Your fate is not written in the stars

“The proposed mechanism is all out of proportion with the described effects,” vorjack says of astrology. And I agree.

The impetus for that post was the introduction of Patheos’ new Astrology channel.

I’m not a fan of astrology. I do not believe in it — do not believe it is true or helpful. As such I regard it with suspicion as a vehicle for hucksters.

But then I’m a Christian — an American evangelical Christian. So I’m not in any position to dismiss a belief system just because it may have been exploited by disingenuous hucksters over the years.

Plus I admire Patheos’ commitment to genuine, robust religious and spiritual pluralism. And that means celebrating such pluralism in the particular as well as in the abstract. More voices and more perspectives is a Good Thing, even when that means, by definition, more voices and more perspectives with which I disagree.

So while I remain critical of astrology as a belief system, I think the new Astrology channel is a good sign.

Here’s my astrology bit. I don’t do this anymore, and I don’t recommend that you do either, but here’s how it worked.

When someone asks what your sign is, tell them you’re an Aries (unless you really are an Aries, in which case, tell them something else).

If they respond with a detailed description of why that’s appropriate and why, yes, you do seem to embody the classic characteristics of an Aries, admit that you were lying. Tell them you’re not really an Aries, but actually a Gemini (unless you really are a Gemini).

If they tell you that lying about your sign was a very Gemini thing to have done, and then explain how this just confirms that you really are such a total Gemini, interrupt to say that you were once again lying.

In theory, you could keep this up, repeating the process 11 times. My personal record was four rounds.

I probably could have kept it up for five or even six rounds, but that’s when I figured out that this bit was funnier as a concept than it was in real life, where it just seemed kind of mean. And mean isn’t funny.

So don’t be mean. But don’t give anybody money to read the stars for you either.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    You do know Carl Sagan was comparing the astrology segments, right?

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    I don’t believe in astrology or foretelling or psychics or reincarnation, but I’m not sure why it’s more acceptable to behave like what Fred has called “internet atheist” when the subject is these than when it is other belief systems.

    Werd.  The above system seems at least somewhat akin to telling a Christian, “Yeah, I prayed for my grandmother’s cancer to be healed, and for my friend to find a job after he was laid off, and those things happened, thanks to my prayers!”

    “Wow!  Isn’t it wonderful how the Lord works in people’s lives?”

    “Hahahaha…PSYCH!  Those things never happened!  Your God clearly doesn’t care!”

  • http://twitter.com/Jenk3 Jen K

    I believe there was a new Twilight Zone episode about a hypnotherapist who tried to find out about her past lives, and ended up in a world where people wanted to forget their past lives. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0734720/

  • EllieMurasaki

    I think we’re apples-and-orangesing. Like, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Friday horoscope for my birth month says “A quick glance at accounts shows you’re in great shape. Celebrate by treating yourself to something that isn’t tax deductible.” Which is bullshit and provably so, unless by ‘in great shape’ they mean there’s a few dollars in my checking that aren’t already earmarked for something. Gramma’s cancer remission, well, have fun proving whether that was deity-caused or not.
    (Had to go to Friday because today’s is plausible, Sunday’s is advice I ought to take, and Saturday’s kind of actually happened…)

  • P J Evans

    So, bupkus.

    One novel I read points out that due to precession, all the astrological signs are now a month off from what they should be.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Two, I thought. That’s what ‘Age of Aquarius’ means, that the vernal equinox coincides with the sun in Aquarius, and Aquarius is two signs off from Aries. Though I recall there being disagreement over whether we’re quite there yet.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Yes, and I’m a little bewildered that you might think otherwise.

  • vsm

    Your hypothetical prankster seems to have a weird idea of Christianity if they think a few cases of unfulfilled prayers would falsify or shake someone’s belief in the concept of God’s benevolence. Christians generally accept the idea that bad things happen and that prayers aren’t necessarily granted.

    However, certain forms of astrology do claim to be capable of making reliable predictions/assessments, which is why it’s possible and perfectly legitimate to devise and conduct experiments that would falsify them. The same applies to falsifiable claims made by Christians, e.g. the historicity of Genesis.

