Archive for Christian

Religion and the Paranormal

Posted in Commentary, Investigations, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2013 by S. P.
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.]

The Ghost and the Saint

Posted in History, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 12, 2012 by S. P.

St. John Bosco (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Not only does Christianity acknowledge the existence of the spirit world, even great saints sometimes experience encounters with “ghosts.” One such saint was John Bosco (1815 – 1888). While a young man, Bosco made an agreement with his friend Comollo that whichever of them died first would give the other some sign as to the state of his soul. As it happened, Comollo’s death came first, on April 2, 1839. The next evening, following the funeral of his friend, Bosco sat sleepless on his bed in the dorm room he shared with twenty other seminarians. At this point, we take up the story in Bosco’s own words:

“Midnight struck and I then heard a dull rolling sound from the end of the passage, which grew ever more clear, loud and deep, the nearer it came. It sounded as though a heavy dray were being drawn by many horses, like a railway train, almost like the discharge of a cannon…While the noise came nearer the dormitory, the walls, ceiling and floor of the passage re-echoed and trembled behind it…The students in the dormitory awoke, but none of them spoke…Then the door opened violently of its own accord without anybody seeing anything except a dim light of changing colour that seemed to control the sound…Then a voice was clearly heard, ‘Bosco, Bosco, Bosco, I am saved.’… The seminarists leapt out of bed and fled without knowing where to go. Some gathered in a corner of the dormitory and sought to inspire each other with courage, others crowded around the prefect, Don Giuseppe Fiorito di Rivolo; thus they passed the night and waited anxiously for the coming of day. All had heard the noise and some of them the voice without gathering the meaning of the words. I sat upon my bed and told my comrades that they had no cause for alarm. I had clearly understood the words; they were ‘I am saved.’ Some had also understood them clearly as I had done, and for a long time afterwards there was no other subject of conversation in the seminary.”[1]

[1] As quoted in: Abbot Alois Wiesinger, Occult Phenomena in the Light of Theology (London: Burns and Oates, 1957) 228-229.

The Real [Non-] Pagan History of Halloween

Posted in Commentary, History, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 30, 2011 by S. P.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

For most of its history, no one in the United States connected Halloween to “paganism” or “wicca.” Only within the past few decades has it gone from a harmless “kid’s holiday” to an urban legend taking root among both New Agers and fundamentalist Christians about Halloween’s supposed “pagan” past.  Thanks to continued repetition of this urban legend by venues such as the History Channel and various New Age and “paranormal” publications, as well as fundamentalist Christian anti-Halloween “crusades,” most people today accept it as fact, never bothering to investigate it further.  Today’s urban legend claims Halloween directly dates back to a pre-Christian Celtic Druid festival which the (evil) Catholic Church co-opted in order to “suppress” pagans.  As with most urban legends, this one contains a dash of truth in order to hold together a bunch of complete nonsense.

The customs we now accept as associated with Halloween are actually of much more recent origin than New Age urban legend suggests and are a mix of traditions and practices from throughout Europe, Britain, and Ireland.  As with most things which began across the Atlantic and reached American shores, these various customs and traditions were blended, “Americanized” and repackaged into what we now call Halloween.  What we do know for certain is that the modern Halloween celebration has no direct religious connection with the ancient Druids of Celtic Britain and Ireland.

It’s true the Druids celebrated a minor festival at the end of October, as they did at the end of every month, but they had long since ceased to exist as an organized people when Halloween developed.  At the beginning of what eventually became the New Age movement, Druidism saw a “revival” in the 1700s and 1800s, but just like the current New Age movement, this involved people with no real connection to ancient Druids – except in their minds – and no real connection to actual ancient Druid practices.  Just like today’s New Age “pagans” and “wiccans,” a bunch of people pretended to be “Druids” with little actual historical knowledge (other than what they invented for themselves) of actual ancient pagan groups and practices.

Let’s examine the ancient Druids a bit closer.  First, unlike the image today’s self-styled “pagans” like to project, the Druids were not peace-loving “greenies” who liked to get naked and commune with nature.  Instead, they were a rather violent and blood thirsty Celtic people who inhabited pre-Roman Britain and Ireland.  The ancient Druids had much more in common with brutal peoples like the Aztecs than Kumbaya-singing hippies.  Our earliest records of the Druids come from the Romans.  It’s significant to note that even the Romans found these people excessively brutal.  We also find that it was the Romans who suppressed Druidism.  Tiberius (Roman emperor from AD 14 to 37) first outlawed the practice of Druidism.  Under Claudius (emperor from AD 41 to 54), the Druids were completely wiped out.

The Roman record brings out two extremely important points regarding Druidism.  First, very clearly, the suppression of the Druids had nothing to do with the Catholic Church, which had not spread much outside Judea at this point in history.  So claims that the Church co-opted a Druid festival to create Halloween and force the conversion of Druids are flat-out false.  Second, a hallmark of the Roman Empire was allowing conquered territories a large amount of relative autonomy as long as they continued to acknowledge Rome and pay tribute – this included allowing people to maintain local religious customs (we see this very clearly in Judea).  The fact the Romans felt compelled to stamp out Druidism shows the Druids were anything but peace-loving nature freaks.

