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Let's Outgrow Fairy Tales

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The supernatural spectrum is immense:

Gods, goddesses, devils, demons, angels, heavens, hells, purgatories, limbos, miracles, prophecies, visions, auras, saviors, saints, virgin births, immaculate conceptions, resurrections, bodily ascensions, faith-healings, salvation, redemption, messages from the dead, voices from Atlantis, omens, clairvoyance, spirit-signals, spirit-possession, exorcisms, divine visitations, incarnations, reincarnations, second comings, judgment days, astrology horoscopes, psychic phenomena, psychic surgery, extra-sensory perception, telekinesis, second sight, voodoo, fairies, leprechauns, werewolves, vampires, zombies, witches, warlocks, ghosts, wraiths, poltergeists, doppelgangers, incubi, succubi, palmistry, tarot cards, ouija boards, levitation, out-of-body travel, magical transport to UFOs, Elvis on a flying saucer, invisible Lemurians in Mount Shasta, Thetans from a dying planet, etc., etc., etc.

All these magical beliefs have a common denominator: They lack tangible evidence. You can't test supernatural claims; you're supposed to accept them by blind faith. Their only backup is that they were "revealed" by a prophet, guru, astrologer, shaman, mullah, mystic, swami, psychic, soothsayer or "channeler."

That's sufficient proof for billions of people. Most of humanity prays to invisible spirits and envisions mystical realms. Most politicians invoke the deities. Supernaturalism pervades our species, consuming billions of person-hours and trillions of dollars. Millions of prayers to unseen beings are uttered every hour, and millions of rituals performed. This extravaganza requires a vast array of priests and facilities. The cost is astronomical. Americans give $80 billion a year to churches and broadcast ministries - more than the national budgets of many countries. Other investment is enormous: Americans spend $300 million a year on psychic hot-lines. Angel books and end-of-the-world books sell by millions.

Amid this global mishmash, I want to offer a lonely minority view: I think it's all fairy tales. Every last shred of it. The whole mystical array, from Jehovah and Beelzebub to Ramthis and the Lemurians, lacks any type of proof - unless you count weeping statues. My hunch is that every invisible spirit is imaginary. Therefore, the planet-spanning worship is expended on nothing.

I think that most intelligent, educated, scientific-minded people suspect that the spirit world doesn't exist. But they stay silent, because it's rude to question people's faith. However, what about honesty? Aren't conscientious thinkers obliged to speak the truth as they see it? Aren't logical people allowed to ask for evidence?

Some researchers recently concluded that the human species is "wired" for faith, that our DNA includes coding for mystery. Maybe - but what about exceptions like me and similar doubters? Why doesn't our wiring cause us to swallow the supernatural?

Moreover, even ardent believers see absurdity in rival religions. Consider these examples:

Millions of Hindus pray over statues of Shiva's phallus. Ask Presbyterians if they think there's an unseen Shiva who wants his anatomy utilized in worship.

Catholics say that the Virgin Mary makes periodic appearances to the faithful. Ask Muslims if it's true.

Mormons say that Jesus was transported to America after his resurrection. Ask Buddhists if they believe it - or if they even accept the resurrection.

Jehovah's Witnesses say that, any day now, Satan will come out of the earth with an army of demons, and Jesus will come out of the sky with an army of angels, and the Battle of Armageddon will kill everyone except Jehovah's Witnesses. Ask Jews if this is correct.

Florida's Santeria worshipers sacrifice dogs, goats, chickens and the like, tossing their bodies into waterways. Ask Baptists if the Santeria gods want animals to be killed.

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James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Mr. Haught has won two dozen national news writing awards. He has written 12 books and hundreds of magazine essays and blog posts. Around 450 of his essays are online. He is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, a weekly blogger at Daylight Atheism, (more...)

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