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46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gutsy and bold manifesto against irrationalism
This is the type of book that will infuriate narrow-minded religious extremists who are convinced, even though they have absolutely no proof or even half-way decent evidence, that their one little segment of religiosity is the absolute and final truth. In this courageous book, Wendy Kaminer takes on not only the New Age, which is something of an easy target given its...
Published on February 4, 2000 by Glenn R. Boston

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105 of 114 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A marginal book at best.
The very first words in the introduction by Kaminer are: "Before I begin my critique of irrationalism, I have a confession to make: I go to a homeopath." She then goes on to explain how homepathic medicine has helped her. She also states in her defense that "I have [only] the vaguest understanding of antibiotics." One hour on the Internet would have...
Published on December 12, 1999 by Richard S. Sullivan


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46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gutsy and bold manifesto against irrationalism, February 4, 2000
By 
Glenn R. Boston (Wheaton, Maryland) - See all my reviews
This is the type of book that will infuriate narrow-minded religious extremists who are convinced, even though they have absolutely no proof or even half-way decent evidence, that their one little segment of religiosity is the absolute and final truth. In this courageous book, Wendy Kaminer takes on not only the New Age, which is something of an easy target given its silly excesses, but also organized religion and the simple, childish faith most Americans have in God and the afterlife. Kaminer points out that in modern America, open skepticism of religion is met with disdain and often hostility. (Think of it: What major politician, except for the quite possibly unhinged governor of Minnesota, has in recent times dared to say anything even slightly negative about religion?) Independent thinkers will love this book; the close-minded, WWJD-wearing absolutists who worship manical TV preachers, bash gay people, harass abortion clinics, advocate creation "science" and burn to make our country a theocracy instead of a democracy will hate it. More power to Wendy Kaminer's pen!
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73 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cuts through the fog of spirituality, November 28, 1999
By 
J. Davis (Shelton, WA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This not simply a case of an academic type looking down her nose at the ignorant masses. Wendy Kaminer provides compelling evidence why we should be disturbed by the creeping rise of irrationalism-especially when it affects public policy.
Police departments are hiring psychics to investigate murders, and prosecuting sex crimes based on "recovered memories" of alleged victims; public school boards, even in the 1990s, are emboldened by community consensus to force sectarian religion on students.
Kaminer asks the obvious questions that everyone else seems afraid to ask. Why should religious ideas be above public criticism? Why is it OK to ridicule Sun Myung Moon or New Age channelers, but not Billy Graham or the Pope? Are their beliefs any less silly?
The jabs at irrationalism aren't limited to traditional religion. Kaminer has done her homework, sitting through self-help seminars of New Age gurus and tracing the history of positive-thinking, inner-child and codependency therapy, alien abduction accounts, and guardian angel garbage.
The biggest laughs in this book come in quotations from the psychobabble of the 12-step recovery industry, and from the bestsellers of pop spirituality, such as Conversations with God, and The Celestine Prophecy. In Embraced by the Light, readers learn that people's souls may volunteer to be victims of accidents and murders to further some greater part of God's will.
Thanks to the average American's scientific illiteracy, technological advances are viewed as "miracles," and New Age claims about "energy transformation" and "vibrations" seem as plausible as valid science. (As Elaine Boosler once observed, even popcorn is a miracle if you don't understand it.) New Age hucksters use terms adapted from vaguely-understood concepts like quantum mechanics to legitimize their speculations about life after death.
Following a particularly absurd sample of pseudoscience from Deepak Chopra, regarding a place where "your hand exists before the Big Bang and after the universe's end in the heat death of absolute zero...the pre-quantum region that has no dimensions and all dimensions," Kaminer observes, "enigmatic or utterly incomprehensible statements may assure people of his authority. Gurus are supposed to understand truths about the universe that most of us can only sense as mysteries."
Kaminer's wit makes this book a delight. As someone else said, she is a light in the fog. You will alternate between knee-slapping laughs and shaking your head over the numbness of our culture and the lost art of critical thinking.
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105 of 114 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A marginal book at best., December 12, 1999
By 
Richard S. Sullivan (Santa Fe, New Mexico) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
The very first words in the introduction by Kaminer are: "Before I begin my critique of irrationalism, I have a confession to make: I go to a homeopath." She then goes on to explain how homepathic medicine has helped her. She also states in her defense that "I have [only] the vaguest understanding of antibiotics." One hour on the Internet would have provided her with a wealth of sites explaining in laymen's terms how antibiotics work.
