Paranormal side of the tolerance coin?

guardian angels LThe Religion Newswriters Association is currently meeting here inside the Beltway, which guarantees that somebody, from somewhere is going to release a boatload of new information about some trends in American religion.

This time around, it’s a team of scholars from Baylor University, my alma mater. Sic ‘em Bears, and all that.

Due to a GetReligion-related business meeting (no breaking news, at this time), I was not able to get down to the press conference rolling out the latest numbers from the Gallup and the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion. I also need to admit that I did not spend last night munching my way through the data. I’ll be down at the RNA meetings tomorrow for a panel on religion blogs and I hope to pick up the study and some recordings of the presentations about it.

But there’s some interesting mainstream coverage out there today. Check it out.

So far, what I am seeing is dividing into two camps — the two sides of what may be the same coin.

On one side, you have the news (I am shocked, shocked!) that very few Americans are very Orthodox when it comes to matters of heaven, hell and eternity. Americans tend to think that good people go to heaven (people we like) and bad people do not. It’s a majority-rule kind of thing.

That’s the angle that you find in crisp Religion News Service report from Adelle Banks (a friend, I must confess) and also over at the next-door-to-Baylor Waco Tribune-Herald. The basic idea is that there are few narrow, intolerant people still out there. The RNS lede:

Heaven is no longer viewed as an exclusive place by many Americans, according to a new survey from Baylor University.

When researchers polled U.S. adults about who (and how many) will get into heaven, 54% of respondents said at least half of average Americans will make it through the Pearly Gates. More than a quarter of those surveyed — 29% — said they had no opinion about the fate of the average American, a figure that mirrored those who thought “half or more” of nonreligious people would make it into heaven.

Rodney Stark, co-director of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion in Waco, Texas, said the findings represent a marked difference from earlier studies.

“I think that it’s really just a … broadening because of the cultural experiences of diversity,” said Stark, author of the new book What Americans Really Believe, which details the study’s findings on topics ranging from belief in guardian angels to the practices of “irreligious” people. “I know that when we did studies like this back in the ’60s, the notion that only Christians could go to heaven, for example, was much more extensive than it is now.”

It will be interesting to see the numbers. The basic idea seems to be that people want to be more tolerant, but they still are looking at the world through a lens that is basically semi-Christian or, dare I say, liberal Christian. Remember that Pew Forum study from last summer on this same theme?

But note that it is possible to turn this coin over and see this same trend another way: Very few Americans have a consistent, coherent approach to religious faith and doctrine. Is this good or bad?

To see the Baylor report from that angle, click here to head over to Julia Duin’s A1 story in the Washington Times. The lede:

Half of all Americans believe they are protected by guardian angels, one-fifth say they’ve heard God speak to them, one-quarter say they have witnessed miraculous healings, 16 percent say they’ve received one and 8 percent say they pray in tongues, according to a survey released Thursday by Baylor University.

ufo0414aNow, get ready for the twist:

The survey, which has a margin of error of four percentage points, also revealed that theological liberals are more apt to believe in the paranormal and the occult — haunted houses, UFOs, communicating with the dead and astrology — than do conservatives. Women (35 percent), blacks (41 percent), those younger than 30 (40 percent), Democrats (40 percent) and singles who are cohabitating (49 percent) were more likely to believe, the survey said.

Now, that’s interesting.

I’m reminded of a comment by a Czech journalist this past summer, who told me that the Czech Republic is one of the most secular nations in Europe (and, thus, the world), yet it is also the most superstitious. Religious faith fled the pages of scripture and moved into the tabloids.

The same angle shows up in the Wall Street Journal coverage, where we read this spicy detail. It seems that the survey answers were:

… (Added) up to create an index of belief in occult and the paranormal. While 31% of people who never worship expressed strong belief in these things, only 8% of people who attend a house of worship more than once a week did.

Even among Christians, there were disparities. While 36% of those belonging to the United Church of Christ, Sen. Barack Obama’s former denomination, expressed strong beliefs in the paranormal, only 14% of those belonging to the Assemblies of God, Sarah Palin’s former denomination, did. In fact, the more traditional and evangelical the respondent, the less likely he was to believe in, for instance, the possibility of communicating with people who are dead.

