by Greg Mayer
After Jerry posted about the recent New York Times piece touting astrology and its harmlessness, I came across some good news, and some bad news. First, the good news: some of the Times‘ writers continue to be able to exercise their critical faculties. In a piece, “#MAGA Church“, about a loony, apocalyptic church in New Jersey, Sam Kestenbaum writes the following about its pastor, Jonathan Cahn:
He devoured the writings of Nostradamus, the Virginia psychic Edgar Cayce and far-out conspiracy theories about ancient astronauts. Mr. Cahn soon stumbled on “The Late Great Planet Earth,” the 1970s best-seller that argued doomsday prophecies of the Bible were playing out with events like the Cold War and Israel’s Six-Day War. Mr. Cahn bought the book thinking it was about UFOs; instead he was given a crash-course in Christian eschatology.
It’s a longish piece, and you should take a look at the whole thing. It’s a great example of how fascination with woo, and the inability to reason about it, can lead further and further down the epistemological rabbit hole. If the only harm that comes of this is one person’s derangement, it’s harm enough, but this church is leading a whole flock of people– and their money– into a warren of woo, not to mention what those people might do.
The bad news is that the piece critiqued by Jerry is not a one off. I did a search at the Times’ website for “astrology”, and the results were intriguing, verging on appalling. The first 9 results were all supportive of astrology; and all had appeared since since July 2017. Many treated astrology as a “he said, she said” affair, which is bad enough, but often the astrology critic was a token. If a respected news outlet treated climate change, evolution, or gravity this way, we’d all be rightly outraged. (This search did not catch the latest astrology article on which Jerry posted; I’m not sure why.) The 10th astrology result was from 2011, an article about a race horse named Astrology.
The astrology articles are in a number of sections: “New York”, “Asia Pacific”, “Style” (2), “Arts” (2), “Sunday Review”, and (!!!!) “The Learning Network” (2). They are all by different authors, except for two by Amanda Hess. One of Hess’s pieces is not so bad, but in the other she suggests “online mysticism is filling a legitimate need”, and favorably compares the amount of “woo-woo crazy” in Goop vagina jade eggs to flat Earthism! She’s a little concerned that people are making money off of all this, but concludes that “retreating into the mystical internet feels like a quite rational move”. The diversity of authors and sections suggest there is not a particular editor who has a thing for astrology; rather, impairment of the critical faculties has seeped through many parts of the paper. The author of another Times article, not picked up in the “top 10” of the search, suggests that some people believe that criticism of astrology is misogynistic. (I hasten to add that there is no indication that the author of this piece concurs– she is reporting, not advocating.) But the Times is not merely avoiding criticism of astrology (perhaps to ward off the woke); it keeps bringing it up when there’s no evident impetus to do so.
I also noted that all 5 “NYT Picks” of readers’ comments on the piece critiqued by Jerry are pro-astrology. Here’s a sample of what the Times‘ editors found worth reading:
As to Mercury, when it is out of phase, being a Gemini whose ruling planet happens to be Mercury, it helps for whatever it’s worth to be aware when it comes and goes.
Yeah. Whatever it’s worth. My critical comment, to the effect, “Why did you publish this?” did not make it past the Times‘ moderators. I’m not sure why, as many commenters (including some WEIT readers, alerted no doubt by Jerry’s post!) said much the same thing.
The Times is clearly not all bad, and remains an essential news source, but I’ve been wondering lately if I should at least try out a subscription to the Washington Post to see how it’s doing.
(Links to the top ten search results, in order of their listing, are below the fold.)
And, for completeness, “Astrology Will Run in the Preakness.“