Later on she dismisses out of hand any research into differences between men and women stating: "Of course, my own perspective on research on cognitive sex differences is bound to be colored by my belief in the justice of sexual equality.These are puzzling statements from one professing to make the case for rational thinking. To confuse equality with sameness is almost a point of disqualification for one professing to be an expert in this area. Of course, she could believe in sexual equality and still see that men and women have cognitive differences. She seems quick to dismiss any empirical evidence that she thinks might challenge one of her cherised beliefs, something she criticizes others for doing throughout the book. There is a ton of good solid research in this area (much of it being done by women, surprised?) that she ignores or dismisses out of hand as being sexist in nature.
The book on the whole is about average. If you have read or are familiar with much of the current thinking in the skeptics or rationalists movement most of her points will be old hat. There doesn't seem to be any central themes or points she wants to make, and it mostly comes off as one reviewer says here as a rant. It also comes off as books often do, as note cards strung together.
For a dollar or two more buy:
Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder By Richard Dawkins. It's a much better book and the writer does not confuse his on desires with rationalism.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Entertaining than Enlightening?, November 9, 2000
Wendy Kaminer delivers a wonderfully sardonic attack on the masses of Americans who eagerly rush to embrace the latest form of irrationalism. She targets new age spirituality, public religious piety, junk science, and cyberculture fanatics. In many ways, the tone of this book suggests Wendy quietly observing people declaring their allegiances to the bizarre and unfounded, her arms folded and patiently waiting for any small scrap of credulity, and then rolling her eyes knowingly at the reader. That's the entertaining aspect of this book.
Unfortunately, this effort strikes me as another example of "preaching to the converted." Kaminer is actually tackling topics so diverse (under the umbrella of irrational thought) that the reader may find herself/himself wishing that she had undertaken several separate books, not one. She defends rational thought, but I think she needs to state more explicity what its advantages are, and why it is crucial to the human condition. Then too, she seems to overlook many of the ironic connections between the rational and the irrational. For instance, a drug addict may embrace an irrational belief in a "higher power" but is not the end result -- changing self-destructive behavior -- a very rational outcome? And then there is the issue of rationalism's shortfalls -- with all our rational and scientific progress, we find such malaises like alienation, loss of meaning, and decline in civility. Perhaps the irony is that irrational realities like myths and spiritual beliefs are somehow a core component of a balanced social world.
Okay, now back to the great things about Kaminer's book: She very effectively points out the absurdity and hypocrisy of many irrational belief systems. For instance, she appropriately condemns the "double standard" that exists when those in the traditional Juedeo-Christian camp poke fun at religions that make "irrational" claims, forgetting the irrational basis of their own beliefs. She bravely defends atheists and their right to reject belief in God, and questions whether an all-powerful God would even care about such things as whether or not he/she/it is believed and worshipped: "My favorite God is the one who looks down on us and says, 'I wish they'd stop worrying about whether or not I exist and start obeying my commandments (p.49).' She questions the folks who zealously advocate prayer in school, believing that religion necessarily nurtures virtue, and forgetting all the human terrors committed in the name of religious belief: "History testifies to a consistent human propensity to be good, but it provides little reason to believe that we are better when we consider ourselves to be allied with God (p.249)."
It is perplexing to see that some readers are so eager to bash Kaminer, because they feel their own religious or other "irrational" beliefs are being attacked. Real faith, I would think, would be strong enough to invite critical reflection and spririted (a pun, I guess) debate. Kaminer, I'm convinced,would welcome that. She is not anti-religion, nor anti-God, as many wrongly presume; she is just very pro- critical thinking. And now that I wind down here, heck, maybe I was a bit unfair at the start... there may be more enlightening stuff here than at first meets the eye... or funnybone. A good, challenging read!