I would share more about this provocative story, but I really shouldn’t do so. You see, it’s written by someone named (wait for it) M.Z. Hemingway.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Re: “paranormal and occult”

    I guess it all depends on what you consider to be “paranormal”, right? So AoG folks may not believe in speaking to the dead, or foretelling the future, in as great of numbers as the liberal UCC-ers, but if the common “spiritual warfare” ethos found in many AoG churches were put in a non-Christian context it would certainly be seen and labeled as “occult”.

    I wish I could get a look at Baylor’s raw numbers, but it seems you have to buy Rodney Stark’s book for that.

  • Ed Mechmann

    There’s an odd line in the Washington Times article, attributed to Mr. Stark, the co-director of the Baylor Institute for the Study of Religion:

    “There was only one decline in church attendance and that was in the late 1960s,” Mr. Stark said, “when the Vatican said it was not a sin to miss Mass. They said Catholics could act like Protestants, and so they did.”

    Well, I guess the guy who wrote the Catechism didn’t get that memo:

    “Those who deliberately fail in this obligation [i.e., to attend Mass on Sunday and other Holy Days of Obligation] commit a grave sin.” (no. 2181)

    Should a reporter or editor do a fact-check on something like this?

  • http://www.scienceblogs.com/denialism/ Chris Hoofnagle

    Caught your oped in the Journal today, and I think I agree with Jason Pitzl-Waters above–why is one irrational behavior a “superstition” and another religion?

    More importantly, many of us who are promoting critical thought view Bill Maher as a problematic figure. You correctly point out that he has some weird beliefs himself–we go farther, we think he is a “crank”

    http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2008/04/bill_maher_is_a_crank.php

  • http://david-jaime-jason.blogspot.com Jason

    I reluctantly raise a problem with the general tone that more traditionally Christian folks are less likely to believe in the “paranormal” because they are more rational or less irrational or something. I would guess, based on experience, that they are less likely to believe in things like UFOs and Bigfoot because, well, it is not in the Bible.

    I too would like to see the raw data.

    I also have some vague discomfort with framing the Occult as something that Christian do not, have not, or should not believe in. I think that there is plenty in scripture and the history of our faith to indicate that much of what we call the “Occult” is real and should be treated with caution.

  • Martha

    “I guess it all depends on what you consider to be “paranormal”, right?”

    Jason, a lot of the “more traditional” churches have theology that specifically forbids such beliefs: see the Catechism for this.

    “III. “YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME”

    2110 The first commandment forbids honoring gods other than the one Lord who has revealed himself to his people. It proscribes superstition and irreligion. Superstition in some sense represents a perverse excess of religion; irreligion is the vice contrary by defect to the virtue of religion.

    Superstition

    2111 Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when one attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition.

    …Divination and magic

    2115 God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility.

    2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to “unveil” the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.

    2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one’s service and have a supernatural power over others – even if this were for the sake of restoring their health – are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another’s credulity.”

    Therefore, a conservative who hews to the rules of his or her denomination will answer such questions “No” whereas someone who is self-described as “spiritual not religious” will probably say “Who knows? All kinds of things may be possible.”

    Though the Vatican has no official position on the likelihood or otherwise of UFOs :-)

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “a lot of the “more traditional” churches have theology that specifically forbids such beliefs”

    Of course they do. They also believe that magical dead people can talk to god for them, that people can be raised up into the heavens while still alive, that you can wage “spiritual warfare” against other faiths, that wine becomes blood, that you can cast out mystical entities from the bodies of other people, and that people can be raised from the dead.

    Now, I have no problem with Christians of differing stripes believing these things, what I’m saying is that if the context was shifted to a Wiccan coven, most of if would be labeled “paranormal” and “occult”. Which is why I have a problem with people measuring rationality or irrationality by measuring “paranormal” beliefs according to Christian standards of the term.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Come on folks.

    Take the doctrine elsewhere and get back to the language of the news stories and the post itself.