So how does the Catholic Church get drawn into all this?  In the fourth century, the Church instituted a feast day to honor all Christian martyrs of the faith.  This feast day was originally celebrated on May 13.  In 615, Pope Boniface IV established it as the “Feast of All Martyrs” and commemorated it with the dedication of a basilica in Rome to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all martyrs.  By 741, the feast had grown to include remembering not only all martyrs, but all the saints in heaven as well.  As a result, the name was changed to the “Feast of All Saints” in 840.  In 844, long after the passing of the Druids and long after Christianity had become the predominate western religion, Pope Gregory IV transferred the feast to November 1st.

October 31st itself held no special significance in the Church calendar until 1484 (again, long, long past the time of the Druids) when Pope Sixtus IV declared the “Feast of All Saints” a holy day of obligation (days on which Catholics are obligated to attend Mass – in addition to Sundays) and gave it a vigil and an eight-day period or octave to celebrate the feast (the octave of All Saints was removed from the Church calendar in 1955).  For Catholics, the vigil is celebrated on the evening before the feast – hence Christmas Eve.  Saints were known as “hallowed” in old English.  Therefore, the vigil for the Feast of All Saints, or “All Hallows,” became known as “All Hallows’ Eve” – Halloween.  The fact that “Halloween” is derived from old English and the Druids happened to inhabit ancient Britain is as closer as we come to a direct connection between the Catholic Church, Druids and today’s Halloween.

While it’s true that traditions such as dressing in costumes, Trick-or-Treating, and Jack-o-lanterns were originally inspired by ancient religious practices to ward off evil spirits, even by the time these practices made their way to America, they had long since lost their religious meaning. Instead, they’d become much more along the lines of cultural traditions. Most telling is the fact that there is no mention of Halloween being a “pagan,” “wiccan,” or “evil” celebration in the past historical record. Only in recent decades has this notion taken hold. Once we consider the true facts, it leads me to ask just who exactly is it that has actually co-opted Halloween for their own purposes?

So, carve your Jack-o-lantern, throw on your costume, and go Trick-or-Treating all without fear that you’re participating in an “evil,” “pagan,” or “wiccan” celebration. Happy Halloween!

2011 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

PIA Conference Presentation – On the Nature of Ghosts

Posted in Commentary, Events, History, Investigations, News, Poltergeists, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2011 by S. P.

White Noise Paranormal Network

Thanks to White Noise Paranormal Network, you can click on the link below to view my presentation, On the Nature of Ghosts, from the 2011 PIA Conference:

http://justin.tv/whitenoise02/b/291569213

You can also access videos of the other presentations through this link:

http://www.ghostshow.net/pia/

Hollywood, US Bishops Spotlight “The Rite”

Posted in Commentary, History, News, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2011 by S. P.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Zenit recently ran a two-part interview with Fr. Gary Thomas, the official exorcist of San Jose, California. It provides interesting insight into the life of a real exorcist and real exorcism. The movie, “The Rite,” is based on the book “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist,” by Matt Baglio – which in turn is based on Fr. Thomas’ experiences as an exorcist.

Part one of the interview is here and part two is here.

Poltergeists in History

Posted in Commentary, History, Poltergeists, Writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2010 by S. P.

Although the word poltergeist, from the German for “noisy ghost,” entered the English lexicon relatively recently, dating back to the mid-1800s, what we’d now call poltergeist activity is found in much older historical records.  Take for example the following account recorded by the Welsh scholar Giraldus Cambrensis in his Itinerarium Kambriae from around 1191:

In this part of Pembrokeshire it has happened in our own times that foul spirits have held intercourse with men, not indeed so as to be seen, but so as to make themselves sensibly manifest.  For in the home, first of a certain Stephen Wiriet, and later in that of William Not, they rendered their presence known by the throwing of lumps of dirt (jactu sordium) and of other things meant to deride rather than to do bodily injury.  In William’s house, as both the host himself and his guests had repeatedly to deplore, they made rents and holes in garments both of linen and cloth, and against this mischief no amount of watchfulness, no locks or bolts, afforded the least protection.  But what was stranger still, in Stephen’s house the spirit used to talk with men, and when people bandied words with it, as many did in mockery, it taxed them with all the things they had ever done in their lives which they were least willing should be known or spoken about.

By the early 20th century, researchers made the connection that poltergeist activity often centered on a particular person, now referred to as the poltergeist agent.  The poltergeist agent was, and is, generally a teenager, often female, and almost always under serious emotional distress.  Consequently, it seems likely poltergeist activity doesn’t have anything to do with “ghosts,” but instead involves some sort of psychic activity, normally with the poltergeist agent completely unaware he or she is manifesting such energy.