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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bold, audacious work that deserves recognition......, December 8, 1999
By 
In a rare feat of courage and conviction, Kaminer manages a witty, perceptive challenge to not only the easy targets of New Age, conspiracy theories, and political correctness, but also the sacred cow of Christianity. She accurately indicts America's guiding religion as subscribing to many of the same tenets and irrational principles as some of the more ridiculous spiritual trends. Kaminer's unpredictability is also appreciated, for many Christians and self-help addicts are likely to label this book the product of a nihilistic liberal bent on destroying the social fabric. Instead, the author skewers all political persuasions, reserving barbed attacks for feminists, campus leftists (and censors), and the therapeutic Administration in Washington, in addition to the usual array of TV pundits, self-styled gurus, and obnoxious moral policemen. Still, the heart of Kaminer's argument, while humorously put, is rather sad in the end. We are a culture devoted not to the liberation of the mind, but its continual enslavement to superstition, untested and unprovable beliefs, and shallow spirituality. As a result, we transform individualism from a vital, inspiring journey through the history of human thought into a depressing, slumping parade of phobias, wounds, afflictions, and childish needs.
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47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like a cool drink of water in a desert..., October 25, 1999
Wendy Kaminer refreshingly skewers the prententious navel-gazers and self-righteous would-be theocrats who threaten our democracy. Her weapon? Reasoned skepticism. Finally, someone with the guts to stand up for rationality against the ubiquitous tide of nonsensical babblers, fuzzy-thinkers and holy rollers. Even the spineless media is blasted for its uncritical stance in relation to the more outlandish claims and efforts of mainstream religion. As good in its own realm as Carl Sagan's now-classic defense of science "The Demon-Haunted World." My short list of intellectual heroes now includes Wendy Kaminer.
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47 of 52 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rationalism still lives, December 17, 1999
By A Customer
Kaminer takes on the many headed aspects of irrationalism that are so popular recently. She spares neither the right nor the left, i.e. she criticizes the religious right and the growing new age movement. I paticularly like that she stated that while it is fashionable to ridicule the new age as being irrational, it is taboo to do this to any mainstream religion, no matter how far-fetched its tenets may be. I liked that because that is a very rare thing to do, in fact, it may even be unique to Kaminer as far as I know.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun and Witty Skepticism, August 3, 2000
By 
Sherwood SK "Web Developer" (Sherwood, OR United States) - See all my reviews
Wendy Kaminer is a self-appointed skeptic and a guardian of all things rational. Calling herself an agnostic (not brave enough, she says, to be an athiest), she challenges the authority and prominence of religion, sectarianism, and irrationality in modern America.
The book is replete with scathing and apt questions. For instance, why do we laugh at the Heaven's Gate cult for believing in aliens behind Halle Bopp when most people believe in a transcendent reality in the form of the biblical Heaven? She is further critical of the frightful joining of church and state in areas such as vouchers for private (and frequently religious) schools at the expense of the public schools, and the local fights of school boards to push "creationism", to the chagrin of even many religious faiths. She frequently turns to the subject of the feminist movement and its regrettable support of pseudoscience, in such areas as the unquestioning support of harassment charges and recovered memory syndrome. This seems natural, because Kaminer seems to be a minority voice: a female skeptic where the area has generally, and unfortunately, been dominated by males.
Her prose is exceptionally strong, her points witty and clear. In many ways her writing reminds me of the late Carl Sagan, in that her words are able to clearly and persuasively discuss complex or challeging ideas. Even to one who reads a lot, the strength of her voice and her writing skill stood out.
I have only one complaint which kept me from giving this book five stars. The point should not keep one from reading the book for its individual points, but it needs to be mentioned: IT RAMBLES. Kaminer goes from point to point in the scope of a few paragraphs. Imagine listening to a speaker touch on dozens of points for no more than a few moments each and you will get a feel for the way this book often reads. To illustrate, I made a list of the topics covered in a single chapter, entitled "Junk Science": in this chapter she touches on Christian Science, Franz Mesmer and animal magnetism, prayer, science used to vindicate spiritualism, Deepak Chopra, mind/body connection, quantum physics, therapeutic touch, prayer in schools, scientists who believe in god, theoretical physics, scientific method, police departments that employ psychics, death penalty, postmodernism, feminine stereotypes, the war on drugs, crack babies, the differences between men and women, breast implants, legal standards of liability, gun control, and a conclusion that somehow wraps it all up.
With many intriguing points and a dose of rationality for everyone (even the techies out there!), the book is a great read and can be quite fun, if one can get around sometimes random method of delivery.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rationality is a rare commodity, March 28, 2001
This review is from: Sleeping With Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety (Paperback)
Many people would admit to a certain scepticism when it comes to religions or beliefs other than their own. For some, the mere idea that another person's point-of-view is equally valid to their own would be seen as ludicrous, even blasphemous. But Wendy Kaminer posesses no such qualms. She fully realizes that every belief system has inherent illogic qualities. What she can't understand is why others have a hard time when it comes to a rational discussion on the topic.
