Let’s outgrow fairy tales

By James A. Haught | 3-9 July 2001

The western world is turning more rational, more scientific. Education is dispelling superstition. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The supernatural spectrum is immense: Gods, goddesses, devils, demons, angels, heavens, hells, purgatories, limbos, miracles, prophecies, visions, auras, saviors, saints, virgin births, immaculate conceptions, resurrections, bodily ascensions, faith-healings, salvation, redemption, messages from the dead, voices from Atlantis, omens, clairvoyance, spirit-signals, spirit-possession, exorcisms, divine visitations, incarnations, reincarnations, second comings, judgment days, astrology horoscopes, psychic phenomena, psychic surgery, extra-sensory perception, telekinesis, second sight, voodoo, fairies, leprechauns, werewolves, vampires, zombies, witches, warlocks, ghosts, wraiths, poltergeists, dopplegangers, incubi, succubi, palmistry, tarot cards, ouija boards, levitation, out-of-body travel, magical transport to UFOs, Elvis on a flying saucer, invisible Lemurians in Mount Shasta, Thetans from a dying planet, etc., etc., etc.

All these magical beliefs have a common denominator: They lack tangible evidence. You can’t test supernatural claims; you’re supposed to accept them by blind faith. Their only backup is that they were “revealed” by a prophet, guru, astrologer, shaman, mullah, mystic, swami, psychic, soothsayer or “channeler.”

That’s sufficient proof for billions of people. Most of humanity prays to invisible spirits and envisions mystical realms. Most politicians invoke the deities. Supernaturalism pervades our species, consuming billions of person-hours and trillions of dollars. Millions of prayers to unseen beings are uttered every hour, and millions of rituals performed. This extravaganza requires a vast array of priests and facilities. The cost is astronomical. Americans give $70 billion a year to churches and broadcast ministries – more than the national budgets of many countries. Other investment is enormous: Americans spend $300 million a year on psychic hot-lines. Angel books and end-of-the-world books sell by millions.

Amid this global mishmash, I want to offer a lonely minority view: I think it’s all fairy tales. Every last shred of it. The whole mystical array, from Jehovah and Beelzebub to Ramthis and the Lemurians, lacks any type of proof – unless you count weeping statues. My hunch is that every invisible spirit is imaginary. Therefore, the planet-spanning worship is expended on nothing.

I think that most intelligent, educated, scientific-minded people suspect that the spirit world doesn’t exist. But they stay silent, because it’s rude to question people’s faith. However, what about honesty? Aren’t conscientious thinkers obliged to speak the truth as they see it? Aren’t logical people allowed to ask for evidence?

Some researchers recently concluded that the human species is “wired” for faith, that our DNA includes coding for mystery. Maybe – but what about exceptions like me and similar doubters? Why doesn’t our wiring cause us to swallow the supernatural?

Moreover, even ardent believers see absurdity in rival religions. Consider these examples:

Millions of Hindus pray over statues of Shiva’s phallus. Ask Presbyterians if they think there’s an unseen Shiva who wants his anatomy utilized in worship.

Catholics say that the Virgin Mary makes periodic appearances to the faithful. Ask Muslims if it’s true.

Mormons say that Jesus was transported to America after his resurrection. Ask Buddhists if they believe it – or if they even accept the resurrection.

Jehovah’s Witnesses say that, any day now, Satan will come out of the earth with an army of demons, and Jesus will come out of the sky with an army of angels, and the Battle of Armageddon will kill everyone except Jehovah’s Witnesses. Ask Jews if this is correct.

Florida’s Santeria worshipers sacrifice dogs, goats, chickens and the like, tossing their bodies into waterways. Ask Baptists if the Santeria gods want animals to be killed.

Unification Church members say that Jesus visited Master Moon and told him to convert all people as “Moonies.” Ask Methodists if this really occurred.

Muslim suicide bombers who sacrifice themselves in Israel are taught that martyrs go instantly to a paradise full of lovely female houri nymphs. Ask Lutherans if past bombers are now in heaven with houris.

Millions of American Pentecostals say that the Holy Ghost causes them to spout “the unknown tongue,” a spontaneous outpouring of sounds. Ask Episcopalians if the third member of the Trinity causes this phenomenon.

Scientologists say that every human has a soul which is a “thetan” that came from another planet. Ask Seventh-day Adventists if this is true.

Aztecs sacrificed thousands of victims – cutting out hearts, killing children, skinning maidens – for various gods such as an invisible feathered serpent. Ask any current church if the invisible feathered serpent really existed.

During the witch hunts, inquisitor priests tortured thousands of women into confessing that they flew through the sky, changed into animals, blighted crops, copulated with Satan, etc. Ask any current church if the execution of “witches” was based on reality.

You see, most believers realize that other religions are bogus. Why do they think their own theology is different? I’m calling for the final step to honesty. If some magical spirits obviously are imaginary, it’s logical to assume that others are similar.

The western world is turning more rational, more scientific. Education is dispelling superstition. Most advanced nations in Europe are abandoning belief in gods, devils, heavens, hells. Church attendance there has dwindled to a tiny fringe. America remains a bulwark of churchgoing – but educated Americans don’t really expect divine intervention. If their children get pneumonia, they trust penicillin over prayer.

As for the familiar contention that supernatural beliefs make people more moral and humane, do you really think that Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are ethically superior to non-religious Americans?

Polls find that the more education people have, the fewer their religious convictions. Therefore, the educated are the natural group to break away from magic. I’d like to see a revolt by the intelligent against myths.

