The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety
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A thorough examination of faith-based beliefs, from visitations by angels to abductions by aliens, with a detailed list of the problems these beliefs create in society at large. Cultural commentator Kaminer (I’m Dysfunctional, You’re Dysfunctional: The Recovery Movement and Other Self-Help Fashions, 1992, etc.) covers broad ground in her criticisms. She’s not afraid to lump together established religious groups and the followers of New Age movements in her presentation of their influence on secular America. Kaminer says she is not against personal faith but argues throughout that problems arise when religious beliefs enter the public arena. She cites case after case of religious viewpoints appearing in school and work settings, in which Protestant Christianity is the favored viewpoint. Kaminer is quick to point out this double standard, present not only in schools and workplaces but also in government at all levels. The Supreme Court allows nativity scenes on public property, so long as the display adheres to the “three-reindeer rule,” i.e., some secular images must also appear. In the category of New Age beliefs are several movements designed to bring people together into a makeshift “community” where no one judges anyone else’s beliefs. These groups search for order in the universe, concluding in one case that the government is involved in far-reaching conspiracies. One New Age author even concludes that murder victims somehow “choose” their fate. Finally, Kaminer examines “junk science,” including theories about the long-term health of “crack babies” that don’t hold up under objective scrutiny. Likewise, studies showing that men and women tackle most problems using the same parts of the brain were instead presented as proof of fundamental differences between the sexes. Kaminer’s key point here is that “pseudoscience assumes conclusions and finds evidence to back them up.” A harsh but well-reasoned examination of the negative effects that various forms of irrational belief have on American society and culture.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-44243-X
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999


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