"It's easy to imagine a TV sitcom making fun of a character who visits psychics and astrologers and channels Sarah Bernhardt," opines Wendy Kaminer, "but virtually impossible to imagine it laughing at anyone who takes the Bible literally and believes that someone named Jonah once lived in a whale." She goes on to demonstrate that, despite the complaints from many religious people that the "secular media" mocks their beliefs, American culture still shows a high degree of respect for the faithful and pious, while popular hostility towards atheists continues to rise. But "why should it be socially acceptable to make fun of psychics and not priests?" That's one of many provocative questions Kaminer raises in Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials
, a critical assessment of the extent to which U.S. society has succumbed to the irrational.
Kaminer goes on to sift her way through pop spirituality "classics" like The Celestine Prophecy and Conversations with God and visits seminars by New Age gurus (leaving her "amused and dismayed by the painful stupidities that people embrace to ease their fears of death"), but Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials is not merely an assault on religion--Kaminer also attacks purveyors of junk science, the influence of the recovered-memory movement on both feminism and the American court system, and the "cyberspacy" claims made by boosters of technological progress. Whether she's considering the extensive belief in UFOs and alien abductions or wondering why so many people worshipped Princess Diana in the hour of her death, Kaminer shows how an unrestrained culture of faith "encourages passivity, gullibility, and a childlike craving for authority." Rationalists will find her skepticism a refreshing tonic. --Ron Hogan
From Publishers Weekly
In this provocative collection of eight essays, social critic Kaminer grapples with the many manifestations of "irrationalism"Abelieving in something without material proofAin contemporary culture. The targets for her witty, unsparing critiques range from the New Age spiritualism of Deepak Chopra and The Celestine Prophecy, contemporary angel lore and accounts of alien abduction to the recovered memory movement, from school vouchers to the "junk science" basis for the "war on drugs." Kaminer makes clear that she is not criticizing the personal beliefs of individuals (and admits that she herself believes in the benefits of homeopathy, contrary to most scientific opinion), but rather is concerned with "the possible public consequence" of such beliefs, especially when held by a dominant or influential group in the body politic. With unrelenting logic and easy grace, Kaminer poses questions that may upset many readers. For instance, she asks why Americans were dumbfounded by the suicides of the Heaven's Gate "cult" members who presumed they would go to heaven in a flying saucer, when only a few weeks later millions of people celebrated the "irrational" belief in "Christ's ascent into heaven." Kaminer is most entertaining when debunking commonly held pieties, such as when she contends that we often ignore that organized religins "sanctify bad behavior, along with the good." Behind her cool prose and entertainingly casual manner loom important and necessary questions about what it means to live in a democracy based on justice and reason. Agent, Esther Newberg, ICM. (Oct.)
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