Mollie Hemingway Examines the Christian Stereotype of Irrationality

The Wall Street Journal: “Look Who’s Irrational Now” Mollie Ziegler Hemingway takes a look at stereotype made popular by the media: Christians are irrational, superstitious people, through and through. But does the evidence back that up?

Hemingway starts with a claim by notorious rabble-rouser Bill Maher, who snuck into our under-construction Creation Museum last year while filming for his anti-religion film Religulous.

Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology.”

“You can’t be a rational person six days of the week and put on a suit and make rational decisions and go to work and, on one day of the week, go to a building and think you’re drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god,” Hemingway quotes Maher as saying earlier this year.

Last week, however, Baylor University released a comprehensive study, “What Americans Really Believe,” that challenges the idea that religious people are more irrational or superstitious than those who reject religion. In fact, the poll—conducted by the Gallup Organization for Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion—revealed that “Christian religion greatly decreases belief in everything from the efficacy of palm readers to the usefulness of astrology,” and indicates that irreligious and those from mainline Protestant denominations are “much more likely to believe in the paranormal and in pseudoscience than evangelical Christians.”

The poll produced an index of belief. On average, 31 percent of those who never attend a house of worship expressed “strong belief” in occult and the paranormal, compared to only 8 percent of those who go to church more than once a week.

Hemingway also uses the new poll as ammunition against detractors of U.S. vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, whose connection to creationism has drawn significant criticism (see Is She Really a Creationist? and News to Note, September 13, 2008 item #8). According to Hemingway, 36 percent of survey respondents belonging to the United Church of Christ (Barack Obama’s former denomination) believed in the paranormal, versus only 14 percent of those in the Assemblies of God (Sarah Palin’s former denomination).

Hemingway, who also cites a 1983 book and 1980 study in support of the recent conclusion, concludes with a quote by Christian apologist G. K. Chesterton: “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense, and can’t see things as they are.”

As such scholars as Rodney Stark (in For the Glory of God) have concluded, belief in the Creator God is a requisite foundation for belief for in a logical, orderly, understandable universe. Without that basis, why should atheists think the universe can be scientifically understood?

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