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “get back to the language of the news stories”

    Sure thing! The “spicy” and “provocative” piece by Get Religion’s own M.Z. Hemingway is entitled…

    “Look Who’s Irrational Now”

    She then proceeds to infer that rising levels of atheism and secularism could “encourage new levels of mass superstition” and that “membership in a conservative denomination has a powerful negative effect on paranormal beliefs.”

    But the ideas of “rationality”, “irrationality”, “superstition”, “paranormal” and the “occult” within the article all seem to stem from Christian definitions of the term. The head-to-head between the UCC and the AoG really tells us nothing about how “rational” they are because it doesn’t take into account the supernatural beliefs sanctified and codified into these denominations. She can quote Chesterton all she wants, but the truth is that one man’s faith is another man’s superstition (or as Heinlein would put it, “belly laugh”).

  • http://suburbanbanshee.wordpress.com Maureen

    People who don’t believe in the “supernatural” must therefore define anything out of the normal as “paranormal”. This does not seem like a particularly useful beginning to a discussion of things in both categories. :)

    Nor do I see any particular difference between Wiccan and Christian definitions of the two categories, unless some Wiccans believe that Bigfoot, Nessie, and UFOs are manifestations of the divine as opposed to being natural creatures. Which they may well do, but they don’t seem to do so in any widespread way.

    However, I do submit once again that all religious polls should include the options “that’s true, but not the way you mean” and “the way you express that question simply makes no sense, according to my beliefs”.

  • Jerry

    Terry, the problem with your admonition is that talking about doctrine is just so tempting especially when we read news stories that concern doctrine and this is especially true here where transubstantiation, for example, is considered paranormal superstition by atheists and an article of faith by Catholics. So when you commented on

    theological liberals are more apt to believe in the paranormal

    some might say that that the word paranormal is getting as hard to define as, say, evangelical.

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “unless some Wiccans believe that Bigfoot, Nessie, and UFOs are manifestations of the divine as opposed to being natural creatures”

    It should be noted that “paranormal and occult” as used by the assorted journalists, and the study itself, isn’t merely “Bigfoot, Nessie, and UFOs”. It is also Astrology, speaking with the dead, belief in ghosts, and “psychic phenomena”.

    Meanwhile, the study apparently doesn’t consider witnessing or experiencing a “miraculous physical healing” as “paranormal” in any way. Remember, the term means “phenomena which seem to defy the known laws of science”, which seems to cover a whole lot of religious claims.

  • Martha

    Jason, with the quibble that we nutso religoids observe a distinction between magic and miracle, and also one between magia and goetia, that’s a pretty fair summary of my beliefs (are you sure you don’t want to put in for a job as a religion reporter for a national newspaper?) :-)

    - magical dead people can talk to god for them? Check! (Though see the proviso about ‘magic’ above)

    - people can be raised up into the heavens while still alive? Check!

    - that you can wage “spiritual warfare” against other faiths? Ooh, don’t know that one – must be in some other denominational tradition, but sounds fun!

    - that wine becomes blood? Check! Plus with added bonus bread becomes human flesh! (Try Googling ‘eucharistic miracles’)

    - that you can cast out mystical entities from the bodies of other people? Check!

    - that people can be raised from the dead? Check! Moreover, we believe that it’s going to happen to EVERYONE!!!

    Still no official position on Bigfoot, Nessie, or little green men, though (honestly, we need a new dicastery or something) :-(

  • Martha

    *ahem* To be serious, I believe the interesting conclusion from the survey is that the folk who believe in, as Jason has pointed out, the weirdo magical miracle stuff are *less* likely to believe in crystal vibrations, Greys, telepathy, psychic surgery and the like than those who think that the Scriptures are speaking metaphorically, that Jesus was an itinerant wisdom teacher or a revolutionary (or a community organiser) and had no notion He was the Messiah or that the ‘Easter Event’ was a feeling of liberation within the consciousness of the apostles, not a “conjuring trick with bones” or that the Feeding of the Five Thousand was actually the Miracle of the Carin’ ‘n Sharin’ (not, thank God, an exegesis of the Gospel I’ve ever heard myself, but rumoured to be increasingly popular).

