For my birthday a couple of years ago, I was given a reading by an astrologer. Being a skeptic, I marched off to the astrologer's prepared to laugh my way through the session. Instead, I came away impressed. It was not only that the astrologer found me to be creative, imaginative, sincere, passionate, good and worthy in all things (the stars don't lie), but also that, by peering at my chart, she discerned a secret I had kept from her.
"I see something very close to you at birth," I think she said. It was then I announced that I am a twin, born 25 minutes after my sister on the morning of a certain February 6. I share that birth date with, among others, Ronald Reagan, Tom Brokaw, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jerry Zipkin, Babe Ruth, Bob Marley and, of course, my sister -- which is what had led me to my skepticism about astrology. I could find nothing in common with the others, with one exception: Babe Ruth and I both worked at one time or another in the Bronx.
Anyway, two years after my session with the astrologer, my parents and sister came to Washington, and my sister, for some reason, asked the time of her birth. Had she been born at 1 a.m. and I at 1:25 or was it 1:05 and 1:30? All she knew for sure was that we had been separated by 25 minutes. "One and one twenty-five," my mother said, "but it was in the afternoon." No, I protested, it was in the morning. My sister protested, too, but my mother stubbornly stuck to her story. So, for that matter, did my father. That wrapped it up.
And so it turned out I had given my astrologer the wrong time of birth. I was off by precisely 12 hours, during which time, I would imagine, several million people had been born -- at least one of them, apparently, with a twin. Whoever that person is, he is undoubtedly creative, imaginative, sincere, passionate, good and worthy in all things. But he is, alas, not me.
Astrology has long interested me -- not the pseudoscience itself but, instead, its incredible popularity and widespread acceptance. The Washington Post, which in other respects is a serious newspaper, recently devoted more than two pages to astrological predictions, as if they were not the sheerest nonsense. And on a daily basis, The Post panders to, or perhaps merely amuses, its readers by running an astrology column, which, if I understand it correctly, says that Zsa Zsa Gabor and I are supposed to have about the same sort of day. If so, I've somehow withstood the urge to have a face lift and marry a younger man.
Interestingly, neither The Post nor any other newspaper would publish the rantings of some religious leader -- turn over a column to him, for example, in which, after studying eye of newt and tongue of toad, he could predict that we Aquarians should not host large parties in the spring. This, though, is precisely what The Post printed shortly before New Year's, presenting it as if the predictions had some basis in fact. The facts, though, are hardly in dispute. They simply don't exist.
Science rejects astrology. The most careful studies find it without any scientific foundation whatsoever. Astrology, then, is an intellectual black hole, faith rather than science -- and worse, faith without any moral or ethical content.
The basis of astrology is the belief that who we are -- and what's to become of us -- was determined by the configuration of the heavens at the moment of our birth. That the ancients believed this is understandable if only because they also believed that kings went to their afterlife by boat. But astrology in the Christian era ought to be an anachronism. Unlike the Mesopotamians, who originated astrology in the third millennium B.C., Christians believe in free will, and Americans believe in it most of all. We are told we can be anything we want.
Determinism, as Marxists know, is appealing. And just as Marxism concocts a bogus science to support its ideas, so too does astrology. It employs complexity to produce simplicity. It takes an expert to cast a chart that only a fool can appreciate. The complexities of life -- the interplay of countless factors, including heredity and environment -- are banished. Fate takes over, and everything becomes a matter of luck -- the heavens at birth, at the moment, in the future.
But astrology does offer answers for the inexplicable and does it especially well in areas where science is mute or tongue-tied: love, for instance. What is it? What is this force, so powerful, so compelling and yet beyond the reach of science? This crack that science falls through is, for you and me, a chasm into which we have all plummeted. For people who feel they have little control over their lives and loves, astrology supplies explanations.
Whatever the appeal of astrology, a couple of questions remain. Should astrology remain a newspaper staple? And by including these columns, do newspapers lend credibility to an alleged science that has no more basis in fact than alchemy? A journalism purist would have to answer yes to the latter and no to the former -- and direct astrology buffs to the many magazines devoted to the subject. But something makes me hesitate, maybe the fact that so many people take comfort in astrology. At any rate, the columns don't really bother me. Astrology believer or skeptic like me, we can all sing the song Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson wrote for the musical adaptation of Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country. It's called "Lost in the Stars."