Earlier this year, I did a big story about young women who are atheist to explore what it means to be young and to question structures that culture and society thrust onto us.
What was most striking to me was that many – including my very secular self – mentioned beliefs in science and in things that make sense, items in this world that are tethered to a firm basis in logic and understanding. These things can be explained. Yet, as I find myself often meandering around, is a need for magic. Perhaps that is the appeal of religion: to invoke mundane magic in the everyday.
I’m constantly thinking about this and, still, I have yet to break myself of the “magic of a god” as I find myself in shitty situations, submitting a request to some unnamed higher power for peace amidst bullshit, for luck when living in hell. It all gets back to habitual spiritual behavior and “death and meaning,” I suppose, a need to contextualize the self in the abyss of forever as we attempt to understand the why in life. Perhaps this manifests as superstition, perhaps it is all a play to make fiction fact, but all of us non-religious people like to entertain magic.
What kind of magic? Alien magic. Yes, literally: the non-religious tend to enjoy and entertain ideas that foreign entities – whether they are lingering between planes of existence outside of our solar system. The “failing” New York Times recently explored this subject, trying to figure out why and how the non-religious tend to dip into the supernatural.
Written by psychology professor Clay Routledge, the story has some shocking-and-not findings based on research in and around the author’s field.
People who do not frequently attend church are twice as likely to believe in ghosts as those who are regular churchgoers. The less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse empirically unsupported ideas about U.F.O.s, intelligent aliens monitoring the lives of humans and related conspiracies about a government cover-up of these phenomena.
This is fascinating. The conspiracy elements are a bit bonk but the turning to ghosts and extraterrestrials is rich territory.
Routledge attributes this to the less religious perceiving their lives as less meaningful. “This lack of meaning was associated with a desire to find meaning,” Routledge explained. “Which in turn was associated with belief in U.F.O.s and alien visitors.”
The question is why there is this seeking and why it lands on such understandably bogus and literally alien concepts. Routledge has a theory on that.
I suspect part of the answer is that such ideas imply that humans are not alone in the universe, that we might be part of a larger cosmic drama. As with traditional religious beliefs, many of these paranormal beliefs involve powerful beings watching over humans and the hope that they will rescue us from death and extinction.
Ah-ha. As I found in my discussion with atheists (and myself), there is a sense of logic. We all know from considering and studying space that we cannot possibly be the only ones in this universe, galaxy, etc. Sure, they might not exist now or they might not be sophisticated or knowledgable of how to reach us but that doesn’t negate this possibility.
I like to think that this is our trying to answer the unanswerable given the short time we have in the greater scheme of existence. We love to answer questions, us secular people, and the one chomping question we may never get around to figuring out is if there is life beyond our atmosphere. The truth is out there, sure, but so is our drive to continue forward in understanding.
I guess aliens play into this, as far fetched as that may seem. They are magic – yet a lot more believable than a spirit who sneezed worlds into creation.