January 11, 2016

THE GOD PROFUSION. “Europe’s churches are empty—but don’t take that as a sign of reason’s triumph. More than half of Icelanders believe in elves and trolls,” Naomi Schaefer Riley writes in the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Stark argues that, in general, the government sponsorship of religion is a hindrance to the growth of a faith. Monopoly destroys competition, and competition, he says, causes growth—in religious affiliation as much as in the marketplace for goods and services. In many places around the globe, the competition among Muslims, evangelicals, Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and hundreds of smaller religious groups has resulted in an atmosphere of revival. A smug complacency has been replaced by a fervor to win souls.

Not in Europe, however, where the churches, once so important, are now empty. For the champions of the secularization thesis, such a development is nothing to complain about: Empty churches are a sign of reason’s progress. Mr. Stark offers some amusing evidence to the contrary. Drawing on the Gallup poll, he notes that Europeans hold all sorts of supernatural beliefs. In Austria, 28% of respondents say they believe in fortune tellers; 32% believe in astrology; and 33% believe in lucky charms. “More than 20 percent of Swedes believe in reincarnation,” Mr. Stark writes; “half believe in mental telepathy.” More than half of Icelanders believe in huldufolk, hidden people like elves and trolls. It seems as if the former colonial outposts for European missionaries are now becoming more religious, while Europe itself is becoming interested in primitive folk beliefs.

America isn’t immune either of course; as Michael Graham asked in Redneck Nation 15 years ago, “Do you know how exasperating it is to have a New Ager make fun of your religion?”

As a graduate of Oral Roberts, I am a magnet for people who want to talk about their spiritual beliefs and/or their loathing of Christianity. My ORU experience was part of my stand-up comedy act, and it was not uncommon to be harangued after the show by audience members who wanted to get their licks in against organized religion.

After a set at a hotel in Washington State, I was dragged into a long, drawn-out discussion with a graying, balding New Ager who just couldn’t get over my evangelical background. “You seem so smart,” he kept saying. “How could you buy into that stuff?” Here’s a guy wearing a crystal around his neck to open up his chakra, who thinks that the spirit of a warrior from the lost city of Atlantis is channeled through the body of a hairdresser from Palm Springs, and who stuffs magnets in his pants to enhance his aura, and he finds evangelicalism an insult to his intelligence. I ask you: Who’s the redneck?

Come to think of it, I’m not sure if this guy—who believed in reincarnation, ghostly hauntings, and the eternal souls of animals—actually believed in God. It’s not uncommon for Northerners, especially those who like to use the word “spirituality,” to believe in all manner of metaphysical events, while not believing in the Big Guy. “Religious” people go to church and read the Bible, and Northerners view them as intolerant, ill-educated saps. “Spiritual” people go hiking, read Shirley MacLaine or L. Ron Hubbard, and are considered rational, intelligent beings.

Why, it’s almost as if mankind is factory hardwired to believe in a higher power.

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