Whatever else 1977 may be, it is not the Year of Reason. It is, rather, a season of miracles and other supernatural manifestations - a euphoric time fro congenital believers.
Take Laetrile, the latest cancer "cure." Despite the overwhelming testimony of the medical profession that this product is no more effective against cancer than root beer, 10 state legislatures this year, catering to popular opinion, have rushed to legalize it and circumvent the federal ban on its manufacture and sale.
It is not, however, exclusively a year for new phenomena, as witness the revival of interest in unidentified flying objects, commonly known as UFOs. Who would have guessed they were about to make a comeback?
Some think this can be traced to President Carter's recent confirmation of a report that he had personally seen a UFO. "I don't laugh at people any more," said the President, "when they say they've seen UFOs, because I've seen one myself." Others, though, contend that what the chief executive thought he saw coming over the horizon was really a flying BB (balanced budget), an object that up to now has been as illusory as a flying sauver.
Actually, the two objects have many of the same characteristics, in that they are the impalpable stuff of which dreams are made, are best observed at twilight, and appear headed for the earth but somehow never land. All right, but wait till 1980, says Budget Director Bert Lance.
While we are waiting for the balanced budget and flying saucers to arrive, it should be noted that they are not the only eye-popping things on the way. For over 30 years some of our most prominent citizens have been warning us that "the Russians are coming." although to the skeptical eye they appear to be receding.
Nevertheless, this optical illusion is so gripping that its principal proponents have now organized themselves into the Committee for the Present Danger. They are going to try to save the rest of us from the imminent Soviet invasion.
The U.S. mood seems to be catching, for even the Russians are now taking up ESP, which is short for extrasensory perception, hitherto thought to be an exclusive American form of clairvoyance. Those who practice ESP believe they can develop the mental telepathy to penetrate the mysteries of numbers such as the turn of a card or the fall of dice and hence, by extension, perhaps the movement of armies or what's on the mind of the enemy.
The arrest in Moscow of Robert Toth, an American foreign correspondent, accidentally revealed how seriously the Kremlin takes ESP. The dreaded Soviet secret police (KGB) grabbed Toth just as he was about to receive from Valery Petukhov, a dissident Russian scientist, the results of his exhaustive study of ESP. The KGB obviously regarded this as top secret, so it can only be concluded that the Soviets are planning to undermine the United States by extrasensory means. As the Committee for the Present Danger warns, the Russians will stop at nothing.
The Toth case might have been worse. Suppose that the Petukhov study had been on another flourishing cult like, say assassination conspiracies. The Russians could hardly be blamed for wondering why the U.S. Congress is willing to spend millions of the taxpapyers's dollars on still another dead-end effort to prove that John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were the victims of some dark, nameless plot.
Congress itself is well aware that it is money down the drain, but the object is to appease constituents who will never accept a rational explanation of the assassinations. After all, the U.S. Air Force spent $500,000 on a two-year study to prove that UFOs are a figment of the imagination, but there are more flying-saucer fans today than ever before.
Another reason that cults hard to kill is that they usually provide a handsome living for those who make a career of promoting them. The charmpions of the assissination conspiracies have been well rewarded, especially on the lecture circuits. The merchandisers of Laetrile have made a fortune. A horde of professional Red-hunters have a vested interest in keeping alive what President Carter rightly calls an "inordinate fear" of communism.
Reporters who cover the various cult rallies often seen much the same kind of audiences in attendance, whether the subject is UFOs, the fluoridation of water, assassinations, transcendental meditation, or the latest aberration of the John Birch Society, which is convinced that Dwight D. Eisenhower, hero of World War II, was a secret Communist agent.
There is this much to be said for Laetrile: It does't seem to do any harm, except to the degree that it is used as a substitute for tested cancer treatment. Moreover, an army of Americans who annually spend millions of dollars in the innocent but tenacious belief theat baldness can be reversed are hardly in a position to scorn those who are devotees of other mirages.