    That is rather odd and rather interesting, don’t you think? That those who avowedly believe in the literal supernatural don’t afford equal weight to all paranormal events, while those who lean towards a humanistic, informed-by-literary-criticism reading of the same events are more credulous of the mysterious?

  • Dan

    There is confusion, or at least a failure to make an important distinction, in the post and this string of commentary — Christianity does not teach that the paranormal does not exist but only that one should not get involved with it (which suggests that it does exist). It is my recollection that in “The City of God” St. Augustine waffles as to whether Roman gods were entirely fictitious or instead demons. St. Thomas Aquinas affirmed the existence of demons. Although I am fully cognizant that it will bring down upon me a hail of derision, I am convinced that the space alien phenomenon is demonic in origin.

  • Brian Walden

    In defense of Mollie, her article was disputing the New Atheists who think that all unscientific thought is irrational. I don’t think her point was that Christian beliefs which can’t be proven empirically are better than non-Christian ones which can’t be proven empirically. Instead, my impression was that she was operating under the New Atheist assumption that all unscientific ideas are irrational superstitions. Her point was that if you get people to stop believing “irrational” Christian ideas, they’ll only fill the void with “irrational” non-Christian ones – the New Athiest ideal of hyper-rationality is a myth. At least that’s how I saw it.

    I don’t think the terms rational and irrational were being used from a Christian perspective in that article. Instead they were being used from a New Atheist perspective where everything that isn’t scientifically proven is irrational. Paradoxically, if true this statement is irrational.

    The terms superstition, paranormal, and occult were used from a Christian perspective. When dealing with subjects that span multiple religions like the survey, maybe we need to redefine these terms or use new ones.

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “The terms superstition, paranormal, and occult were used from a Christian perspective. When dealing with subjects that span multiple religions like the survey, maybe we need to redefine these terms or use new ones.”

    I fully and completely agree with you on this point.

  • Don

    How about considering a different angle on this?

    54% of respondents said at least half of average Americans will make it through the Pearly Gates.

    Why do so many journalists use such frivolous language for such serious things? Try this on for size… “After Hurrican Ike has passed it is uncertain how many of those Galveston residents who remained behind will still be sucking air.”

    In the case of a hurricane, a war, or a tsunami, we realize that this is a matter of life and death, so we avoid using language that trivializes the consequences of this event. But when we’re talking about the eternal disposition of half our population we dumb references to “the Pearly Gates.”

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    “we nutso religoids”

    I’m a proud “nutso religoid” myself, just not your particular flavor of nutso religoid. Hence my criticisms of how journalists and Baylor are defining terms like “paranormal” and “occult”.

  • Martha

    So what are your specific beliefs, Jason, and how do you deal with the supernatural? This is not a ‘gotcha’ type question; I’m just interested.

    If I take it that you don’t believe in a range of doctrines from transubstantiation to the resurrection of the dead or the historicity of the Gospel miracles, what is your particular understanding of deity or faith claims?

    It’s interesting that in the articles, Mollie notes an attempt to tie together increased tolerance (more likely to agree that non-Christians will get to heaven) with a broader acceptance of all kinds of paranormal claims.

    Is this just yet another twist on the ‘fundamentalists are bigots’ notion?

    However, I’m probably making too much of a big deal of that point. What does interest me is that it is not the educated, the liberal, or the self-described who are questioning or rational about faith, but the believers who adhere to the (more outrageous?) claims who are the less credulous and the more sceptical of ‘signs and wonders’, which is not how the popular arguement for the ‘new atheism’ would have it.

    Though I’m also quite sure this is not all part of an atheist agenda to prove religious people are all fruitcakes :-)

  • Martha

    Argh. What the above should have made clear is that I’m not asking for a “95 Theses” type list of what you do and don’t believe, Jason; you can probably gather from my check-list that I’m a Catholic (traditional/practicing/orthodox? of the ‘old-fashioned’ variety, anyway).

