You knew this had to be at least one book. And here is one, The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences (2017) by the chair and associate professor in the department of religion at Williams College in New England.
He asks, why do people accept both scientism and superstition?:
But as I argued in my book The Myth of Disenchantment: Magic, Modernity, and the Birth of the Human Sciences (2017), the common notion of disenchantment as an extirpation of animism rests on a mistaken premise. Several large-scale surveys suggest that the vast majority of Americans believe in some sort of paranormal phenomena. Indeed, a surprising 83.3 per cent of Americans believe in either guardian angels, demonic possession or ghosts, and there is evidence for similar belief patterns in western Europe. (I should note that disenchantment should not be confused with secularisation. The sociological evidence suggests that de-Christianisation, while usually equated with secularisation, often correlates with an increase in belief in spirits, ghosts and magic – not the reverse.) Nor are sociological surveys the only evidence. If one views Europe and North America through the same sort of anthropological lens that European and American anthropologists are used to directing abroad, it seems hard to defend the notion that the ‘modern West’ is straightforwardly disenchanted. There are plenty of examples.
Walmart sells ‘Sage Spirit-Smudge Wands’ and clothing chains such as Urban Outfitters sell ‘healing crystals’ and tarot cards. You can go on eBay right now and pay an Australian ‘white witch’ to perform a ritual to summon a djinn and bind it to an object of your choice. Celebrities such as Anna Nicole Smith and Bobby Brown have publicly described having sex with ghosts. Coffee shops and co-ops throughout the US and much of western Europe display flyers advertising ‘palm readers’, ‘energy balancing’ and ‘chakra work’. Even if you ignore the Harry Potter craze and other fictionalised depictions of wizards, ghosts and witches, studies of American reading habits suggest that ‘New Age’ print culture is incredibly lucrative, with ‘non-fiction books’ about magic, guardian angels and near-death experiences frequently appearing in the upper echelons of Amazon’s bestseller lists. And the past 15 years have seen a proliferation of ‘reality’ television series that claim to report evidence for ghosts, psychics, extraterrestrials, monsters, curses and even miracles. At the very least, it would seem that contemporary consumers are willing to flirt with the existence of spirits and psychical powers.Jason Josephson Storm, “Against Disenchantment” at Aeon
Storm goes on to say that thinks that neither superstition nor secularism liberate people.
Come to think of it, believing in artificial intelligence or space aliens as god-like makes as much sense as believing in lucky numbers and charms.
See also: Tales of an invented god
Sceptic asks, why do people who abandon religion embrace superstition? Belief in God is declining and belief in ghosts and witches is rising
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8 Replies to “Why do secularism and scientism coincide with a huge rise in superstition?”
One possible reason: de-Christianization is not exactly equal to secularization (say in the context of the USA). Some people leave Christianity to join other religions, for example Buddhism or Wicca.
Furthermore, exploring spirits, ghosts, and magic is generally discouraged in Christianity. Some or all of these things may exist, but you don’t want to mess with them. In other religions, they are not so taboo, so one might expect to see converts to non-Christian religions engaging in these practices more often.
Agreed. I can’t say I’ve encountered anyone who sees AI or space aliens as god-like, fortunately [edit: in the sense of “a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship”, from MW].
People tend to assume that a person who does not believe in God believes nothing. That is not true. A person who does not believe in God will believe anything.
You won’t see better examples of superstitious Christians than at a church Bingo. They all have there good luck charms lined up in front of them, and many will only pick cards with some lucky number on them.
Without proferring an explanation, G K Chesterton remarked : “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.” A truer word was never said. Isn’t that right, Mr Lewontin?
Lol I think that’s bingo in general, and they are crazy about bingo, the tension in some of those places you can cut with a knife, and I’m sure if they were allowed to bring weapons in, some of those session would break out into a war.
Unfortunately, the author, at least in the paragraphs provided, mixes all supernatural beliefs and practices together, including belief in angels, demons, and “even miracles” in with belief in witches, magic, superstitions, etc.
As a result, it should be no surprise that “the vast majority of Americans believe in some sort of paranormal phenomena”. After all, most Americans claim to be Christians in some sense, and surely all Christians believe in the supernatural? Mind you, that paragraph seems to wrongly expand “paranormal” to include any supernatural activity, real or otherwise.
There have always been superstitions and people who believe seemingly strange things. Think of the sports fan who thinks his team wins when he wear their jersey. Or how many of us will “touch wood” when we express a hopeful statement?
AaronS1978@6, another group that is very superstitious are athletes. Many get very upset if they can’t perform their pre-game rituals. Interestingly, at least in America, they also tend to be a very religious bunch. Frankly, I would be very disappointed if God gives a damn about the outcome of a football game.