Archive for Unknown

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.

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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.

There’ll be Scary Ghost Stories…

Posted in History, Locations with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2011 by S. P.

Railroad Convict Labor (Image: http://www.learnnc.org)

There’ll be scary ghost stories

And tales of the glories of

Christmases long, long ago.

Gentle readers, in the “spirit” of the Season, I present my humble contribution of a “scary ghost story.” Turn down the lights, curl up with your computer in that big comfy chair by the fire and enjoy. Don’t worry, that noise outside is just the wind, or Santa, probably…

The metallic tink of a chorus of pick axes striking rock filled the crisp air like a bizarre industrial age symphony. In the best of conditions building a railroad was hard work. In rough terrain it was hell. This was rough terrain. Had it not been for the winter cold, the laborers would have sworn they were in hell.

In 1883, the directors of the Western North Carolina Railroad were determined to build a line linking Bryson City and points west with Dillsboro and the outside world. They’d be damned if trifling things like mountains or even the lives of workers would stand in their way, especially in the case of the men working to complete the Cowee Tunnel near Dillsboro, North Carolina.

These were no ordinary railroad workers. The area was considered so dangerous, few men signed up for the job. The state of North Carolina came to the aid of the railroad by supplying prison convicts, mostly black, for labor.

The prisoners and their guards camped across the Tuckaseegee River near a hairpin bend which Cowee Tunnel was being built to bypass. Each day groups of twenty prisoners were shackled together in ankle irons and ferried across the river in rafts under the watchful eye of a guard.

On that cold fateful winter morning in 1883, tragedy struck. The river was running high and the current swift that morning. Before they even realized what was happening, the angry river capsized one of the rafts and tossed twenty prisoners and their guard into its frigid waters. Weighed down by the heavy chains, nineteen of the prisoners met a horrific death by drowning. Only one prisoner, Anderson Drake, managed to free himself and rescue the guard, Fleet Foster.

Unfortunately, Drake, unwilling or unable to part with his criminal ways, stole Foster’s wallet during the rescue. What should have been a heroic triumph became brutal punishment when the wallet turned up at the bottom of Drake’s duffel bag. The guards whipped Drake and sent him back to work on the tunnel.

The bodies of the nineteen less fortunate convicts were pulled from the river then hastily buried in unmarked graves on the hillside near the mouth of the tunnel. Since no one much cared about the fate of a few prisoners, their unmarked graves were quickly forgotten as work immediately resumed on the tunnel. Even today, the exact location of the graves remains uncertain.

What seems not so uncertain is the restlessness of their spirits. From shortly after the time of the mishap itself to the present, witness after witness near Cowee Tunnel report hearing unexplained sounds of splashing water, clinking chains and axes, and perhaps most disturbing of all, loud, mournful, pitiful wails of anguish. Do the dead still haunt Cowee Tunnel, seeking to remind us of the presence of their nearby, but neglected, graves?

If you’re brave enough to find out for yourself, take a ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. Their excursion train runs from Bryson City to Dillsboro, passing through the infamous Cowee Tunnel. Just to be safe, you might want to keep the windows of your carriage closed…

Merry Christmas and have a spook-tacular holiday!

Sources:

Baldwin, Juanitta. Smoky Mountain Ghostlore. Virginia Beach, VA: Suntop Press, 2005.

Osment, Timothy N. “Railroads in Western North Carolina.” Learn NC, no date. http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/nchist-newsouth/5503.

Taylor, Troy. Down in the Darkness: The Shadowy History of America’s Haunted Mines, Tunnels and Caverns. Alton, IL: Whitechapel Productions Press, 2003.

©2011 S P Schultz, All Rights Reserved

Dr. F. C. S. Schiller on Evidence

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2011 by S. P.

Dr. F. C. S. Schiller (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

A mind unwilling to believe, or even undesirous to be instructed, our weightiest evidence must ever fail to impress. It will insist on taking the evidence in bits and rejecting them item by item. The man who announces his intention of waiting until a single absolutely conclusive bit of evidence turns up, is really a man not open to conviction, and if he be a logician he knows it. For modern logic had made it plain that single facts can never be “proved” except by their coherence in a system. But as all the facts come singly anyone who dismisses them one by one is destroying the conditions under which the conviction of new truth could ever arise in the mind.

— Dr. F. C. S. Schiller, “Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research,” Vol. XVIII, p. 419, Society for Psychical Research, 1904.

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/

5th Annual PIA Conference a Success

Posted in Events with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 1, 2011 by S. P.

