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Monday, February 23, 2004
The 'Yanks' are the nuts here?

In this week's Observer, Oliver James explains:

About one in seven Americans believe they have seen a UFO, and 3.7m claim they have been abducted by aliens. Half agree with the statement: 'The Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word.' OK, the Yanks are nuts.

Can you tell he isn't a proper psychologist? I thought so.

But let's examine his case despite his absent credentials. One in seven Americans believe they have seen a UFO. Well, while this is may be a point of interest to plane-spotters and astronomers, I don't think much of a conclusion can be drawn about sanity in the United States. Like one-seventh of Americans, I have myself seen a flying object I could not at that moment identify. But this is less grounds for consignment to Bedlam than for better general education about the various aeroplane shapes and sizes. If the more pertinent "Do you believe the earth has alien visitors?" had been asked, I suspect a somewhat lower figure would have resulted. The 3.7 million who claim alien abductions is certainly worryingly high, but if Oliver James were a real psychologist, he might know about the phenomenon of sleep paralysis and the reasons the experience can lead to delusions of such abductions even in quite sane people.

But it is the last point that really clarifies his argument. If anything is liable to horrify liberal opinion it is a firm and unwavering belief in the Bible. 'Native' Americans can claim that all of their ancestors, however far back one goes, lived on the American continent, and you won't hear a peep out of leftie multiculturalists. Countries from all over the East and South of the globe can loudly assert their various creation myths and be heard in respectful silence at worst, but more often be assured by a gaggle of postmodernists that their interpretation of man's origins is an equally valid and important contribution to human thought as anything science might have to say. But if anyone declares himself fervently to believe in the Bible, then as far as liberals are concerned he automatically joins those Neanderthals he denies ever existed. The best example of this mentality is probably Anthony Lewis, the New York Times columnist who retired shortly after the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, and who used his final article to compare Christians who believe in a six day creation to those who perpetrated the atrocities of September 11th.

I'm a Darwinist, and I am about as sure as I can be of the validity of evolution. Further, as I noted last month, I think evolution has enormous cultural implications of which conservatives should more and more start to take notice. But I must confess to feeling none of the bile against believers in Adam and Eve, forbidden fruit and Eden. I do not think they are crazy or malign or even ignorant in a way distinct from, for example, those who do not understand photosynthesis.

What is even more puzzling is the set of beliefs that seems to go hand in hand with this incredible condescension. I can understand a well grounded, commonsensical and sceptical thinker scoffing at the idea of a six day creation. But it's not grounded, commonsensical or sceptical thinkers who do scoff. It's the ones who believe that state schools are better now than forty years ago. It's the ones who think a slap on the wrist for crime works but prison doesn't. It's the ones who believe political bureaucrats are generally much better qualified to spend the money you earned than you are. It's the ones who think Britain will in a decade and a half have a climate like Siberia's. It's the ones who think fathers are superfluous to the raising of children. It's the ones who see in the United Nations and the European Union enlightened and progressive governace. Against sensible judgement and overwhelming evidence Oliver James and his fellow travellers hold to such ideas as if they were carried down as stone tablets from mount Sinai, yet they still feel fit to sneer their nostrils clear at those with a comparably credible view of the origin of species. Forgive me if I find that odd.

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