    Just a general kind of statement as to your place on the map, if you feel like making one. You can tell me jump in the lake if you prefer ;-)

  • Brian Walden

    So here’s a question: How do you use a word like paranormal in an objective way. If we had a truly objective view of the universe, wouldn’t nothing be paranormal? There would only be normal stuff and stuff that doesn’t exist.

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Martha,

    “Just a general kind of statement as to your place on the map…”

    Since I don’t want to detour this comment thread overmuch, I will simply instruct you to click the link on my name, which will lead you to my blog, and most likely serve as good a general statement as to where I am on the map as any.

  • Jerry

    Martha, I would quibble with you on one point: telepathy, for example, can be tested by science. Heaven and hell are not testable by science so they are a matter of faith.

    So someone could say, for example, that they consider telepathy a very uncommon ability that has not yet been verified by science because not enough people have not been tested in the right way. And that is a reasonable statement that does not deny the existing scientific studies but offers an alternative explanation for the findings.

    Or one can say that one believes in reincarnation because of the works of Dr. Ian Stevenson including his two volumes looking at reincarnation and biology Reincarnation and Biology: A Contribution to the Etiology of Birthmarks and Birth Defects. But from a scientific standpoint, someone who has that belief should be prepared to change his or her mind if the methodology of Stevenson’s research was found to be inadequate.

    That’s why I dislike ‘paranormal’ as a word. There are some things that are proven and well accepted by science. There are some that are researchable by science but are not proven and can be controversial. And there are some things that are in the realm of faith. And there are some things such as much of medicine where today’s headlines reverse what we thought we knew yesterday :-)

  • Dave

    Jason Pitzl-Waters is correct. Mollie, tmatt and Martha are wrong. “Religion vs superstition” in this context are simple bash-words used to elevate correct beliefs vs incorrect beliefs within a particular context. By any truly rational definition of the term “paranormal,” belief in the virgin birth is belief in the paranormal.

    BTW, belief in Bigfoot, Nessie or UFOs is not belief in the paranormal in terms of contradicting known science. We have fossils of creatures like Bigfoot and Nessie, and scientists have discovered more extrasolar planets than there are planets in the solar system (even if you count Pluto). What is eccentric about such beliefs is accepting that such creatures or emissaries are contemporary with us.

  • http://religion.beloblog.com/ Jeffrey Weiss

    Here’s my standard warning to people trying to categorize religious beliefs on the basis of “reasonableness”: Any religion is, by definition, crazy to a nonbeliever. (Patent pending…1:-{)>)

    And I’d expand my “law’ to include what we’re calling superstition or paranormal. Any belief that depends on faith, as a matter of fact. So I agree that what we have here is a rhetorical false dichotomy between “religion” and “paranormal.”

    What the Baylor study actually seems to say is that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe in something that is essentially faith-supported. But that those whose faith leans toward historically traditional Christian doctrines (Virgin birth, eternal damnation, divine grace) are less likely to believe in faith-items outside those doctrines (spiritualism, UFOs, astrology, chiropractic). And vice versa.

    Which is still pretty interesting. And begs for someone to answer the question: Why?

    (And Jerry, you open a whole ‘nuther can of worms. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. Absent such proof, what we have is faith.)

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  • Martha

    Dave, I’m glad you believe in Nessie (or at least the possibility that she exists).

    I’m always delighted to see someone who accepts the miraculous act of my countryman, St. Columcille :-)

    “At another time, when the saint stayed for several days among the Picts, he came to the shores of the River Ness. Reaching the shore, he saw some locals in the midst of burying some unfortunate man. They told him that they had seen a water beast snatch the man and maul him as he was swimming. Some of the men had set out in a small boat to try to rescue the man, but they were too late. They used hooks to retrieve his corpse from the waters. Columba, after being told this story, amazed the crowd by telling his companion Luigne to swim across the water and bring back a boat that was on the far shore. Luigne obeyed the saint without hesitation, removed his clothes except for a tunic, and dove into the water. The beast was at the bottom of the water, its appetite merely whetted by its first victim. Sensing the water stirring above by Luigne’s swimming, it suddenly rushed towards the swimmer with a great roar, its wide mouth open to its prey. The crowd on the shore, both Columba’s men and the locals,watched in terror. The blessed Columba raised his hand and made the sign of the cross, and calling on the name of God, spoke to the monster: ‘Halt! Do not harm the man! Retreat at once!’ The sound of the saint’s voice caused terror in the beast, and it fled so swiftly that it appeared dragged under with ropes. It had been but the length of a pole away from Luigne. Columba’scompanions were amazed when Luigne returned to them in the boat, unharmed and safe.”

