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In the 1950s, a Chicago housewife had a vision of a coming flood.

It would be devastating, it would destroy all that we knew of Earth. nd yet, there was ho!e. liens from another world would come down and save the chosen few, and you could become one if you followed her instructions from the messages she was receiving. "he even set a date for the coming. #he end was nigh. When Prophecy Fails by $eon %estinger, &enry 'iecken, and "tanley "chachter is a still ama(ing book about the cult, why !eo!le would believe in and cheer on the end of the world, and what ha!!ens when the end of the world does not come. )hen things get difficult, when change and ada!tation is re*uired, and certainly the !ost+ ))II world re*uired ada!tation and change, some !eo!le would feel more comfortable with the entire world ,ust coming to a close. "o here we are in another state of change and ada!tation, and here we are, cheering on the end of the world. nd here we are, continuing our conversation with -ohn .ichael /reer, author of The Blood of the Earth, discussing end days, the idea of !rogress used as a religion, and the intellectual 0!urity0 of atheism. 1ou can read the beginning of our conversation here. The cynical counter-argument is that people insisting we stay with fossil fuels know (either unconsciously or not) that we are in the end days for oil, but they believe in the coming apocalypse or don't really care about future generations. When liberals talk about it, it is often under the heading of, well, they are trying to bring about the end of the world anyway, that's why they're messing around in the iddle !ast. "nd you talk about that, too, with the #$% cult in the &'()s who thought that aliens were going to save a select few. *o we have either blind adherence to something that's not working, or wild +umps to ,we are going to make +et fuel out of recycled styrofoam cups and we'll have a smooth transition, with no inconveniences whatsoever., Where did this blind belief in progress come fromIt2s a com!licated thing. #he event that 3iet(sche called 0the death of /od0 ++ less meta!horically, the colla!se of Christian faith as a living factor in the lives and !syches of most !eo!le in Euro!e and the Euro!ean dias!ora ++ left an immense void in our collective life, and a great many !eo!le went looking for some secular e*uivalent of religion in order to fill that void. 4ver the last century or so, faith in !rogress has become the most !o!ular re!lacement for religion, and believers in !rogress cling to it as un*uestioningly as believers in other religions cling to the dogmas of their faiths. #he irony, and it2s as rich as it is bitter, is that the !o!ular faith in !rogress has become all the more !assionate and un*uestioning as !rogress itself has slowed to a crawl and, in many conte5ts, shifted into reverse. growing number of studies have shown that, des!ite all the current rhetoric about endlessly accelerating technological !rogress, the rate at which really significant new discoveries are being made and im!lemented has been declining steadily since the 1660s, and let2s not even talk about the rhetoric of moral !rogress that used to feature so heavily in the rhetoric of believers in !rogress back in the day. #hese days, !rogress in a handful of fields is used to cover u! the steady decline in most others7 it2s indicative that the media is full of glib chatter about the latest ste!s toward s!ace tourism for the very rich at a time when many rural counties in the 8" are letting their road systems go back to gravel because they can2t afford as!halt for re!aving any more. #hat hard reality, though, is nowhere acknowledged in the !ublic rhetoric of our time. In fact, the more intense the cognitive dissonance that surrounds the mythology of !rogress, the more dogmatically !eo!le insist on the inevitability and beneficence of !rogress. It2s a !henomenon much studied by social !sychologists9 it2s when a belief system is being challenged by events that its believers become most rigid about their belief, most fi5ated on the insistence that their beliefs must be absolutely true. #here2s always an emotional cost in admitting that you2re wrong7 if the wrong belief has motivated bad decisions, the emotional cost goes u!7 if those bad decisions amount to flushing your future down the drain, and your children2s and grandchildren2s future along with it, letting go of the belief system can be unbearable even if the alternative is imminent disaster. .egarding the myth of progress and the death of religion, now we're getting into the space that really drew me in with your book, which is another mistaken idea we have in contemporary society that atheism is somehow intellectual purity. That we can con/uer these unrational or pre-rational or 0 don't know what term to use here, parts of ourselves, through logic and that is +ust fine. "ll we need is science1 2ut if you read these atheist evangelicals, the logic and the intelligence is very shallow. "nd as you said, they are still proselyti3ing. Indeed they are, and the fact that they2re doing so shows that they2re still subservient to the religious consciousness they think they2ve thrown off. )hat2s the most basic framing belief of modern Christianity: #hat your !ersonal o!inions about the e5istence and nature of /od are the most im!ortant thing in the world. 1