  • Beroli

    Speaking
    of predictions – whoever it was who mentioned a story they wrote some
    years back that was set in the then-future/current now and all the
    predictions were accurate except the $4.50/gallon gas?

    The state of California is not very happy with you.

    Never mind the state of California, the next time I fill up my gas tank, I’m going to be seething in your general direction.

    Oh well, at least I have a hybrid.

     

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Does Fred think that his prank changed any believers’ mind on astrology?  Especially if/when they found out he was just fucking with them?

    Hell, I think all supernatural beliefs are incorrect.  But it’s always struck me as a bit short-sighted to say, in effect, that the idea of the position of stars determining our personalities and fates is oh-so-silly, while the idea of a guy walking on water and multiplying fish with his thoughts is not silly at all and, in fact, imparts important life lessons.

  • PatBannon

    That makes sense. Liked for “Linear time does not [i]work[/i] this way!” I lol’d.

  • PatBannon

    …Like this, then?

  • vsm

    He said he’d stopped doing it because it was mean, so presumably he realized it isn’t a very effective technique, at least when talking with a true believer. However, the experiment does reveal how astrology works, so sharing the anecdote is worthwhile. The same applies to spreading replies to common Creationist talking points. They won’t convince Ken Ham, but one hopes they might influence someone less mired in that particular belief system.

  • EllieMurasaki

    He said he’d stopped doing it because it was mean, so presumably he realized it isn’t a very effective technique, at least when talking with a true believer.

    ‘Mean’ is not synonymous with ‘ineffective’.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    So my mate was told off to copy out the astrology columns for 1922 (or whenever) and recycle those.

    Incidentally, for the benefit of my fellow Americans, I recently read an exchange on a mailing list I’m in about the phrase “told off”, which none of the Americans got (myself included).  It means something like “assigned” or “designated for duty”.  Not at all what I’m used to associating with the phrase “tell off”.

  • P J Evans

     Couldn’t remember if it was one or two. Went with the safer number.

  • Lunch Meat

    One difference may be that–at least in the post above–Fred isn’t going up to random people, asking them if they believe in astrology, and then doing the prank. It’s a response to people who ask him what his sign is–those to whom other people’s astrological sign is important enough that they ask everyone about it and try to interpret other’s lives according to their own belief system. If a Christian came up to you, asked about your religious beliefs, and then started analyzing your life, personality, and things that happen to you based on what they think about your beliefs, I think it would be perfectly appropriate to prank them like this.

  • P J Evans

     Having grown up reading British mystery novels, I’m more or less bilingual.

    (‘Tell off’ in this sense is something like ‘you, you and you [pointing and them] just volunteered for ‘.)

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    That’s the trouble with being an atheist–it’s hard to prank people, because when you get to the punchline, they can always say, “I always knew you atheists were a bunch of lying jerks!”

    Telling the truth tends to be more effective, anyway.

    In any event, my original point still stands–would Fred be as amenable to a follower of astrology saying:

    “Clearly, no two Christians have ever prayed for a cure for cancer, since Matthew 18:19 says that ‘if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that the ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.’

    So, don’t be mean.  But don’t give any churches any money.”

  • Keulan

    Sometimes I like to check the horoscopes section of my local newspaper. When I do, I like to read the horoscopes for every astrological sign and see how many are general enough to apply to me. I have yet to read a horoscope that was specific enough to apply only to people born at one particular time of the year.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I don’t know of any Tarot that reflects lesbian/bisexual experience directly, but there are a lot of Tarots where the people aren’t even human. Like the cat tarots, of which there are more than one. There are also many Tarots in which the people have multiple skin colors. Like this one, “Tarot of the Cat People”: http://ravenmoonlight.com/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=2219

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    It’s like trying to identify people only by eye color.

    And so-called “proper” astrology is like trying to pretend you can tell everything about a person by a combination of hair color and eye color.

    Except not really, because there are medical things that are a little bit linked to eye color. And you can know that if a person has blue eyes, they’re a little more likely to have light pink skin, and that has a host of social implications.