Generally, the educated class laughs at quacko miracle reports, but not at the prevailing majority religion. However, there’s no logical reason to consider one supernatural claim superior to another. No matter how much it’s cloaked in poetry and allegory, religion consists of worshiping spooks – imaginary ones, in my view.

The time has come for thinking Americans to say, publicly and bluntly: There’s no reliable evidence of invisible spirits. Worshiping them is a waste of time and money. Instead, let’s use our minds to improve life for people here and now. Fairy tales came from the primitive past, and they have no place in the 21st century.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

James A. HaughtJames A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s The Charleston Gazette-Mail and a senior editor of the Free Inquiry magazine. He is also the author of numerous books and articles; his most recent book is Religion is Dying: Soaring Secularism in America and the West (Gustav Broukal Press, 2010). Haught has won 21 national newswriting awards and thirty of his columns have been distributed by national syndicates. He is in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in the World, Contemporary Authors, and 2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of the 21st Century. His website is haught.net.

Holy Horrors
By James A. Haught
Prometheus Books (30 May 2002)
ISBN-10: 1573927783
ISBN-13: 978-1573927789

Animated map shows how religion spread around the world

The Future of World Religion (in 2050)

Be sure to ‘like’ us on Facebook


  1. -Google Traductor- This article is full of melodramatic and insulting exaggerations in many ways (indeed levitation is a field of scientific study with magnetism electric fields and werewolf or congenital hypertrichosis that inspired literary work, just as there is disease vampire, etc. ,etc etc). While it is true that throughout history religion to had very dark times full of fanaticism, science is not wanted at all back as the magic of the alchemists was the beginning of many scientific fields today (such as chemistry and metallurgy), it states that those who believe in God do not have a logical and scientific thinking when many of the greatest theories, scientific discoveries and advances in the development of mankind come from minds that believe in God. Refers to differences in creeds and dogmas about the same element and rejecting each other that sadly exist but that does not mean that there is no God is just different way to understand and perceive it in the same way as in the scientific field and discrepancies string theory vs loop quantum gravity which are very different and collide with each other but that does not mean that what they study their differences does not exist. Finally like many scientific hypotheses and theories recognized based only on the estimation and mathematical calculation, if we use the (favorite Darwin) in relation to the structural complexity of a Space concerning the statistical probability of the randomness of analytical method conjugating the elements to conform to this kind, this result must be exponential on the diversity of other existing elements and this in turn on the balance of the interaction of the same. This result dictates that it is more likely to be a universal architect does not exist.

    Este articulo esta cargado de exageraciones melodramáticas e insultantes en muchos sentidos (por cierto la levitación es un campo de estudio científico con los campos electro magnetismo y los hombre lobo o Hipertricosis Congénita que inspiro obra literarias, de igual manera existe las enfermedades del vampiro, etc,etc,etc). Si bien es cierto que durante la historia la religión a tenido épocas muy oscuras cargadas de fanatismo, la ciencia no se quera del todo atrás ya que la magia de los alquimistas fue el inicio de muchas campos científicos de hoy en día (como la química y la metalurgia), Afirma que los que creemos en Dios no tenemos un pensamiento lógico y científico cuando muchas de las mas grandes teorías, descubrimientos científicos y avances en el desarrollo de la humanidad provienen de mentes que Creen en Dios. Menciona las diferencias de credos y dogmas alrededor de un mismo elemento y el rechazo de unas a otras que tristemente se dan pero eso no quiere decir que no exista Dios es simplemente manera diferentes de entenderlo y percibirlo de la misma manera como sucede en el campo científico como en las discrepancias de la teoría de cuerdas vs gravedad cuántica de bucles las cuales son muy diferentes y chocan entre si pero eso no quiere decir que por sus diferencias lo que estudian no exista. Por ultimo al igual que muchas hipótesis y teorías científicas reconocidas basadas solo en la estimación y calculo matemático, si utilizamos el método analítico (el favorito de Darwin) en relación a la complejidad estructural de una espacie con respecto a la probabilidad estadística de la aleatoriedad de la conjugación de los elementos para conformar a esta especie, a este resultado hay que exponencial sobre la diversidad de otros elementos existentes y esto a su vez en el equilibrio de la interacción de estos mismos. Dicho resultado dicta que es mas probable que exista un arquitecto universal a que no exista.

    • Your response to this article is mindless bull sh$t. There are no gods! Many religious people tell me that I am an atheist. But I contend that we are all athirsts. The only difference is that you believe in one more god than I do. If you could understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods there are to choose from, then you will understand why I dismiss yours.

    • I would certainly hope so. If the sheriff's department *actually* trusted in a god, why would we need sheriffs? Or guns? Or militaries?

  2. Thank you for this article, James A. Haught. I have long maintained that sunday school is a form of child abuse and that church should be X-rated; nobody under 18 should be allowed in. The indoctrination of children is perhaps the most pernicious aspect of religion.

  3. Excellent, well written article. Montreal is now taxing churches, a good first step. Religions and gods exist as a representation of the human condition. We can and must grow out of it. If your religious belief makes you less loving, less compassionate towards others, it’s time to make a change.

    As a clue to the fantastic nature of religious belief, notice the strong emotions that surface the instant a challenge is made. These emotions do not surface when discussing gravity or the weather.

    Religion has provided the quintessential “us” and “them” environment that so many humans seem to desperately need. It can, however, be overcome by reaching out to other people who are different. By international travel, by reading history books.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here