Religion and the Paranormal

Aristotle (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Aristotle (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Some have asked whether religion and the study of the paranormal are necessarily connected. This seems an important philosophical question worth considering. As with all philosophical inquiry, it’s critical that we clearly define our terms before proceeding in order to ensure we’re all using these terms in the same sense.

In this case, it seems we should distinguish between “religion” and “theology.” The study of religion is a human-centered anthropological pursuit which seeks to understand a group’s or individual’s beliefs and acts of worship which arise from those particular beliefs. In this sense, “religion” is nearly synonymous with “worldview.” This is why even those who claim to be atheist, agnostic, or “spiritual without religion” all in fact actually have a religion since “religion” describes a person’s particular belief system and their response to that belief system (i.e. worship).

On the other hand, theology proper shares a connection with metaphysics. Despite certain New Age claims, metaphysics has is not some esoteric New Ager term. Instead, it is a well-established branch of philosophy which takes its name from the Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle’s Metaphysics, a work so named by a later compiler since the compiler placed it following Aristotle’s Physics. Aristotle’s Physics looks at what today we’d term the “natural sciences.” Metaphysics means “after physics.” It is “after physics” both in the sense of following the work Physics and in the sense of studying that which goes beyond the natural sciences or beyond physics. The study of physics is the study of material bodies. After explaining the workings and interactions of these material bodies, Aristotle asked the next logical question: how and why do these material bodies have existence and what does that mean? These answers are found in metaphysics. The subject of metaphysics is being as being; it seeks to understand precisely what it means for a thing to have existence.

Since things have existence by causes, metaphysics also involves a study of causes as such, the most important of which is First Cause or the divine. “Theology” involves study of this First Cause or what even Aristotle termed “God.” So in theology, we’re not looking at the beliefs and practices of human beings, but instead are looking at what we can know about this Being God – theology is God-centered. Certainly different religions offer different theologies, but all theology is focused on what we can know about the Primary Cause of Being.

With this in mind, it would appear that yes indeed, the study of the paranormal involves both “religion” and “theology.” Religion describes worldview, and everyone has one whether acknowledge or unacknowledged, whether examined or unexamined. Our worldview impacts how we look at things; it is the “filter” through which we see the world – and we can have correct worldviews or false worldviews depending on if it corresponds to objective reality or not. That’s why it’s very important to examine one’s own worldview and not simply unquestioningly accept that of postmodern, post-Christian secular society. Exactly as Socrates put it, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Now theology likewise is clearly involved with the study of the paranormal. We claim to seek knowledge about certain kinds of beings popularly termed “ghosts.” The way in which these beings can have being and the nature of that being goes to the realm of metaphysics. Yet, being must have cause and there cannot be an infinite series of causes within a set, but instead must be a First Cause external to that set – in other words, there must be God. And if there is God, then it is God who gives the beings we claim to investigate their being, so it would seem part of our study must necessarily include coming to some understanding of this First Cause or God.

Again, these are important philosophical questions and show why paranormal investigation involves far more than walking around in the dark with a box that goes “beep” or taking photographs of “orbs” composted of dust and insects. Despite popular postmodern claims to the contrary, objective reality and objective truth exist – and they exist completely independently of our mere “belief” in them or not. Our job is to discover the truth of the reality around us; not to delude ourselves into believing we can “create” our own reality independent of objective reality. Descartes had it completely backwards; it’s not “I think therefore I am,” but “I am, therefore I think.” That’s why this notion that every “theory” has equal validity is utter rubbish!

Socrates was absolutely correct that we do ourselves a great disservice when we lead unexamined lives. No matter how solidly built the house, if it rests on a foundation of quick sand, it will fall. This is why worldview is so critical – it is truly our foundation. A mistake here affects everything else: an incorrect worldview leads to an incorrect metaphysics which leads to an incorrect theology. As St. Thomas Aquinas says in On Being and Essence, “A small error in the beginning grows enormous at the end.” So, in the end, there does seem to be a close connection between religion, theology, and study of the paranormal.

2013 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

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2 Responses to “Religion and the Paranormal”

  1. Reblogged this on Sheila Englehart and commented:
    Very well put!

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