    Astrology is total nonsense. It’s been disproven again and again and again. Unlike the religious “the world is here, so someone must have created it,” it doesn’t even make sense. A bunch of balls of flame and gas and rock and whatnot billions of miles away direct our lives? So much so that I’m supposed to have more in common with some random person born in the same place as me on the same day than with the people I grew up with who were born somewhere and sometime else? Or with the people I’ve found in my life who have so much in common with me, like my dude, of a different time and place of birth, but the only person I’ve ever known who has almost precisely the exact same moral sense as I do? Or my parents?!

    Nonsense.

  • GDwarf

     

    “Wow!  Isn’t it wonderful how the Lord works in people’s lives?”

    “Hahahaha…PSYCH!  Those things never happened!  Your God clearly doesn’t care!”

    That’d be fair if someone was using the claim of divine healing to swindle people out of their money.

    The thing about TV psychics and their ilk is that they’re blatant scam artists who prey on the vulnerable. Most religions are, at least, not that blatant, if nothing else.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

     Well, does anyone really think that this sort of thing would work well on astrology devotees or anyone, really? Has anyone ever actually been successfully forced into abandoning a sincerely-held religious/political belief or lifestyle choice, simply because someone made fun of them once? It might happen, but it’s pretty rare and I get the impression that jokes like that are more for the gratification of the joker. Which is fine as far as it goes, but I don’t think it’s especially heroic or persuasive.

    (There’s the off-chance that there might be the person “on the fence” who is listening in and might be persuaded by that, but — again — I don’t think that that’s the main point or else we would just address that person directly).

  • EllieMurasaki

    I don’t recall saying that there was any chance that that tactic would be effective. What I recall saying is that realizing it’s mean is not the same thing as realizing it doesn’t work.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Astrology is disprovable. Easily. By laypeople. And it has been disproved many, many times.

    “Silliness” or otherwise says nothing about how correct an idea is. We can’t disprove that Jesus walked on water and multiplied fishes, any more than we can disprove that Krishna multiplied himself enough to sexually satisfy many servant girls at once. And, unlike astrology, the stories of Jesus and Krishna tell us some true and profound things that resonate throughout time and space. They’re also really good stories, and really good stories always have value. Lumping them together with astrology is… silly.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    In any event, my original point still stands–would Fred be as amenable to a follower of astrology saying:”Clearly, no two Christians have ever prayed for a cure for cancer, since Matthew 18:19 says that ‘if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that the ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.’So, don’t be mean. But don’t give any churches any money.”

    Fred isn’t a Biblical literalist. 

    I am tired of people pretending other people believe things they do not believe. I am particularly tired of seeing this in atheists who like to say they are all about truth. How anyone can think they can clobber Fred at this point with any Biblical verses that are anything other than “love thy neighbor” and “give to the poor” is beyond me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

     Ah, gotcha. I guess I just made that leap in my head. In my experience, being sneering or dismissive of someone’s sincerely-held beliefs (even if they are stupid or petty from your perspective) pretty much guarantees that they won’t listen to you or respect what you have to say. “Mean” is almost synonymous with “ineffective” because I can’t think of an experience in my life when someone has convinced me to change my mind about something important to me by being rude to me.

    (Fred also does similar articles about “right relationships” for evangelism, all of which seem to preclude teasing or nastiness as being a precursor to persuading someone about anything.)

    They’re also really good stories, and really good stories always have value. Lumping them together with astrology is… silly.

    Aren’t there a bunch of posts from earlier in the thread by people who found value in astrology, even though that they don’t claim that they literally have the power to predict the future with it? I feel like you could make the same defense of astrology as with religion, where even people who don’t believe that Christ literally multiplied loaves and fish could find some positive message in it.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    You clearly seemed to think I was talking about entire newspapers or was that jibber-jabber about science columnists supposed to just be airy fluff?

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    How do you know that astrology doesn’t have “true and profound” things to say to believers?  Because horoscopes appear in newspapers next to crossword puzzles? 

