Jewish World Review Nov. 17, 1999 /8 Kislev, 5760
ARE AMERICANS becoming more superstitious? Writing in American Outlook,
Michael Fumento makes a good case that we are -- and also less rational,
more fearful and less well-informed than we once were.
In 1976, 17 percent of Americans believed in astrology. Today, 37 percent
say they do. More than 50 percent of Americans now believe that some people
have the power to talk to the dead. In 1976, only about 12 percent believed
that. And belief in fortune-telling has almost tripled, going from 4 percent
in 1976 to 14 percent today.
Fumento wonders if we're seeing Generation X or "Generation X-Files." One
datum he finds indicative of a loss of reason among the American people is
belief in faith healing, which has jumped significantly since 1976, from 10
percent to 45 percent.
But there are other explanations for that statistic. Clearly belief in
faith healing, if it takes the form of denying your sick child antibiotics
on the grounds that G-d will heal him, can be a very hazardous belief. But
the poll result Fumento cites may reflect merely the attention paid during
the last several decades to the undeniable health effects of religious faith
Regular church-goers tend to recover faster from surgery, have fewer
life-threatening infections and generally enjoy better health than their
atheist neighbors. Of course, it is impossible to know whether fellowship
and connection to a supportive community accounts for this, or if it's the
hand of You Know Who.
In any case, reports of the health effects of faith could certainly account
for a greater willingness to say that faith healing (which can be quite a
dangerous belief in the wrong hands) can work.
Fumento notes that belief in science and rationalism is declining just at
the moment when the blessings of science have never been more apparent. We
are living longer and healthier lives than any people in the history of
humanity. There is no one I know, not even the most romantic conservative
whose idea of perfection would be tea with Jane Austen, who would trade
living now for living in any earlier time.
Our ancestors certainly had
better manners than we have, but to live in any previous century would be to
forego modern dentistry, pain-killers, antibiotics and refrigeration. Lack
of refrigeration meant spoiled food was constantly causing vomiting,
diarrhea and other ghastly symptoms. Children were carried off by a
multitude of diseases. And women died in childbirth with appalling
regularity, leaving children behind.
So if the benefits of science are so apparent, why do we fret so about
environmental hazards like pesticides and chemical additives? Why do we have
periodic frights about Alar, saccharine and silicone?
Because, Fumento believes, there are professional scare-mongers out there
with incredible influence over the mass media.
Self-described environmentalists are constantly ginning up new worries
about chemicals and other "toxins" in our world. Journalists tend to believe
their claims because they assume that businesses (often the antagonists of
environmentalists) are motivated by greed. But Fumento notes,
environmentalists are motivated by greed, too. Scares help contributions and
Citing the S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman book "Environmental
Cancer: A Political Disease?" Fumento reports that two-thirds of
environmental activists answered "yes" to the question, "Is there a cancer
epidemic?" Fewer than one-third of experts on cancer agreed. Among
journalists, 85 percent answered yes. Twice as many journalists as experts
believe that cancer-causing agents are "unsafe at any dose."
The bias toward environmentalists and against science is so strong that the
American people have been repeatedly exposed to large doses of unnecessary
panic. From alar and dioxin to PVCs and silicone, the media create one scare
after another -- and not just about chemicals. After every plane crash, the
press whips up hysteria about flying, despite the reality that flying is
safer than driving or even walking.
So the next time you hear that serving your kids broccoli or giving your
baby a rattle treated with PVCs is going to poison him, ask the old Roman
question: Qui Bono? Who benefits from the
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©1999, Creators Syndicate