Comments on a recent blog of mine objected to my lumping atheism with other emotional traits, on the grounds that atheism was 'rational'. Sorry guys, agnosticism is certainly rational, but atheism is just another ideology--there's no way either to prove or disprove the existence of a deity. And its adherents seem to be just as fear-driven and prejudiced as the nutcakes who think every goofy idea and weird legend in the King James Bible is absolute truth--personally dictated by a bearded gent in the sky who also personally created today's universe in seven days.
When Sam Harris wrote The End of Faith he received--in addition to the usual angry letters from fundamentalists--equally angry letters from atheists and materialists because he had dared to suggest that genuine spiritual experiences were possible to achieve--through meditation, psychedelics, etc.--without buying into nonsensical religious dogmas. To some ideologues spirituality is taboo, and Harris had violated the cardinal tenet of materialism: if you can't touch it, it doesn't exist. Which pretty much throws modern physics out the window. When's the last time anyone made sensory contact with a meson or a black hole?
Rationality, to my mind, is associated with patience, tolerance, and an open mind. Not with the kind of angry vigilance materialists exhibit. They even have a society--the Skeptics Society--dedicated to stamping out any stray bloom of spirituality, or the report of any non-ordinary phenomenon. One can't help being reminded of the old House UnAmerican Activities Committee, the fanatical anxiety skeptics display that some "woo-woo" idea is going to take hold and corrupt the youth of our nation. Their eagerness to dismiss the reports of eyewitnesses when the data contradict their theory disqualifies them as 'rational' people.
Personally I have no idea whether psychic phenomena are 'real' or not, nor do I have an firm opinion about the Yeti, flying saucers, and various other odd reports. But I have to say, I'm a little more willing to trust multiple eyewitnesses than a single armchair theorist with an axe to grind. People do misperceive events, but the direction of misperception is usually to fit an oddity into a known and familiar category--one that reduces anxiety, not arouses it.
And this is precisely what the armchair skeptics do--fit it into a familiar category so their anxiety won't be aroused by an unfamiliar phenomenon. A Bigfoot sighting is a hoax (they often are), an experienced airline pilot seeing a UFO is just confused by the planet Venus having a bright night, and so on. Whenever a hoax is perpetrated, for example, the professional skeptics claim the existence of the phenomenon in question has been disproven for all time, which is a little like saying money doesn't exist because there are counterfeiters. But it makes the skeptics feel safer.
We do have to keep in mind, after all, that meteorites were once considered a "woo-woo" idea advanced by gullible hysterics, as were gorillas. A man in Victorian times who brought a gorilla pelt back from Africa and stuffed it was vilified as a charlatan. People are scared of things they don't understand, and will go to great lengths to deny their existence. And fear always makes people inclined to attack those that arouse it.
It's true that some people are suggestible. But it's even more true that people hate to have their world view challenged. Materialists are just as guilty of this as fundamentalists. To discredit the personal experiences of millions simply because they contradict an ideology is to mire us in the traditions of the past and retard cultural evolution.