The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher

By Martin Gardner | Go to book overview

31 Prime-Time Preachers

It is too early, it seems to me, to send the firemen home. The fire is still burning on many a far-flung hill, and it may begin to roar again at any moment. . . . Heave an egg out of a Pullman window and you will hit a Fundamentalist almost anywhere in the United States today. They swarm in the country towns. . . . They are thick in the mean streets behind the gasworks. They are everywhere where learning is too heavy a burden for mortal minds. . . .

H. L. Mencken, Prejudices, vol. 5.

When Mencken suggested that fundamentalism might blaze once more, who took him seriously? Clarence Darrow had made William Jennings Bryan look like the country bumpkin he was. Outside the Bible Belt, many mainline churches were promoting the "social gospel" as they tumbled down the hill of liberal theology toward secular humanism. Remember that hullabaloo over the proposition "God is dead"? Then a few decades ago, to the amazement of intellectuals, hardline fundamentalism began to roar again.

Sociologists are still trying to figure it out. There is no evidence of a large-scale religious revival sweeping the nation, but within Protestantism there has been an unmistakable decline in liberal theology and an upsurge of fundamentalist dogma. While the congregations of mainline churches dwindle, especially with respect to the young, the old-time gospel churches are bursting at the seams. Scores of fundamentalist magazines, seldom seen in public libraries, have circulations larger than the liberal Christian Century. Fundamentalist books, published by sectarian houses and distributed through Christian bookstores, never make the New York Times best-seller lists even though their sales often far exceed those of most books on those lists.

Polls taken during the last decade all agree that the United States is one of the most deeply religious nations in the world. Over 95 percent of its population say they believe in a personal God and life after death. Only about 25 percent now believe in hell, a remarkable decline, but 25

____________________
A shorter version of this essay originally appeared in the New York Review of Books, August 13, 1987, and is reprinted with permission.

-223-

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The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • Part 1 11
  • 1 - Project Alpha 13
  • 2 - Margaret Mead 19
  • 3 - Magicians in the PSI Lab 25
  • 4 - Shirley MacLaine 32
  • 5 - Freud, Fliess, and Emma's Nose 38
  • 6 - Koestler Money Down the Psi Drain? 44
  • 7 - Targ: From Puthoff to Blue 50
  • 8 - The Relevance of Belief Systems 57
  • 9 - Welcome to the Debunking Club 65
  • 10 - The Great Stone Face 72
  • 11 - From Phillips to Morris 79
  • 12 - George McCready Price 93
  • 13 - Wonders of Science 99
  • 14 - Tommy Gold 103
  • 15 - Rupert Sheldrake 109
  • 16 - The Anomalies of Chip Arp 115
  • 17 - Thoughts on Superstrings 119
  • 18 - The Third Eye 123
  • 19 - Irving Kristol and the Facts of Life 129
  • Part 2 135
  • 20 - The Great SRI Die Mystery 137
  • 21 - Perpetual Motion 145
  • 22 - Psychic Surgery 167
  • 23 - 666 and All That 170
  • 24 - D. D. Home-Sweet-Home 175
  • 25 - PK (Psycho-Krap) 179
  • 26 - Chicanery in Science 182
  • 27 - Fools' Paradigms 184
  • 28 - Look, Shirl, No Hands! 188
  • 29 - The Channeling Mania 202
  • 30 - Who Was Ray Palmer? 209
  • 31 - Prime-Time Preachers 223
  • 32 - L. Ron Hubbard 246
  • 33 - Psychic Astronomy 252
  • Name Index 265
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