    See, this is what I don’t get.  This whole, “MY beliefs are deep and meaningful and resonate across the space-time continuum…YOUR beliefs are goofy and silly and come from a cereal box.”  The attitude that defines holier-than-thou.  Weirds me right the fuck out when people start in on how much deeper and better and truer their religion is than all those other dumb belief systems.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    They’re also really good stories, and really good stories always have value. Lumping them together with astrology is… silly.

    That being said, there’s a difference between treating them as stories (albeit with a moral message, no less effective than secular variants like The Lord of the Flies), and treating them as though they were actual historical tales.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Fred doesn’t believe anything in the Bible other than “love thy neighbor” and “give to the poor”?  Um, okay.  I guess.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    OK, I’m done now. I said what I meant; I have no desire to further explain it, especially if you don’t consider me worth even being polite to.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    Obligatory Life of Brian quote:

    MANDY: So, you’re astrologers, are you? Well, what is he then?
    WISE MAN #2: Hmm?

    MANDY: What star sign is he?

    WISE MAN #2: Uh, Capricorn.

    MANDY: Uhh, Capricorn, eh? What are they like?

    WISE MAN #2: Ooh, but… he is the son of God, our Messiah.

    WISE MAN #1: King of the Jews.

    MANDY: And that’s Capricorn, is it?

    WISE MAN #2: Uh, no, no, no. That’s just him.

    MANDY: Ohh, I was going to say, ‘Otherwise, there’d be a lot
    of them.’

  • GDwarf

     

    See, this is what I don’t get.  This whole, “MY beliefs are deep and
    meaningful and resonate across the space-time continuum…YOUR
    beliefs are goofy and silly and come from a cereal box.”

    It’s especially interesting with astrology, since it’s one of the oldest human beliefs and clearly involves something* that speaks to lots of people. Even in modern big cities, where stars are generally something you don’t see. What’s more, depending on the type of astrology you have plenty of ritual and tradition involved, with what are essentially rites and everything.

    You’d think that if anything qualified for belief-protection it’d be astrology. But I think the fact that it has become so much a…party game, really, has removed most of its mystical clout. It’s like seances, in a way. I suspect that if every newspaper didn’t have a random phrase generator spit out prophecies every day it’d be taken far more seriously.

    Which is also kinda weird, since many religions aspire to just that: Becoming everyday things, and it generally doesn’t seem to hurt them much. I wonder why the thing that may ultimately doom astrology does the opposite for so many beliefs.

    *I can totally understand looking up at the stars in awe when fire was the height of lighting technology. I can also totally see believing that they had weird and mystical properties, I mean, they cover the entire sky, it’s absolutely covered in them, and you can see each quite clearly…yet they cast almost no light. What’s more, they move overhead as the night goes on, and different ones appear and disappear in time with the seasons.

    That, more than anything else, probably drove early astrology: What stars you see depends on the tilt of the Earth, which means that the same stars will be in the same place every spring, summer, fall, and winter. Clearly nothing on Earth could move these heavenly things, so they must cause the seasons. If they can change the very weather, then it’s hardly absurd to think they can shape empires and lives.

  • Donalbain

    I think people are confusing some categories here. Astrology is not like Christianity, Astrology is like creationism. It makes some claims about the universe that can be tested. Those claims can be tested. Those claims have been tested. Those claims are false. The questions of Christianity (as defined by the major creeds) cannot be tested and so cannot be shown to be false.

  • Joshua

    At the risk of stating the really bloody obvious to someone who has been around here for a while, Fred does indeed call out people from his own religious tradition that pull equivalent stunts on him. If he feels they are hucksters after your money, he says so, sometimes seriously, sometimes by making fun of them, always bluntly.

    Some people interested in astrology are not trying to cheat people out of their money, and some do not make disproven claims about it. Some of those have posted here. His comment about money is obviously not aimed at such people, that would make it as nonsensical as thinking his comments about the liar Tony Perkins as aimed at all Christians.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Riastlin-Lovecraft/100000678992705 Riastlin Lovecraft

    Trying to be funny mode activated: Would your SO happen to be named Lebowski?
    Trying to be funny mode deactivated.

