Date: Fri, 9 Aug 1996 13:40:56 -0700 Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 8, 1996 (Part Tw

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Date: Fri, 9 Aug 1996 13:40:56 -0700 from: Subject: [Atheist] AANEWS for August 8, 1996 (Part Two) Reply-To:, nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn nnnnnnnnnn AANEWS nnnnnnnnnn #123 uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu 8/8/96 WHEN MARTIANS INVADED, ''PEOPLE OF FAITH'' PANICKED (Part Two) 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 unsympathetic." 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 it." (Case study) "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..." (Case study) 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. *** INTERESTED IN MEETING OTHER ATHEISTS? If so, why not join American Atheists and participate in our on-line discussion group, AACHAT? For membership information, send mail to:, and include your name and postal address. If you are already a member, just contact the moderator, Margie Wait, through ** AANEWS is a free service from American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion. For information about American Atheists, send mail to:, and include your name and postal address. Or, check out our cool new web site at You may forward, post or quote from this dispatch, provided that appropriate credit is given to AANEWS and American Atheists. For subscribe/unsubscribe information, send mail to: and put "info aanews" (minus the quotation marks) in the message body. Edited and written by Conrad F. Goeringer, The LISTMASTER.


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