But here are some numbers that we admit, with great sadness, ring true:
The survey, which has a margin of error of four percentage points, also revealed that theological liberals are more apt to believe in the paranormal and the occult - haunted houses, UFOs, communicating with the dead and astrology - than do conservatives. Women (35 percent), blacks (41 percent), those younger than 30 (40 percent), Democrats (40 percent) and singles who are cohabitating (49 percent) were more likely to believe, the survey said.
On the surface, this seems like it must be a mistake. Our natural assumption is that secular people -- like those godless Democrats -- are more hardheaded about metaphysical matters than religious believers, and that the more secular one becomes, the more hard-headed and committed to materialism and evidence. After all, these are the people who were weaned on Locke and Marx, who consort with the atheistical Frenchies (14%, highest level of unbelief in the world). Push liberal Christianity far enough, and you meet people who barely believe in God -- so they can't really be the same people who believe in haunted houses. Can they?
Apparently so. Years ago, Father A. hosted a small gathering of local colleagues, for Bible study and mutual support. We were all ELCA Lutherans, and so theologically "liberal" by somebody's classification, although every one of us seemed Biblically astute and creedally oriented. At some point, the conversation turned to what was then a popular television show -- it featured a young man who claimed he could talk to your dead family members.
"My sister knew him in high school," somebody said. "She swears he had the gift even then." Other people chimed in, talking about hat a marvelous ability it was.
"Uh, yeah," Father Anonymous said. "It would be great, if it weren't completely bogus." He talked about a close friend who was a talented stage magician, and who had recently developed a mentalism act. They had talked for hours about the traditions of onstage mind-reading and, yes, necromancy -- how a few clues, a few prompts and some well-documented algorithms could turn you, too, into "Mentallismo the Magnificent, the Ghost Whisperer."
Your correspondent expected a few chuckles and a change of subject. What he got was a quick, hostile response: How could he say such things? my sister swears this guy is legit. And even if he isn't, somebody is, right? Somebody out there can conjure the spirits of the dead. Right?
Out of five or six priests (or as the ELCA quaintly puts it, "rostered persons"), all with college and seminary educations, all otherwise apparently sane and sensible, it turns out that Father A. was the only one who didn't believe in this, um, horseshit.
So, yes, we suspect that the Baylor survey is mistaken about church attendance, and that the director is misinformed about the Catholic Catechism. But we fear that the most shocking revelation may be accurate: there are a lot of Christians who don't believe in the Immaculate Conception or the Perpetual Virginity, but will believe in pretty much anything else.