Friday, December 12, 2008

Woo Answers

Ross Douthat replies to the question that Bradlaugh posed:

[I]f you want to understand what, if anything, a person means when he says he believes in demons or angels or ghosts, the simplest baseline answer is this: He means that if confronted with an encounter or an experience that seems demonic or ghostly or angelic and asked to rationalize it, he will be inclined to give credence (like the seven-year-old Mantel) to the possibility that the encounter is, in fact, what it appears to be.
Well, yes, exactly. This may be the least effective attempt at reassurance since [insert absurdist Family Guy-style flashback illustrating a spectacular failure to reassure -- Tom Cruise interpretive-danced his adoration for women on Oprah's couch? Larry Craig insisted he was just taking a dump? David Vitter denied his fetish for prostitutes? George W. Bush said "we don't torture"? The Governor of Illinois proclaimed his spotless probity?].

People who believe in demons, ghosts, angels, leprechauns, unicorns, fiscal conservatives, teenagers who actually practice abstinence, and other such phantasms do precisely as Douthat outlines: they mediate their experience with a warped, reality-optional hermeneutics. They see, hear, smell, and divine things that aren't actually there to be, in any valid sense, seen, heard, smelled, or divined. They hear a noise at night and think "demon" when a sensible person might think "cat;" they celebrate that their favorite baseball team scored a run by thanking a man who is said to have been crucified two thousand years before the advent of baseball. They are, in a word, delusional.

This is not reassuring. This restates the question and labels it as an explanation.

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