#hat framing belief isn2t that common among the world2s religions. In many faiths, what matters is not what o!inions you hold, but what ceremonies you !ractice or have taken !art in, what taboos and customs you !ractice as !art of your daily life, or what have you. Classical ;agan s!irituality is a good e5am!le9 of twenty !eo!le who took !art in a sacrifice to -u!iter in ancient 'ome, no two of them might have had the same o!inion about what -u!iter was, what his relationshi! was to the offering, and so on ++ but they would have agreed that the sacrificial ritual had to be done ,ust so< Contem!orary atheism remains stuck in a Christian mindset, in which !roclaiming the gos!el of 3o /od, convincing everyone else that they have to believe the same thing you do, and denouncing those who disagree with you as the source of all evil in the world all seem to make sense. It seems like intellectual !urity to so many !eo!le these days because it !lays along with these firmly established religious modes of thought and action. "nd what you argue in your book is that the point of magic or religion or ritual practice is helping to separate or give space to these two different realms. "nd not confuse an emotional or symbolic reaction with a logical one. %r not go after one with the wrong tool. 0 am e4plaining it poorly. 2ecause mostly what we see these days is this mi4ing -- people bringing their religion into their logic, their politics, their thought process, or people insisting they are being logical when actually they are treating science like a god. 0'm not sure 0 have a /uestion here, +ust something 0 wanted to acknowledge, because 0 have not necessarily seen such a clear e4planation of this particular issue before. #hank you< 4ne of the great achievements of the Enlightenment is !recisely the recognition that human life falls more or less naturally into several different and incommensurable s!heres, which have ++ and need to be allowed to have ++ their own standards and their own measures of authority. ;olitics is one of those s!heres7 science is another7 religion is another7 the arts are another, and so on. #he !oint that so many !eo!le are doing their level best to forget these days is that e5!ertise in one of these s!heres does not grant authority in a different s!here. .any of us have figured out, for e5am!le, that when a !olitical official tries to tell us what art and music we ought to en,oy, that2s an abuse of authority, because it crosses the boundary between the s!here of !olitics and that of the arts. .any of us ++ though not all ++ have gras!ed, similarly, that a religious leader who tries to tell !eo!le how to vote, or makes !ronouncements about scientific *uestions, is also abusing his authority. 4ne of these days we may even figure out that when a distinguished scientist tries to make blanket statements about religion, that, too, is an abuse of authority. #hose se!arate s!heres all intersect in one !lace, which is the individual. 1ou yourself have every right to decide whether you2re going to let one of those s!heres influence another, but it2s central to the heritage of the Enlightenment that nobody, anywhere, has the right to make that decision for you. #hat freedom ++ the freedom to bring the many se!arate s!heres of human life into a unity that makes sense to you, whether it makes sense to anyone else ++ is the thing that ideologues by and large can2t stand7 one result of that is that you can ,udge ,ust how abusive an ideology is likely to be by seeing ,ust how often it attem!ts to use criteria from one s!here to im!ose a uniform order on a different s!here. #hat2s also why ideologues of every kind tend to froth at the mouth whenever magic enters the !icture. .agic is the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will7 !ut another way, it2s the art and science of o!ening u! an inner s!ace where you can choose your own states and conditions of consciousness, rather than having them forced on you by culture, religion, government, or what have you7 and those who !ractice it seriously rarely have any time for fist+!ounding (ealots of any stri!e who try to claim the right to tell everybody else what to do.