The Transcendental Temptation: A Critique of Religion and the Paranormal

The Transcendental Temptation: A Critique of Religion and the Paranormal

The Transcendental Temptation: A Critique of Religion and the Paranormal

The Transcendental Temptation: A Critique of Religion and the Paranormal


A landmark work. Mandatory reading for anyone who wants to learn to be a good skeptic.

In this widely acclaimed and highly controversial book, Paul Kurtz examines the reasons why people accept supernatural and paranormal belief systems in spite of substantial evidence to the contrary. According to the author, it is because there is within the human species a deeply rooted tendency toward magical thinking - the "transcendental temptation" - which undermines critical judgment and paves the way for willful beliefs. He explores in detail the three major monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - finding striking psychological and sociological parallels between these religions, the spiritualism of the 19th century, and the paranormal belief systems of today. There are sections on mysticism, belief in the afterlife, the existence of God, reincarnation, astrology, and ufology. Kurtz also explains the nature of skepticism as an antidote to belief in the transcendental.


Is there buried deep within the hearts and minds of men and women a powerful tendency to accept transcendental/paranormal accounts of reality? If so, is this proclivity so strong that it can explain the persistence of orthodox theistic systems of religion--in spite of the overwhelming refutations of their claims--and the recent emergence of new cults of the paranormal to replace ancient doctrines and dogmas?

In the intervening years since the first publication of the hardcover edition of this book, my research has reinforced in my own mind the validity of the transcendental temptation thesis. First, I have been deeply involved with many investigators in the study of "faith healers." We have visited numerous faith-healing services to observe faith-healers at work. And we have been stunned by the degree of self-deception and gullibility displayed by the great numbers of people in quest of miracle healings. Our best efforts have not been able to find any evidence for miraculous cures of people with organic afflictions. Surely psychosomatic illnesses are sometimes helped, but this may be explained by the placebo effect, without involving a hidden or occult cause. Yet the power of suggestion is able to mesmerize otherwise rational people into believing that some transcendental force is at work.

Second, the public has been exposed to a spate of highly questionable reports of abductions aboard UFOs. These "abductees" claim that they have been kidnapped by extraterrestrial beings, been spirited aboard alien spacecraft, and been given messages from semi-divine beings from another dimension. This is strikingly reminiscent of revelations received from afar by prophets throughout the ages. This phenomenon has been popularized in books by Whitley Strieber, Budd Hopkins, and others. Such claims, I submit, testify not to the reality of abductions, but to the easy willingness of some people to believe in another realm and to commune with "entities" from it. And it also testifies to the unguarded willingness of a great many people to accept these claims uncritically based on second- and third-hand testimony--although alternative naturalistic and psychological interpretations can better explain these experiences.

Third, I have had the opportunity to visit China and the Soviet Union to study belief in the paranormal and religion, and since then I have carried on considerable correspondence with Chinese and Russian scholars. Both countries had been under tight totalitarian control, with all of the powers . . .

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