Date: Fri, 9 Aug 1996 13:40:56 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 8, 1996 (Part Tw
Date: Fri, 9 Aug 1996 13:40:56 -0700
Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 8, 1996 (Part Two)
Reply-To: email@example.com, AMERICAN.ATHEISTS@listserv.direct.net
nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn
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WHEN MARTIANS INVADED, ''PEOPLE OF FAITH'' PANICKED
Religious belief was not only an important factor in how people reacted to
the hoax broadcast -- it also served in determining or indicating the role of
critical thinking in their lives. In addition, religious belief was
generally ignored in academic literature, and in the susequent histories of
the broadcast which appeared in the popular media. But in both the
statistics and the individual case studies -- especially those done by the
Princeton group -- religious belief constituted an important factor.
The period when the broadcast took place has been described as a pinnacle
in the secularization and de-enchantment of western society. The
fundamentalist view of the universe -- that humanity existed in the image of
god, with a unique spiritual endowment or "soul" -- had been under relentless
attack by both Darwinism and Freudian psychology. Advances in the physical
sciences had pushed back the boundaries of the domain assigned to the
spiritual. For many, access to the miraculous and the sacred was being cut
off, as objective, cold science de-mystified and de-enchanted the natural
world. Some mused that Wells's Martians, with their detached and brooding
countenances, were symbolic of how many people at the time viewed the
scientific enterprise. They were, after all, "intellects, vast, cool and
Cantril and the Princeton study recognized, at least partially, the
linkage of religious belief and credulity. He noted: "Critical ability is an
accurate description of the most important psychological variable related to
the panic reation. This critical ability is not likely to be a simply innate
capacity that some people and others do not have. Its genesis in the
individual is the result of a particular environment which has played upon
his particular capacities..."
He also compared critical ability to what he termed susceptibility.
Measuring this trait involved evaluation of factors which involved
characteristics like insecurity, phobias, worry, lack of self-confidence,
fatalism, religiosity and church attendance.
Individual case studies of how people reacted to the "War of the Worlds"
broadcase reflected the role of angst or insecurity, especially within the
context of religion and the supernatural.
"We just sat and listened -- you see, we're good Christians and providence
will take care of us. We're not afraid to die because we're prepared for
"At first, I didn't think it was the end of the world because I read in
the Bible, in Revelation, that the end of the world was coming by fire, and I
didn't think it was a fire (sic). I thought buildings were being struck and
falling down. But then I realized that eventually they might catch on fire
so I thought the end was coming..."
One case subject interviewed by Cantril was identified as Mrs. Delaney, a
Catholic living in a New York suburb:
"I never hugged my radio so closely as I did that last night. I held a
crucifix in my hand and prayed while looking out my open window for the
falling meteors. I also wanted to get a faint wiff of the gas so that I
could know when to close my window and hermeticlaly seal my room..."
Perhaps the apotheosis of the fatalistic and uncritical religious was a
woman identified as Ms. Jane Dean:
"Of course I did not make any attempt to check up on the broadcast. When
I hear something like that I take it for granted that it is true..."
At 8:30 p.m., she turned off her radio assuming that it was, as she
described it, "the end of everything," and began to pray with her sister. A
friend called on the phone, and Ms. Dean learned that the Welles broadcast
was only a play:
"I got plenty mad. I had been asking god for forgiveness of my sins so I
would not be committed to eternal purgatory. I was glad I asked forgiveness
anyhow even if I did not have to..."
There was other reaction to the "War of the Worlds" broadcast, too. The
following day, news of the hoax was on the front page of papers throughout
the country. Nobody jumped from buildings as popular legend tells, although
CBS was compelled to make a public apology. The Federal Communications
Commission promptly convened hearings, and Sen. Clyde Herring of Iowa
demanded censorship legislation against what he termed "Halloween bogeymen."
Columnist Hugh Johnson feared that the broadcast put so many people in fear
that "the witch burning Mr. McNinch, Chairman of the Federal Communications
Commission, has a new excuse to extend the creeping hand of government
restriction of free speech by way of radio censorship."
Another columnist, the witty and acerbic Dorothy Thompson, reflected the
view of those who considered the "War of the Worlds" panic a benchmark of
American credulity and stupidity.
"Nothing about the broadcast was in the least credible... When the truth
became known, the reaction was also significant. The deceived were furious
and of course demanded that the state protect them, demonstrating that they
were incapable of relying on their own judgment."
The Nation magazine compared the hysteria to a "Sea of insecurity and
actual ingorance over which a superficial literacy and sophistication are
spread like a thin crust. If the Martian incident serves as even a slight
innoculation against our next demogogue's appeal for a red hunt or an
anti-semitic drive, it will have had its constructive effect."
Over 12,500 articles appeared in the nation's print media following the
broadcast within the following month. Another month passed, and this
spectacular event -- though still remembered today --dropped from media
scrutinty. In later years, magazines and papers would run occasional
features about the Panic Broadcast, usually dealing with the persona of Orson
Welles, and paying lipservice to public credulity, but forgetting the seminal
research of Hadley Cantril and the Princeton Radio Project, as well as the
factor which religious belief had played in crafting public perception.
There was, of course, the overwhelming theme of H.G. Wells' novel -- that
"God in his wisdom" prevailed over the Martian invaders, through the
handiwork of His Creation -- germs. Microbes stopped the marauding aliens,
after guns and bombs failed. That theme of human hopelessness carried over
to the Orson Welles broadcast, and even to the 1953 movie version of "War of
the Worlds" featuring the special effects wizardry of George Pal and the
acting of Gene Barry. In the closing minutes of the film, the mighty Martian
vehicles crash to earth; one breaks down outside of a church, as if in answer
to the prayers of those huddled souls inside.
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