    In all seriousness, that does seem like an unorthodox phrase. Is there any particular reason you call him your dude, rather than something else? I’m kinda curious.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     

     
    Speaking of predictions – whoever it was who mentioned a story they wrote some years back that was set in the then-future/current now and all the predictions were accurate except the $4.50/gallon gas?

    The state of California is not very happy with you.
     

    Never mind the state of California, the next time I fill up my gas tank, I’m going to be seething in your general direction.

    Hey, it could be worse, they could’ve been as accurate as the Onion.  Amazing how many hits they got in one piece of alleged satire.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     Besides the precession, there’s also Ophiuchus.

  • christopher_young

    Hmmph.

    I shall continue to rely on the Sortes Virgilianae for my predictive requirements.

  • vsm

    Indeed. I think there was a perfectly logical sequence that derived ineffective from mean, but it failed to appear on the screen.

  • Beroli

     I would guess that Fred would be more than fine with, “Don’t give churches any money on the basis of expecting miracles as a result,” actually. Or, “Don’t give anyone money to intercede with God for you.” Or…I could keep going, but Fred can speak for himself, and does at length.

  • Isabel C.

    My general feeling is that you shouldn’t take seriously anything that regularly appears in Cosmo/Glamour/etc. 

    Although it’s probably better to believe their astrology columns than their sex tips, on second thought. Less traumatizing to your partner, anyhow.

    I find some of the Libra descriptions to be an interesting match. Non-pop-culture astrology is one of those things where the prediction aspect doesn’t really call to me–or not enough to consult the guides regularly–but other things do, so maybe it works for some people in some way, as per various previously discussed reasons, and whatever.  No skin off my nose.  

  • D9000

    Can be both meanings in UK English. So if somebody just says ‘I got told off’ you need some context. I think the original meaning of ‘tell off’ was ‘to read from a list’ from which ‘assign people to work’ follows fairly naturally. Not sure how the meaning ‘to admonish’ came to be, but perhaps in the military being ‘told off for duty’ was mostly a punishment, and by extension to be admonished, also a punishment, became conflated? Dunno.

  • Mrs Grimble
  • EllieMurasaki

    If you read those descriptions, you’ll notice an emphasis on gay men. The only one that indicates that the deck depicts lesbians is the Cosmic Tribe deck, and that’s not exactly the main theme; we know this because it has three Lovers cards, one lesbian, one gay, one straight.

  • Mrs Grimble

     Normally, I don’t respond to posts containing profanity.  But I have to reply to your idiotic and pea-brained allegation.
    NO – I do NOT pretend to be a doctor or health professional.  The advice I gave was along  the lines of “Maybe you ought to try cutting out gluten, but see a doctor first.”  No more than anybody would say in an everyday  conversation – surely you’ve have similar chats? If you had, would you call it “guesswork and bollocks”?
    In any case, as I stated, I am no longer a professional astrologer, so I don’t do consultations anyway.

    Sheesh – are you so offended by certain keywords/ideas, that   you  jump in on somebody’s comment and start ranting without actually thinking?

  • Mrs Grimble

     No, we’re now in the Age of Pisces; the Vernal Equinox sun currently rises in the Pisces constellation.  Some time  in the future, it will rise in the Aquarius constellation, but a constellation’s borders are so fuzzy that just about any date within the next five centuries  or so will do. 
    Or even more – the astrologer Nicolas Campion collected dozens of dates for the start of the Age of Aquarius, ranging from 1447 to 3621.

    It’s a fairly confused idea of Plato’s great Year, mixed in with the Theosophical version of the  Hindu Yuga concept.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Axial precession takes about twenty-six thousand years for a complete circuit, which means, assuming each zodiac sign is just about a twelfth of the ecliptic, the vernal equinox spends between 2100 and 2200 years in each sign. And I have heard, over and over and over again, that Jesus lived real early in the Age of Pisces. (Jesus fish. Aren’t we clever. Also spirituality and so forth.) Which means we’re about due for a change and Campion can’t count.


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