Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween, Angels, and Demons: Now That's Scary!

Barry Rubin relates another tale of the solicitude or squeamishness of American schools, drawn from his 10-year-old son's experience as a visitor in the Maryland school system. Earlier postings involved the tendency to discourage aggressiveness and praise even mediocre performance on the playing field, a reluctance to discuss September 11 because it was not "pleasant," and the banning of violent themes even in a fantasy writing assignment. This one has to do with the dangers of Halloween:
In the United States, mainly, there is a holiday called Halloween which involves dressing up in costumes. The holiday has a bit of a morbid side to it, often focussing on things related to monsters and death. Today, the school had the kids wear the costumes to class, which is not necessarily the best use of time in academic terms.

However, and I never heard of this happening before--my 10-year-old son Daniel reports from the front--that certain costumes are forbidden, that is those deemed too scary for the younger children to see. For example, a student wearing a skeleton costume was asked to take it off, while others were forbidden from wearing masks thought to be too frightening.

I can think of a lot of political figures whose visage is far more scary than any imaginery goblins and ghouls. But I digress.
Yeah, so can I. But I can think of something even scarier: the superstition and credulity of the American population. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life informs us that a solid majority believes in apparitions and evil supernatural powers:
According to a 2007 Pew Research survey, two-thirds of Americans (68%) completely or mostly agree that angels and demons are active in the world (and not just on Halloween). Just 14% completely disagree with this idea. Among religious groups, Mormons (88%), evangelical Christian (87%) and members of historically black churches (87%) are the most likely to agree that angels and demons are active in the world. Jewish Americans are by far the most likely to disagree that these spirits stalk the planet (73% disagree with 52% completely disagreeing). Buddhists (56% disagree), Hindus (55%) and the religiously unaffiliated (54%) are other faith groups disagreeing that angels and demons exist in our world. Happy Halloween!
By contrast, barely a quarter of Americans believe, in some form or fashion, in evolution. It may be even worse than that. Pew Research, dislocating a shoulder to pat itself on the back, boasts of the subtlety of its question and accuracy of its method. Well, the only reason it got an answer that topped the 25-percent mark was because it framed the question in such a pusillanimous way:
Pew Research's formulation provides a significantly more positive description of the scientific position by characterizing natural selection as "a natural process" rather than something "God had no part in." This implicitly allows people who believe that God or a supreme being set the evolutionary process in motion, or even shaped it in some way, to still opt for "natural selection" as the main engine of evolution.
Well, that's very nice, if you want to know what people think about "natural selection" in a way that neither Darwin nor modern science would understand the term. Natural selection without chance is not natural selection.

By contrast, when Gallup forthrightly framed the poll statement as, "Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process," only 14 percent assented.

Now, if you glance back up at the Pew results on angels and demons, you'll recall that 14 percent of the population absolutely reject such superstition. Coincidence?

Either way, it's pretty bad: Pew and Gallup arrived at nearly identical results by at least one measure, concluding, respectively, that 42 and 44 percent of Americans are believers in creationism.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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