2011 PIA Conference

The fifth annual Paranormal Information Association Conference came to a successful conclusion this past Sunday in Sebring, Florida. The PIA, which began life as the Florida Ghost Gathering, aims to bring together researchers of anomalous phenomena from around the state in order to share ideas, network, and build friendships. Unlike other conferences which largely cater to “fans” of “paranormal” television, the PIA Conference is open only to members of organized research and investigation groups. Another key feature of the PIA Conferences is the fact they are held “at cost” – everyone, including speakers, pays a modest registration fee and no one makes money off the conference. No, you won’t hear the latest “celebrity” speaking about the latest “hit” television show. Instead, you will encounter people with decades of actual field experience in anomalous phenomena research eager to share ideas and information with fellow colleagues. Also, unlike other conferences, the PIA Conference is not limited to merely the discussion of “ghosts,” but includes all areas of anomalous phenomena research including cryptozoology and UFOs/UAPs.

This year’s gathering was held at the historic Kenilworth Lodge in Sebring, Florida. The lodge opened in 1916 and has seen its share of well-known guests, including playing host to a meeting of US governors in 1924. The Kenilworth served as the perfect backdrop for the PIA Conference. The organizers of the PIA Conference hope to establish good relationships with a few historic hotels around the state in order to set-up something of a “rotation” for future PIA gatherings.

The event featured an excellent line-up of speakers on a wide variety of topics. Along with a variety of presentations, another hallmark of PIA Conferences are social activities to encourage networking and the building of relationships and friendships among various teams and investigators. This year’s event delivered in this aspect as well with all of Saturday evening devoted to social activities.

PIA’s organizers understand that the “turf wars” and personality conflicts which seem to dominate the field are not helpful. Their events are dedicated to breaking down those barriers by helping everyone understand we’re all working towards the same goal and we can more easily reach it by working together rather than by working against each other.

If you’ve already attended a PIA Conference, I’m sure you need no further motivation to keep attending. If you haven’t attended, I highly encourage you to do so – I strongly suspect it will only take one time to make you a regular!

What is Help?

Posted in Commentary, Investigations, Religion with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2011 by S. P.

At the United Paranormal International website (unitedparanormalinternational.ning.com), a member recently posed an excellent question: most paranormal groups claim to offer clients “help,” but what really is this “help?” The question goes to the heart of paranormal research and is one I’ve been contemplating for some time. What “help” can paranormal groups really offer to clients? I’m sure many will not like my answer: not much.

Groups’ claims of assistance, while generally well-intended, often go far beyond factual reality. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not saying paranormal groups are pointless. Instead, I think we need to be clear on our limitations. We need to recognize what we truly can and cannot accomplish. I believe the only legitimate “help” falls into the categories of so-called “debunking” and support.

I personally dislike the term “debunking” since it seems to have a negative connotation. Instead I prefer the wordier (but I believe more accurate) “seeking natural explanations for suspected ‘paranormal’ activity.” I think this is one of the most important “helps” a group can provide clients. A legitimate paranormal group should be well-versed in indentifying “normal” things which can mimic the “paranormal,” for example high EMF, faulty plumbing, poor or aging construction and so forth. An important function of a legitimate group involves educating a client on these types of things which at first glance appear “mysterious,” but actually have perfectly natural causes.

The other area of “help” involves support. It’s in this area of “support” where many groups over-sell their ability to “help.” We are dealing with the unknown. The very best we can accomplish is verifying a reported activity has no apparent explanation. However, simply because we don’t find an immediate explanation, doesn’t mean it’s automatically “paranormal.” The best we can do is verify for the client that something without an apparent “natural” explanation is happening. We can reassure the client that he or she isn’t imagining the activity. I believe this is a great service in itself since many times people feel better simply knowing it’s not “all in their head.”

We cannot prove the existence of the paranormal. It bothers me when a certain television program constantly tells people their site is “haunted” (the same show took a much more realistic and cautious approach in its early seasons by claiming only that “unexplained” activity was present). We can document anomalies which point to the possibility of something unexplained happening, however, as mortals, we cannot “prove” existence of the spirit world.

Similarly, we cannot legitimately claim to “cleanse” locations. First, any sort of “cleansing” is a belief-system based activity and not fact. As a belief-system based activity, its success or failure has much more to do with the belief-system of the affected person than with the belief-system of any particular group. Second, if we assume entities in need of “cleansing” are spiritual beings, as mortals in the material world, we are sadly deluding ourselves if we believe we have any sort of power over these entities.

One area of support I rarely see mentioned involves referring people to professional medical assistance. There are numerous medical and psychological conditions which can mimic the paranormal. The Catholic Church refuses to even consider exorcism until a person undergoes a full medical evaluation to eliminate that possibility first. Yet, some groups apparently believe they can handle such things on their own. No amount of “investigation” or “cleansing” will help if there’s an untreated medical condition as the underlying cause. We do no “help” by playing into people’s delusions. Most of us are not medical professionals and we have absolutely no business playing doctor or psychologist, but I believe we do have an obligation to seek this help for those we believe need it.

So there you have it. What help can paranormal groups legitimately offer? They can help clients discover “normal” explanations for apparent “paranormal” activity. They can also offer clients support when activity is discovered with no apparent “normal” explanation. “Cleansings,” “proving” hauntings, even identifying specific “ghosts” I believe all go beyond our legitimate capabilities – at least at the present time.

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