SLEEPING WITH EXTRA-TERRESTRIALS is Kaminer's ode to the irrational, a witty and incisive commentary on irrational beliefs of all kinds. Not merely content to stick to established religions, Kaminer examines New-Age Mysticism, Reincarnation, Feminine Intuition, Self-Help Books, Repressed Memories, and Cyberspace. What she discovers, at times, can be alarming.
In a series of essays, Kaminer disects the recent North American trend to believe ANYTHING. In researching healers, mystics, and gurus, Kaminer presents the reader with one simple truth: If someone says something sincerely enough, or loud enough, we will believe it, no questions asked. If someone has talked to angels, we believe it. If someone has a repressed memory of child abuse, we believe it. If someone has talked to the spirits of our ancestors, we believe it. All without one single shred of evidence of any kind.
Kaminer does not dump on religion. She fully realizes the value a belief system can provide the average individual. But the apparent willingness of the public to adhere to anyone who proclaims something forceful enough can be an eye-opening experience.
In one precise example, she cites a 'study' presented by Pat Robertson, which showed that the crime rate in America has risen steadily ever since prayer was removed from public schools. That, Mr. Robertson proclaims, is proof positive that a lack of prayer in school leads to criminal activity. The flaw in this logic, as Kaminer astutely points out, is that the crime has also been on the rise ever since man first walked on the moon. Therefore, space travel has directly contributed to the rising crime rate. The ease with which the public accepts one statement without any thought to alternatives is frightening.
Kaminer is simply saying, "Ask questions." Don't be content to blithely follow the teachings of someone without examining that person first. Rationality is in ever decreasing supply these days, as people are more and more prone to 'jump on the bandwagon' of anything presented with apparent authority. In her section on 'Junk Science', Kaminer exposes the irrationality of scientists as well, who jumped aboard the 'Cold Fusion' debate, despite the fact that no hard evidence was ever provided. Simply seeing it on television was enough to convince scores of people that cold fusion (a pipe-dream) had been created. In another very telling moment, Kaminer tells of how she was greeted with boos and hisses on a talk show, when she asserted that a father who yells at a child is not the same thing as a father who assaults a child. Despite no evidence being presented, the audience would rather agree with the 'victim', rather than think it through.
Kaminer may be preaching to the choir. While her presentation is a breath of fresh air for some, there are others who would not see the value in this book, dismissing it as mere nonsense, or hatred. But of course, those who would be quick to dismiss the book without reading it, are precisely the sorts of individuals that Kaminer is writing about. Think about that.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally - the Emperor's nudity exposed, December 21, 1999
By A Customer
Thank you, Wendy Kaminer, thank you! Finally someone has takena needle to America's infantile popular culture. The resultingdeflation is spectacular and hilarious.
Problems with your relationships? It's not your fault - it must have been the sexual abuse dispensed by your parents all those years ago. Concerned about your health? It's not because of your high-fat/low exercise lifestyle. No, no, you're suffering the effects of nocturnal medical experiments by little gray men from outer space. Having trouble relating to your kids? It's certainly not your fault that you and your spouse are putting in sixty or seventy hours weekly at the office - it must be those nefarious day-care workers and their Satanic rituals!
A disturbing trend rears its head throughout the book - that of many Americans to discard both reason and responsibility for the sake of blaming an imagined "other" for their problems. And since belief effectively trumps knowledge in the 1990s, all one needs is to believe - if your faith is strong enough, what your believe simply must be true.
This is a society in which one quarter of adults surveyed do not know that the Earth goes around the sun once a year. The Kansas BOE has removed the requirement to teach about Darwin and evolution from state education standards rather than make some constituents uncomfortable. We have a political system in which presidential candidates fall all over themselves in their rush to explain their personal relationships with Jesus (as opposed to discussing policies and ideas). Ignorance, slackening educational standards and religio-political pandering are not signs of a quantum shift in human potential or a heartening return to traditional values.
Our problems, both personal and societal, demand reasoned and rational discourse and personal responbility. They will not be solved by crystal stroking, recovered memory therapy or by calling on imaginary angels.
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Sleeping With Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety
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