Angelic Upstarts

Here’s an entertaining, if in its implications somewhat depressing, article from the London Spectator on the current popularity of angels. This extract gives a flavor:

Angels in My Hair is the autobiography of Lorna Byrne, an Irish woman who claims to have seen angels every day since she was a baby. Not only did the book become a bestseller, achieve six-figure sales in America, attract queues of weeping fans to Byrne’s signings and gather endorsements from the likes of William ‘Ken Barlow’ Roach (‘Lorna beautifully and graphically describes angels and how they work’). It also led to interviews with several newspapers, who quoted Byrne with a remarkable lack of scepticism. ‘I see angels all the time I’m awake,’ she told the Mail. ‘I see people’s guardian angels — we each have one — and other types of angels, too, including archangels and cherubim.’ ‘Their wings,’ she added for the Telegraph, ‘are beautiful beyond words.’

The whole piece is a useful reminder of the sort of stuff that people want to believe in – and do. And will.

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7 Responses to Angelic Upstarts

  1. Susan says:

    So we all have guardian angels, do we? They seem to fall down on the job a lot. I wonder where Chelsea King’s G.A. was when she was being raped and murdered. Off helping someone win at Bingo?

    The article makes an interesting point: that those who believe in guardian angels also believe in the Tarot, ley lines, etc. The angel craze seems far more New Age than traditionally Christian.

    As for Lorna Byrne, she’s probably conversing with angels all the way to the bank. What a great scam.

  2. John says:

    I see my guardian angel right now! Oh, wait. It just got gored by a unicorn.

  3. Anthony says:

    @Susan “So we all have guardian angels, do we? They seem to fall down on the job a lot.”

    The evidential basis for angels is overwhelming – there’s no question that many people “hear” or feel messages from angels, and often these messages are important and useful (i.e., are used by people to guide their lives in ways that turn out to be helpful). The real question is what that means – secularists can easily account for this as a component of the unconscious accessing information not previously presented to the conscious mind. Trying to understand the evidential bases of these widespread beliefs will probably lead to better PR tactics for secularists than ridiculing people for their beliefs.

    (Susan’s argument also works for parents. Parents protect children. But King wasn’t protected. Therefore she doesn’t have parents. Actually, King didn’t listen to her parents urging her not to go running. Similarly, an obvious response would be: no one forces you to listen to your guardian angel, either.)

  4. Susan says:

    Anthony, what is the evidence that proves the existence of guardian angels? I truly would like to know.

    And…Chelsea King DID have parents. The fact that she didn’t listen to them doesn’t prove their non-existence.

  5. Anthony says:


    If you adopt a functional definition of angels (they are what cause the messages people hear and feel), then there is overwhelming evidence of their existence, as many people “hear” angels and the advice is often useful.

    “And…Chelsea King DID have parents. The fact that she didn’t listen to them doesn’t prove their non-existence.”

    Exactly, that’s why the kind of argument against guardian angels you gave doesn’t work,.

  6. Susan says:

    Well, I can see, hear, and touch Chelsea’s parents. I’ve never been able to do that with an angel.

  7. Anthony says:

    No, you can’t see or hear angels, but some people can. That some people can is just obvious – read up on the literature if you don’t believe it, or even just start asking around in an non-judgmental, open-minded way. It’s quite common. This is part of what explains high levels of belief in angels.

    If angels are understood functionally (i.e., whatever it is that causes those messages people “hear”) instead of metaphysically (formed of some non-physical substance, and so on) – I think it’s better to approach these issues this way – then the evidence for their existence is robust. It’s then a further question to spell out their exact nature (how exactly they work, what they’re “made” of, and so on).

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