New York Times Essay Calls for More Respect for Astrology

By Bo Gardiner.  Excerpts from the full article at Patheos.

Are astrology and other New Age beliefs a kind of religion for those without religion?  Real or not, should that religious stature grant them greater respect and less scoffing?  The stars say yes in a New York Times op-ed this past week by writer Krista Burton.  Does she make a good case?


“Wonder Girl” is one of countless popular YouTuber astrologers offering daily life advice.

Burton describes herself as someone who five years ago laughed off chakras and energy healing, but is now

a person who pays attention to whether Mercury is in retrograde, someone who is excited about the summer solstice on June 21, a person who reads her Chani Nicholas horoscope each week with bated breath.

Burton urges greater acceptance of New Age beliefs as healthy, implying there should be less scoffing:  “if something helps you during a time of stress in your life,” she argues, “it’s worth it.”

To restate this single most common defense of any religion: “Hey, if a belief makes people feel better, it’s wrong to question it.” If its logical fallacy isn’t clear to you, ask any of your many friends, relatives and acquaintances who have fallen victim to addiction, cults, obsessive or anti-social beliefs, or self-destructive behaviors in the search to feeling better during stress.  A better case than this is needed for greater respect.

She then uses an argument more frequent with New Agers than mainstream religionists:

Now, I’m not stupid. I may be a woo-woo, crystal-worshiping homosexual, but I know that a polished red rock is not going to heal my tailbone. It’s not going to bring my mom back either. It may not do a thing. But none of us know anything about anything, really. So why not be open to the possibility of hope?

Asking a skeptic “why not be open to hope” is like asking “when did you stop beating your wife?”  It contains an unstated dark and unsupported allegation: that a naturalistic, rational belief system closes you to the possibility of hope.  And that, friends, is seriously narrow-minded.

More troublesome is Burton’s casual line, said with confidence that we’ll all be nodding along:  “But none of us know anything about anything, really.”

Burton isn’t asking us to be “open to the possibility of hope,” so much as she’s asking us to reject the hope we can know anything about anything.  Really.

There are good reasons to reject such postmodernist nihilism.  For one, it’s wrong.  We know a lot about many things, though there must always be much we do not.  How can the New Ager who doesn’t think we can really know anything logically argue the ethics of respecting climate change science?  Or whether children are worse off with gay parents than straight?  Whether gun laws result in more or less gun deaths?  Whether genders and races are intellectual and moral equals?

Trumpian opinions are just as valid as yours if we don’t really know anything.

How can this still be argued when at no time in recent history have we seen so vividly the horrifying consequences of a society utterly unable to agree on the most basic, proven facts… when a large segment doesn’t even consider truth especially important?

The history of other countries suggests America won’t break out of this pattern as long as its culture remains dominated by the strange belief that faith without evidence—any faith, really, as long as it’s unprovable and invisible—is a virtue.  Those of us driven by an ethic of basing our beliefs on what, to the best of our determination, is objectively true are suspicious characters.  It is truly bizarre that evidence-based belief is generally viewed by Americans as more morally relativistic than evidence-free belief.

The answer to Burton’s question is yes, astrology is religion for those with no religion.  But trading churches for seances is more superficial makeover than substantive progression.  Young Nones deserve more exposure to other alternatives as well: healthy, hope-inspiring philosophies like naturalism and humanism.

The fundamental problem with astrology and New Age spirituality is shared with all religion:  by promoting faith without evidence as a virtue, they devalue truth.

Read the full post at Patheos.

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