If God doesn’t exist, please explain to me how it happened that the Christian Right candidate for the Senate in Delaware was caught on video talking about how she had “dabbled in witchcraft.”

Whatever intelligence guides the world has decided to give the Teahadists a lesson in religious tolerance. Please try not to laugh. “Experience keeps a hard school, but some fools will learn at no other.”

Footnote Seriously, chortling at the wingnuts twisting themselves into knots about this is just good, clean fun, but it would be appalling if anyone on the Blue team actually tried to use it in the campaign. Let’s just act as if all the “eye of Newt” and “voodoo economics” jokes have already been made, and focus on O’Donnell’s loony opinions.

Last time I checked, joking about people’s religious beliefs was considered bad manners. Yes, Wicca has some freaky adherents; so do other belief systems. As Archie the Cockroach once remarked, “An idea is not responsible for the people who believe it.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

19 thoughts on “Providence”

  1. How about this as a ground-rule: Say anything you like, as long as you would still say it if you had a child or a sibling who was a practicing Wiccan. In the words of Albus Dumbledore, "These are manners."

  2. Well, it's not like she was gay. geesh. I cannot keep up with the teahadists' (love that image) contortions. It's like watching a Tasmanian Devil cartoon.

  3. My attitude towards this is, people do stupid stuff to get a date, that doesn't stop the stuff from being stupid. It does mitigates the stupidity a bit. Well, better to have dabbled in stupidity, than to have stuck with it.

    What would I say if I had a child or a sibling who was a practicing Wiccan? That it's silly enough to believe religions that are old enough that their origins are somewhat vague, but believing in religions which were invented recently enough that you ought to KNOW somebody made them up as a joke is just plain stupid.

  4. I find the recent origin of Wicca to be perhaps the most charming thing about it. It's practitioners have found a religion that works for them and disregard (for the most part–there are a few who believe it's really old, no matter what history says) its origin. Quite pragmatic, very American.

  5. So, "believing in religions which were invented recently enough that you ought to KNOW somebody made them up as a joke is just plain stupid."

    As a member of the Reform Jewish Movement — a religion "invented" in Germany in the 1800s and imported to the US by Isaac Mayer Wise — I'm offended.

    Several other religions I can name off the top of my head that have been "invented" recently enough to have left a pretty clear paper trail, so to speak: Mormonism, Hasidic Judaism,and Unitarianism/Universalism. I'm sure there are more.

  6. Dunno, Brett. You seem to assume that no religious belief could have any cognitive content and that intellectual progress in that area is therefore impossible. In the sciences, we tend to prefer more recent doctrines to older ones. Evolution by natural selection, for example, was "invented" as recently as 1859, though I don't think Darwin was joking. Every belief was new sometime, so novelty alone can't make something false. Where there's evidence of deliberate fraud or levity in the invention of a cult – as in the case of two major contemporary religious movements – there's a stronger ground for saying, "Oh, come on!" But the general principle of treating other people's core beliefs with a little bit of courtesy still ought to govern.

    As to whether Wicca is "really old" – the bottle is new, but some of the wine is ancient.

  7. Right, the Blue team should not run with this. But an atheist does have some license to mock others' religious beliefs.

  8. It's not going to bother our freedom-loving friends: they don't know of any foreign brown-skinned satanists, so satanism is A-OK.

  9. "Dunno, Brett. You seem to assume that no religious belief could have any cognitive content and that intellectual progress in that area is therefore impossible. "

    To the extent that religion actually discovers any truths about the world, it's merely duplicating, in an inefficient and screwed up manner, the efforts of science. That's a rather scant extent, though, given the way religions strive to be unfalsifiable, and thus devoid, as you put it, of cognitive content.

    To quote Twain, “It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.” Religions are nothing more than organized systems of knowing for sure what just ain't so.

  10. Brett,

    To quote Twain, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

    That was Will Rogers.

    I'm trying to imagine the geometry of Brett's comment.

  11. calling all toasters says:

    "It’s not going to bother our freedom-loving friends: they don’t know of any foreign brown-skinned satanists, so satanism is A-OK."

    What they'll hate is that Wicca *doesn't* practice human sacrifice.

  12. One thing to keep in mind here is that you seem to be confusing O'Donnell's story with Wiccan beliefs, but it's more likely than not they're completely unrelated, especially given her extreme Christianist background. Within the more extreme parts of the Fundamentalist Christian subculture of our country there are these weird beliefs about Satanism and Witchcraft – basically, that certain forms of them exist, are fairly widespread, and comprise some sort of evil plot against the true faith. See, for example, the 1992 Washington State Republican platform, which denounced Witchcraft (and Yoga; Washington is fairly liberal, but its Republicans long had their power base in the rural farming regions). That wasn't because the state delegates were afraid of some Wiccans who hang out at bookstores that also offer books on crystal healing – it wasn't because of any actual existing practicers of "Witchcraft" whatsoever.

    My favorite anecdote along these lines dates to the late 80s/early 90s, when hysteria about gangs was sweeping the nation (when the film Colors came out, for example), and there was this rather absurd but popular urban legend that gang members were riding around at night in cars with their headlights turned off, and if you flashed your headlights at them to remind them then the wannabe gang member in the passenger seat had to shoot you, as a rite of passage for initiation to the gang. A simple, bloodthirsty, compelling, utterly false story; people loved to pass it on. But in swathes of the midwest where even the most hysterical of paranoids coudln't believe that there were urban street gangs (especially since the stereotype included black or hispanic ethnicity), they had the same "urban" (now rural) legend – but instead of urban street gangs, the would-be murderer in the front passenger seat was seeking to earn initiation to a Satanist coven.

    So, it's possible that O'Donnell actually had some experience as she describes (though she doesn't exactly have a sterling reputation for veracity). But even so it's likely that her understanding of her partner's belief in "Witchcraft", and possibly also her partner's understanding of "Witchcraft" had far more to do with lurid stories told at Bible camp than they had to do with any Wiccans.

  13. Re: "Truth" in regard to science and religion. Many years ago, I took an adult ed course on the First Century AD, taught by a local professor who had participated in the Jesus Seminar.

    As the weeks progressed and he outlined for us how Christianity and Judaism split and grew in different directions, one thing he kept stressing was the difference between religious truth and scientific fact. He maintained that before the Scientific Revolution, there was no such thing as fact, as we understand it — that is, something that can be proven, consistently and repeatedly. There was only "truth," and truth is a different animal. It might be true for example, that there is no love like a mother's love for her child, but it isn't a fact.

    Hope that helps.

  14. I haven't noticed any wingnuts twisting themselves into knots over O'Donnell the teenage witch. I'm wouldn't be surprised you could find one or two if you looked, but that hasn't been the overall reaction.

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