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Sleeping With Extra-Terrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety

Wendy Kaminer

"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

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