The extreme is often an example of what is wrong within the norm, so I will go there.
I've been seeing the new one Backyard Oil advertised. I was intrigued because I went to graduate school in Kentucky and had to do a lot of clinic rotations in the back hollows of Eastern Kentucky.
So, in summary, some people can drill in their backyards in this part of Kentucky and hit oil. I'm not sure but I think it is about 1 in 10 wells that produce. It can cost $10 K to $25 K to sink the well (depending how deep it has to go) and if you hit a good vein (right word?) of oil, you can pump out about $ 25 K per MONTH. So this is a big gamble. Most of these people only earn about $ 25-35K / year.
It is part of human behavior that anytime there is something that happens somewhat randomly but with very high stakes, superstition becomes very, very important. You will see it in sports, in casinos, in health (trying to please God so mom's cancer gets better) and of course in these types of high risk business ventures.
It is quite interesting in this Bible belt country how powerful of a role superstition plays. Some men paid, I think $5,000 for a rooster because they heard rumors that it could find oil. Others use bloodhounds (I am amazed by the ability of bloodhounds to smell things, but no bloodhound can smell crude oil 1500 feet beneath the surface) and of course there are several people using diving rods. There was one man with webbed toes that, in their view, proved that he was a warlock. He was paid a good sum of money for picking a well site.
Two of these characters really grabbed my attention. One was a Baptist church. The pastor said that Jesus told him that they should look for oil and that Jesus promised them that they would find it and get a butt load of money. After all this is just like the Jesus of the New Testament who went around Galilee making people rich . . . or is it?
But the one that really grabbed my attention was a middle aged woman (who dressed like she was 20) to whom God came in the middle of the night and told her that Jesus wanted her to strike oil. She walked and prayed all over her property until Jesus showed her the spot. Why did she need to get rich? To get a boob job. I thought her boobs were normal size the way the were. But I guess Jesus wanted her to have Dolly Parton sized boobs. I'm not sure why. It makes about as much sense as Jesus wanting the church to strike it rich.
I've actually heard of a couple of churches striking it rich (one was oil in CA). Both churches ended up going through nasty splits and lawsuits as they brothers and sisters fought over the money.
In this TV show, the Baptist church did strike an artesian well . . . which many predicted would bring them more money than oil (artesian wells are more rare in those parts than oil wells). But I predict that it won't be long until that water is bottled and those nice church people will start to spread rumors about healings for those who drink from it. Any time you mix special water and church stuff it ends up being miracle water . . . just wait and see.
I since now that I will need to make this a two part post as it is getting long and I haven't made my point. I will just add one more part of the introduction.
I work in headache medicine. This past week a very interesting study came out. Thirty years ago we use to teach patients about triggers that brought on migraines, like chocolate and red wine. Many books expanded those trigger list as TV shows like Dr. Oz. Virtually every patient I see tells me of clear triggers. Some are as odd as a particular brand of pickles . . . or the smell of dog farts.
For a while the science has been suggesting that these things don't trigger migraines at all. Indeed, a group in Iowa have found that daily chocolate might even help prevent migraines as well as a group from Argentina have found the same good benefits for migraine with red wine. However, with this big study, they took thinks that patients swore triggered their migraines. They followed the patients for months where they strictly avoided those triggers. Then they exposed them daily to those triggers. In the end . . . the headache count was about exactly the same.
The article got into the role of superstition in migraines. Migraines are random (expect for the few know triggers such as woman's menses). The consequence is great. So when you have a random event that has great consequences, as I mentioned before, superstition grows up around it. It is human nature.
One book that I read a long time ago and I love it is The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (I think I said it correctly as this computer will not let me open a new search page without loosing this page). Mark Noll (the author I think) gave a quote from a contemporary of the early Church. This Greek author said that these so-called "Christians" were unique because they were very non-superstitious (when compared to usual Greek culture of the time).
I think that snap shot of the church was a wonderful time, but makes up a tiny majority of Church history that has been deeply entangled with the psychology of superstition. I will pause with that thought and pick back up on it tomorrow. Sorry, I'm being summoned home and I don't have time to proof read once again.