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

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“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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