In return for the hospitality of Washingtonpost.com this week, may I be churlish and mention something that has been irritating me about the print version of the paper ever since I moved here twenty-five years ago? The fact is that the objective, detached, independent-minded Washington Post publishes horoscopes.
Harmless enough, you may say. But how true is it that nonsense and pseudo-science are harmless? Astrology is widely considered to be discredited because of certain very obvious objections:
1) It gives people the impression that they are the center of the universe and that the constellations are somehow arranged with them in mind.
2) It suggests that there is a supernatural supervision of our daily lives, and that this influence can be detected and expounded by mere humans.
3) It bases itself on the idea that our character and personality are irrevocably formed at the moment of birth or even of conception.
Who does not know how to laugh at the credulity of those who fall for this ancient hoax? And why would it matter, except that religion, too, believes that the cosmos was created with us in mind, that our lives are supervised by an almighty force that priests and rabbis and imams can interpret, and that – by way of doctrines such as “original sin” – our natures have been largely determined when we are still in the womb or the cradle.
Credulity, in the sense of simple-mindedness, is often praised by those who claim to admire the “simple faith” of the devout. But the problem with credulity is that it constitutes an open invitation to the unscrupulous, who will take advantage of those who are prepared to believe things without evidence. This is why, for so many of us, the notion of anything being “faith-based” is a criticism rather than a recommendation.
Christopher Hitchens is a columnist and author whose latest book is entitled “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.”