I like Roger Ebert's take on religion. He has a nuanced, properly skeptical attitude toward God and matters metaphysical.
During in all the endless discussions on several threads of this blog about evolution, intelligent design, God and the afterworld, now numbering altogether around 3,500 comments, I have never said, although readers have freely informed me I am an atheist, an agnostic, or at the very least a secular humanist--which I am. If I were to say I don't believe God exists, that wouldn't mean I believe God doesn't exist. Nor does it mean I don't know, which implies that I could know.
Let me rule out at once any God who has personally spoken to anyone or issued instructions to men. That some men believe they have been spoken to by God, I am certain. I do not believe Moses came down from the mountain with any tablets he did not go up with. I believe mankind in general evidently has a need to believe in higher powers and an existence not limited to the physical duration of the body. But these needs are hopes, and believing them doesn't make them true. I believe mankind feels a need to gather in churches, whether physical or social.
But when I read Ebert's recent post that essentially equates New Age beliefs and fundamentalist creationism, I can't quite agree with him.
New Age beliefs are the Creationism of the Progressives. I move in circles where most people would find it absurd to believe that humans didn't evolve from prehistoric ancestors, yet many of these same people quite happily believe in astrology, psychics, reincarnation, the Tarot deck, the i Ching, and sooth-saying. Palmistry and phrenology have pretty much blown over.
If you were attending a dinner party of community leaders in Dallas, Atlanta, Omaha or Colorado Springs and the conversation turned to religion, a chill might fall on the room if you confessed yourself an atheist. Yet at a dinner party of the nicest and brightest in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and (especially) Los Angeles, if the hostess began to confide about past lives, her Sign and yours, and her healing crystals, it might not go over so well if you confessed you thought she was full of it.
Well, he's right about the last part.
I've ruffled some New Age feathers myself when someone notices my barely concealed smirk as he or she extols the virtues of an unproven homeopathic nostrum or makes some other claim that violates both common sense and current scientific understanding.
So I entirely concur with Ebert that non-religious claims about supernatural phenomena should be looked upon with the same skeptical eye as fundamentalist dogma.
But here's the thing:
There never has been a New Age holy war. I've never met a believer in astrology, reincarnation, channeling, and such who was out to convert others. The New Age types I know are much more open, non-dogmatic, and flexible than religious true believers.
Plus, almost everybody has some irrational (or non-rational) views of the world. My mother was highly intellectual. Yet when she talked about something she hoped would happen, often she'd add "knock on wood."
And then look around for some wood to rap her knuckles on. As a kid, I never thought much about this. It seemed natural and harmless enough. Which, it was.
For a long time I avoided walking under ladders -- another childhood superstition that I was exposed to. Even now I pause for a split second before doing this, a holdover behavior from my youth.
It doesn't bother me if someone believes in "weird" stuff. If you could see what goes on inside my head on any given day, there's no doubt that you'd say about much of it, "Wow. That's really weird."
To me, of course, what transpires in my psyche is normal. Because my thoughts, emotions, and whatnot are part of me, just as yours are part of you. Familiarity breeds non-weirdness.
Roger Ebert doesn't want a New Age believer or a creationist to be President.
My only purpose today is to state early and often that if a Presidential candidate believes early humans used saddles to ride on the backs of dinosaurs, as they are depicted at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, that candidate should not be elected President.
And if a candidate counts among close friends and advisors anyone in communication with the spirit world, that candidate should not be elected President.
And if a candidate accounts for the fact that humanoid and dinosaur bones are never found at the same level in the fossil record by evoking the action of sediment after the Great Flood, that candidate should not be President.
And if a candidate has a spirit guide, consults his or her Chart and takes more than a passing amusement in the horoscope, that candidate should not be elected President.
Personally, I'd be considerably happier with a candidate holding the second and fourth paragraph views, rather than the first and third.
Ebert correctly calls upon the mass media to "fact check" a politician's unfounded metaphysical beliefs just as strongly as his or her worldly statements.
But there's a difference between believing something that is opposed to scientific knowledge, and believing something that is outside the bounds of what is known to science.
Creationism is wrong, because evolution is correct. However, communicating with spirits is unproven, not wrong, because science hasn't shown that human consciousness doesn't continue to exist after a person dies.
I'd be more attracted to a Presidential candidate who has a bit of a wild and crazy side, than someone thoroughly rational, hard-headed, and tightly-controlled.
It's human to be weird. We've just got to keep it within bounds. And not demand that others share our weirdness.