Raelians, a cult that worships UFOs, threatened to sue the federal government for interfering with their plans to clone a human being. The FDA insists that experiments such as the Raelians' must meet with its approval, which it won't give. For their part, the Raelians claim that the FDA's refusal violates their beliefs. These beliefs teach them that human beings are the product of genetic experiments performed by extraterrestrials millions of years ago. Thus, they believe, cloning people holds the key to eternal life. Well, while this is more than a little ridiculous, what's even more ridiculous is that the Raelians' beliefs aren't as far from the American mainstream as you might think. Thirty-five years ago, TIME magazine asked on its cover, "Is God Dead?" The answer seemed to be that even if he wasn't, belief in the supernatural was on the way out. Well, what a difference three decades makes. Americans have embraced "belief" in a big way. So much so, in fact, that social critics and historians are referring to our times as another "great awakening." But wait a minute. While belief is surging, you have to look at what people are believing. Between 1976 and 1997, the number of Americans who believed in astrology grew from seventeen percent to thirty-seven percent. During the same period, the percentage of Americans who professed a belief in reincarnation nearly tripled -- from nine percent to twenty-five percent. And crystal ball makers doubtless are glad to hear that those who put stock in fortune-telling nearly quadrupled -- from four to fourteen percent. In addition, up to half of all Americans belief in necromancy (that is, conjuring up the dead), and millions of Americans believe in lucky numbers, alien visitations, and alien abductions. And this is only a sample of America's new credulity. Well, clearly this kind of spiritual awakening stands in marked contrast to the great awakenings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Those spiritual movements were grounded in historic Christianity. When men and women sought "spiritual growth," they turned to the God of the Bible. But today, it's as simple as ABC, Anything But Christianity. In their attempt to find spiritual fulfillment without Christianity, Americans have become undiscerning in what they believe. If it enables a person to feel "spiritual" without having to bother with being religious, no belief is too off the wall for some people. This is to be expected. As G. K. Chesterton noted, when people cease believing in the biblical God, the problem isn't that they believe in nothing. It's that they believe in everything. Irrationality and even superstition become the order of the day. This situation leaves the church with both an opportunity and a challenge. All of this misplaced belief is, in fact, a tacit acknowledgment of the "God-shaped vacuum" within each human heart. Our challenge is to help our neighbors understand that this vacuum cannot be filled with superstition. It can be only filled by a relationship with the God of history -- the one who created the vacuum within us. Over the next few days, I'll be telling you about some other examples of beliefs commonly held in contemporary America -- beliefs that put the "super" in "superstition" -- and illustrating how short the distance from ridiculous to mainstream has become. For further reference: "The New Superstition in the Midst of a Knowledge Explosion; Americans Embrace Irrational Fears." Boston Globe, 2 January 2001; Pg. E1. "Sold on Spirituality." Boston Globe Magazine. 3 December 2000; Pg. 19. Gabler, Neal. "Culture Wars; A Victim of the Third Great Awakening." Los Angeles Times, 14 January 2001; Pg. M1.


Chuck Colson


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