The other night, after a particularly fine feed of nachos, my friend pulled out her numerology book and proceeded to do my chart. I’d done some things wrong in a past life, and there were a number of lessons I hadn’t picked up on — but generally I was happy to learn my soul was a fairly evolved one.

Thankfully I was also well-suited to my husband of 12 years, David. We were different, yes, but strangely compatible. Whether or not he is my Soul Mate, I’m not sure, but he does cook a fine pasta dish. Now, my friend knows we are both paid-up and card carrying members of the Skeptics. I suspect it amuses her. We have even, fairly recently, lived together in the same house for about a year. Two skeptics and a woman who believes in reincarnation, numerology, homeopathy and a score of other things that go bump in the night. We have had some good discussions, some frustrating and neither have been converted to the other side. An almost-truce has been reached, and a certain amount of respect.

Another friend returned from Africa with the news that not only had she developed a nasty tropical disease, but she’d discovered she was a powerful channeller, who in past turns of the wheel had lived in Atlantis. I don’t think she said she was Queen Cleopatra but by this time I couldn’t hear over my teeth grinding.

As a skeptic, there are times when I feel like an endangered species. Last weekend another good friend went merrily off to a medium — with strict instructions that I wasn’t allowed to sneer, laugh, comment or raise an eyebrow. It’s a bit wearisome having to go over my position. I believe we are duty-bound to challenge these people, to ask the questions they prefer not to and keep at them. But I also feel that sometimes we have to walk gently. It’s too easy to waddle in with bazookas and blitz the person into a corner — more entrenched than ever.

Toleration and respect for other people’s beliefs are important — my friend who visited the medium told me she would have committed suicide 15 years ago if it wasn’t for something a medium told her back then, and I don’t doubt her. The generalised comments of a good cold reader may provide just the right focus to restore balance to a life gone off the rails, but casting a life-shaping experience in this light may not be appreciated. There will also be times, when someone demands “How do you explain that?” that it is necessary to acknowledge you don’t have a ready answer. The irony is that when the proffered supernatural explanation is refused you are accused of closed-mindedness. I get very tired of that. Seizing on the first plausible-sounding explanation that comes along sounds to me like the very opposite of open-mindedness.

I’ve been a member of the NZ Skeptics for some ten years now and it’s been very reassuring to know there are people out there with similar views. As skeptics we tend not to “do” much, we gather at our conference once a year but for most members the main contact with the society is through this magazine. Over the last decade it has developed markedly and while still modest, has an important role to play, educating us on such disparate subjects as alien abductions and Papua New Guinean penis sheaths. The last issue led with an article by Dr Bob Mann, in which he stated a case for Christianity as a basis for an ethical society. Going by the letters this has generated, (p16) not too many members agree with Mann’s views, but the article fitted well with what I see as the magazine’s main raison d’tre, which is to stimulate thought and debate.

This is my first issue as editor, after nearly ten years in journalism writing for a range of publications. While several of these were for specialist readerships and assumed a degree of intelligence in their readers, at least one of the papers I wrote for had an unwritten rule to write for a reading age of twelve. The dumbing down of the print media and the five-second TV news soundbite do nothing for the standards of critical thinking which the Skeptics seek to promote. Consequently, I look forward to being involved in a publication which does not consider its readers to be cranially challenged. This is your magazine. Be involved — write a letter, clip pieces from the newspapers. If you have an idea for an article, drop us a line. There aren’t many of us around, let’s keep in touch.

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