In the case noted above, while we don’t know much more about the specifics, Giraldus provided a compelling clue the events involved poltergeist activity.  He noted with surprise that in hauntings of this sort the use of holy water, even holy water from the font on Holy Saturday, had no effect on the activity.  In fact, priests arriving to perform sacramental rites often became the first ones pelted by dirt.  Strong indications records of poltergeist activity exist far back in human history.

Refecence: Rev. Herbert Thurston, S.J.  Ghosts and Poltergeists.  Fort Collins, CO: Roman Catholic Books, 1988. (Reprint of work originally published in 1953.)

2010 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

Christian Bashing Has No Place in Paranormal Research

Posted in Commentary, History, Religion with tags , , , , , , on December 16, 2009 by S. P.

Galileo

Why is Christian bashing, especially bashing the Catholic Church, so prevalent among paranormal researchers?  Sorry, gang, you don’t have to be “pagan” to have an interest in the paranormal.  I find it hypocritical to the extreme when some people in the paranormal field claim to be “open minded,” yet have no problem denouncing others’ religious beliefs simply because those beliefs don’t coincide with their own.  The director of one organization in Florida just can’t seem to help himself when it comes to putting down Christianity and the Catholic Church at every opportunity.  I’m interested in the paranormal because of my religious beliefs, not in spite of them, so knock it off with the Christian and Catholic bashing!

Most of the bashing is in the form of worn-out clichés and unfounded, but popular, myth.  Allow me to address a couple recent examples I’ve seen.

The first myth is the Church used Latin in the Middle Ages to keep people from reading the bible in order to “hide” it from them or some other such nonsense.  Even a moment of research reveals most people at the time were illiterate and if you did read, you knew how to read Latin.  Latin was the universal language of the literate and educated – in particular it was the language of science, allowing scientists speaking different languages to still share information with each other.  It was similarly used by the Church as a “universal” language – it didn’t matter if you were in Rome or London; the Church “spoke” the same language.  Bibles were chained to lectionaries, not because of a desire to keep it from the people, but because it was considered such an important and rare book it needed to be secured from theft.

The idea the illiterate didn’t know the Bible because it was in Latin is absurd and shows a great ignorance on the part of the person making the claim.  The average, illiterate peasant likely had a much better grasp of the Bible than the average, college-educated American today.  In the Latin Mass, the Epistle and Gospel are read in Latin as part of the rite; however the priest reads both in the vernacular prior to his homily – so the people did regularly hear the Bible in their own language.  In addition, the architecture, art, and statuary in medieval churches provided visual images of biblical stories.  The Church didn’t use Latin to hide things from the people, instead she was able to spread her message around the world because of Latin.

Another myth portrays Galileo (1564-1642) as a lone crusader persecuted by a narrow-minded, superstitious Church.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If you actually study Galileo in depth, you’ll find he comes across as something of an impatient and conceited pompous ass.  Galileo demanded his theories, many of which were later proven incorrect, be unquestioningly accepted as fact.  The Church repeatedly offered Galileo an “out” by asking him to instead correctly label his theories as theories instead of fact.  Galileo consistently refused.

During Galileo’s time, Latin remained the language of science.  However, Galileo chose to write in the vernacular, often using bawdy prose, in an effort to “play to the people” instead of subjecting his work to the review and critique of fellow scientists.  When his friends and supporters, including many in the Church hierarchy up through Pope Urban VIII, begged him to tone down his style and simply state his theories were not fact, Galileo arrogantly replied: “”You cannot help it … that it was granted to me alone to discover all the new phenomena in the sky and nothing to anybody else.”  Not exactly the speech of a persecuted underdog.

Because of his attitude, many of his fellow scientists were hostile to Galileo and condemned his theories.  It was not the “enlightened reformers,” but the Roman Catholic Church that sponsored Galileo’s lectures and supported his honest endeavors.  In fact, Pope Urban VIII, Cardinal Bellarmine, and many other leaders of the Church publicly supported Galileo’s scientific work and many of them owned telescopes made by him and conducted their own observations.

Galileo was placed on trial only once, in 1633.  During his trail, the Church treated him as a guest of honor in Rome, providing him a palatial apartment and a personal servant.  He was given a moderate sentence (the recitation once a week for three years of the penitential psalms, which he had already been doing anyway and voluntarily continued to do afterwards, a practice taking only fifteen minutes per week) for publishing as pure doctrine what he was told to publish as theory.  Galileo did not spend a single day in prison. Additionally, the Church never prohibited Galileo from continuing his work and studies, and never barred him from receiving visitors.  In fact after his trail, he lived for a time in apartments provided by the Archbishop of Siena.  Galileo died at the age of 78 in his own bed, with the plenary indulgence and blessing of the pope.

I recognized there’s others involved in paranormal research who do not share my religious views.  However, I don’t constantly and consistently put-down and attack their beliefs.  I ask the same consideration in return.

2010 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

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