  • Martha

    Also, Dave, the point that comes out is that it is *not* those who accept the traditional supernatural/paranormal accounts who accept as well the modern ones, but those who would (presumably) be willing to accept the ‘scientific’ explanations of Biblical ‘miracles’ (e.g. the infamous “Jesus didn’t walk on the water, He actually stood on a localised ice floe” rationalisation that was floated recently) who are channelling Atlantean Ascended Masters through the octave vibrations of their Indigo Child crystal skull.

    What would be *expected* would be that those who believe in, as Jason put it, “magical dead people, spiritual warfare, mystical entities” would *also* believe in Bigfoot, Nessie, the Greys, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all, while those who went for the Higher Criticism (the parting of the Red Sea was due to a tsunami, etc.) would be fully-paid up followers of James Randi.

    That is not, however, how it shakes out – if this poll is accurate. *That’s* fascinating.

    And besides, have I not heard the view that there is no such thing as the paranormal? If an event or experience is declared such, it is simply the acting of a natural law we do not yet understand or have not discovered; once such a law is discovered, it is part of the natural world, and all consequences and fruits are therefore not paranormal.

  • Martha

    Thanks, Jason. That makes a lot of things clear and does indeed let me know where you’re coming from (broadly speaking).

  • Dave

    Martha wrote:

    Dave, I’m glad you believe in Nessie (or at least the possibility that she exists).

    I believe in the fair certainty that creatures like Nessie existed about 100 million years ago. I’m very skeptical that any have persisted to the present, a completely different ecology.

    [T]he point that comes out is that it is *not* those who accept the traditional supernatural/paranormal accounts who accept as well the modern ones, but those who would (presumably) be willing to accept the ‘scientific’ explanations of Biblical ‘miracles’

    The key word in that thought is “presumably,” albeit in parens. You are not talking about those folks; you are talking about the impressions that you yourself project onto those folks. In a sense, you are talking to yourself.

    [H]ave I not heard the view that there is no such thing as the paranormal? If an event or experience is declared such, it is simply the acting of a natural law we do not yet understand or have not discovered; once such a law is discovered, it is part of the natural world, and all consequences and fruits are therefore not paranormal.

    This is indeed the rationalist view of verifiable reports of events that seem to violate the laws of nature. We know from even the recent history of science that our grasp of those laws can be quite incomplete. We have been fortunate from the early 20th Century on that scientific advances have by and large left older theories intact as special cases of the more general, advanced theory. Eg, all interplanetary flight is planned according to Newton’s rules without much concern for Einstein’s elaborations because the speeds are so slow compared to light. But there is nothing to guarantee that we don’t have stunning upheavals ahead of us such as characterized the 18th and 19th Centuries.

  • Martha

    Good point there Dave, which is why some further information would be valuable. ‘Theological liberal’ is a vague label, capable of much interpretation, all the way from supporting women’s ordination up to John Shelby Spong, for instance.

    We don’t know how liberal those respondents were; did they accept most if not all of the traditional theology, or did they go for the ‘social work’ paradigm of what religion is all about?

    Or most likely, did they cover the spectrum?

  • Dave

    Martha, although I was brought up in a theologically liberal tradition (UU) I can’t really come up with a good definition of “theological liberal” that will do justice to all the flavors. I do think, however, that most of them share the following points:

    1) Scriptures may have been inspired by God but ultimately are human documents, and thus cannot be seen as literally inerrant.

    2) Antiquity is no gurantee of authenticity.

    3) Moral ideas can come from non-religious sources; thus religious ideas about morality have no special cachet.