A recent LiveScience article "Americans Believe in God, Astrology, and Ghosts" indicates that the beliefs people hold may actually be contradictory and a mix of a variety of themes.

This tends to confirm the view that people will believe almost anything regardless of whether it is consistent with what they profess.  After all how does one reconcile the fact that 22% of those identifying themselves as Christians also believe in reincarnation?  Nearly one in five has had an encounter with a ghost, while 25% believe in astrology.

While all this can be somewhat entertaining, I was struck by another article on LiveScience just a few days earlier; "Belief in Witchcraft Leads to Murder in Africa".

In this article the story dealt with the murders of albinos for body parts because it was felt that they contained magical powers.

Sound crazy?  Well, we also have to consider other situations like Jonestown, the Branch Davidians, and even Heaven's Gate.

Some would argue that these are the exceptions, since we call them "cults" and aren't logically part of any religion.  However, the term cult is invariably used only when people want to distance themselves from some of the extreme consequences of others beliefs.  

Regardless of how one chooses to classify these things, in the end it always comes down to all the weirdness that people are willing to believe. An obvious question is why do people believe all these things?  

It seems that a partial explanation may exist when one considers that every one of these beliefs suggests that the individual involved has either special power or special status that conveys some advantage to them that no one else has.  Such groups may have special knowledge, or access to special powers by some supernatural entity, or the ability to communicate with supernatural entities, etc.  In short, the main characteristic that these types of beliefs have in common is that they transform the ordinary individual into an extraordinary one. In this view of the world, miracles can occur to offset the vagaries of ordinary life. One isn't subjected to the normal problems or issues of the world, but rather one has a special friend that is looking out for them.  Someone that is capable of effortlessly fixing problems.  Someone that can appreciate how unjustly a person is being treated and correct it.  Someone that has the power to give you a "do-over".  Basically someone that can ensure that the rules of life don't have to apply to you, because you're exceptional.

It's little wonder that most people cling to their beliefs so desperately.