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Art Bell’s Quickening Is Sickening

A Skeptic's Notebook

Robert Baker

Skeptical Briefs Volume 7.4, December 1997

We’ve long known that Art Bell, night radio’s paranoid propagandist, knows how to rave and rant. What we didn’t know was whether or not he could read and write. An organized rumor that he is, indeed, literate comes to us in the form of an alleged “book” titled The Quickening: Today’s Trend, Tomorrow’s World. The question of Bell’s literacy is not fully settled, however, because on the title page we are told there was an editor, one Jennifer L. Osborn, who had a prominent role in this publication. Quickening, unfortunately, was released this year by a firm labeled Paperchase Press of New Orleans, Louisiana. Added suspicion is cast upon Bell’s claim to authorship by the presence of Ms. Osborn’s name right under Bell’s in a very suggestive position. After one dips into the book’s pages, however, it becomes crystal clear from the chapter titles, the gloom-and-doom themes, as well as the litany of errors and misinformation — plus the hysterical and repetitive exaggerations — that the ideas, if not the words, are, indeed, classic Bell.

Just as he does in his nightly radio diatribes, Bell in this word-assembly, is out to terrorize anyone naive enough to read him. Each chapter of this “book” begins with a little “story” whose intent is to frighten one into believing the human race has had it. Although each tale is designed to scare us into calling our Senator, all come off just about as chilling as a Halloween pumpkin.

In one story a couple is no longer able to have children because the wife has a venereal disease. In another, a man catches a drug-resistant form of malaria. In others, two terrorists blow up an oil field, two teenagers poison themselves by inhaling upholstery cleaner, and a bunch of German skinheads catch and torch a Turk. Each of these grotesque tales is Bell’s way of assuring us that our individual and collective future is going to be pure hell. Even worse, our prophet tells us, is the fact that everything around us today is moving so fast, i.e., “quickening,” that none of us Simple Simons is able to keep up with these fast-moving times. This is especially true for simple Art, who apparently never misses a single issue of The Weekly World News and seems to believe every word he reads. “Every aspect of our lives is accelerating and changing at a faster and faster pace,” Art tells us; and since he can’t keep up, then no one else can either! So there!

He or Osborn (or both) are thoughtful enough, however, to give us a warning at the beginning of their book:

Warning: The following material may not be suitable for those of you not prepared to face the realities of the future. These may seem like isolated snapshots of some far-off world. In truth, they are all symptoms of the same cause: The Quickening. . . .

Looking at the chapter topics, we can easily see just what is ringing Art’s bell. First, there is the world’s booming technology, with the Internet, fiberoptics, virtual reality, smart computers, cloning, and all them other goblins the scientists are creating. Next we have the economy (which is America’s heavy load and which nobody understands), the European Union, Asia’s cheap labor, and the disastrous road we're on to a global economy! Then there’s the government, which is fragmented and in decline as we are moving daily to that horror of horrors: global government! And look at society, in particular, our society with its rampant crime and immorality and weakened fabric due to militia groups, terrorism, and hordes of illegal immigrants. Then, of course, there’s the shame of shames — our religion and spirituality. Are your spiritual? Is your neighbor? Look at all those weird New Agers, all that crappy modern psychology. This is what has brought on all the UFOs and alien attacks and abductions and talk about a crazy one-world religion!

Behold our messy environment with its out-of-control consumerism and humongous garbage piles, smog everywhere, lead in all the kiddies cereal, chemical spills and leaks, global warming, ozone holes, and fallout of all kinds from massive overpopulation! The latter, of course, causes horrible disease and famine. Not only are there a lot of new and scary diseases but all the old plagues are coming back and our antibiotics are no longer working. Only prayer can save us! Then there’s our old Mother Earth, who seems to be undergoing menopause with all her earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tidal waves, tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, and floods; and don’t ever forget all those mountain-size asteroids and comets heading our way. Worried about the future now?

Within each of his woe-filled chapters, Bell manages to get off some real cobs of wisdom and advice. For example, Bell tells us, “We have children we do not know how or have the time to raise.” We are also advised, “We have to learn self-discipline and stop reproducing. There're too many people already.”

Art is also concerned about our freedom, and he notes, “The world now has more freedom than in the past but at what price? The trouble is that increased political and social freedom has had a degenerative effect on the moral fiber of humanity” (p. 306). Chinese, North Korean, and Cuban citizens thank their lucky stars every day for their firm moral fiber.

We are then told that “Secular humanism is the trend of ‘the Quickening,’ but this has had the backlash of creating a narcissistic population bent on having its own way” (p. 306). Of course, none of the other religious and sectarian groups are ever interested in “having their own way.” In another religious revelation, Bell passes on the shocking, humongous news that “homosexuality [now can be found] even in the church.”

Bell also tells us, “We must save more of our earnings. We should learn to do with less . . . to continue to live as we do will yield people — our children and their children — who will not know how to adequately take care of themselves, to take care of each other, and to care for the world upon which they must depend for resources” (p. 308). Then in the same voice Bell tells us, “We can’t change.” He informs us that there is ethnic hatred everywhere; there is a great disparity between the rich and the poor; we still live under the threat of nuclear war; we are destroying our environment; and, since we cannot change some things, “We should change ourselves as individuals.” “My hope,” Bell says, “is that we as humans will come to our senses. Believing things are ‘not really that bad’ will doom us.” Answering his own rhetorical question “Where is the Quickening taking us?” Bell says, “To a global government with a benevolent dictator. If this is what it takes so be it.” The plague of pompous pieties, platitudes, and propaganda never ceases!

It is very difficult for us to believe that Art Bell (or anyone else for that matter) would have the unmitigated gall to ask the public to pay $24.95 for 336 pages of childish inanities or to have them read such drivel as, “Ghosts and apparitions exist and houses can be haunted. Of that there is no doubt. . . . Psychic abilities are all spiritually based and occultic” (p. 193). Bell’s chapter-by-chapter exposure of his massive and seemingly inexhaustible ignorance and his utter lack of scientific background and training, as well as his total inability to present a respectable rational argument, is embarrassing, even for a grade-school reader.

It is highly unlikely that this silly essay will be reviewed by other critics, since the kindest thing one can do for the author of a “truly bad book” is to ignore the social boo-boo and find something more worthy of criticism. Reviewers, nevertheless, also have a duty to protect the potential reader from nausea and intellectual indigestion. My only justification for spending this much time and effort on The Quickening is to warn any and all unwary readers that it is even worse than Bell’s self-congratulatory newsletter After Dark. Somewhere toward the end of this distressing work Bell confesses, “writing a book is no easy task.” In Bell’s case the chore is well beyond his abilities, and despite Osborn’s help, he still hasn't done the job. The best that can be said about The Quickening is that it is, indeed, sickening!

Robert Baker

Robert A. Baker is professor of psychology emeritus, University of Kentucky, Lexington.