Ghosts?

Whether or not I believe in ghosts depends on what’s meant by “believe in” and “ghosts.” And how I see myself, for that matter. I’ll be talking about ghosts and why I think seances are a bad idea. Also, briefly, superstition and metaphysics.

I don’t fear that an ancestral banshee might come to the new world and find me. Or think spirit photographers were selling pictures of ghosts. (April 11, 2018)

If that’s ‘believing in ghosts,’ then I don’t. On the other hand, I’m not a materialist. I think part of me won’t die, no matter what happens to my body.

It’s a Material World, Partly: Body AND Soul

I see the physical world — matter, energy, the structure of time and space — as part of reality. But not all of it. There’s more to me than the oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus in my body.

I’d think there was more, even if I was a strict materialist.

Those six elements only account for about 99% of my mass. Another 0.85%, give or take a bit, is potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium.

Trace amounts of pretty much every other element complete the list.

All the more common elements in my body are also common on or near Earth’s surface. But not in quite the same proportions. Earth’s crust has bigger fractions of silicon, aluminum and iron.1

I could fret about Earth’s abundance ratios and Genesis 2:7 not quite matching. But I won’t. Oddly enough, I’ve yet to see a ‘Bible-based’ church denounce chemistry. Or geochemistry. Evolutionary theories have been among their favored foes since the mid-19th century. (February 9, 2018; September 22, 2017)

‘Biblical’ disapproval of post-Jenner medical tech may have been more popular in the 18th century, but it’s still an issue. And another topic. (July 21, 2017; October 16, 2016)

I think my body is part of me.

Like all other humans, I’m made of matter and spirit. This is not a problem. Matter isn’t basically bad. (Genesis 1:27, 31; Catechism, 285, 337349, 355373, 285, 1703)

My body will die. My soul can’t.

My soul, like every other human’s, is created by God, spiritual and immortal. I’m not more or less “spiritual” than anyone else. I can’t be. We’re equal, but not identical. We’re not supposed to be. (Catechism, 366, 872, 1703, 1880, 19341937)

We’re all creatures made from the stuff of this world and God’s ‘breath.’ Each of us is made in the image of God, with a body and “equally endowed with rational souls.” (Catechism, 355379, 1703, 1934)

SOUL: The spiritual principle of human beings. The soul is the subject of human consciousness and freedom; soul and body together form one unique human nature. Each human soul is individual and immortal, immediately created by God. The soul does not die with the body, from which it is separated by death, and with which it will be reunited in the final resurrection (363, 366, cf. 1703).
(Catechism, Glossary, p. 900 (via USCCB))

Having a spiritual and material nature comes with being human. What I do with these gifts is up to me. (Catechism, 355, 17301731)

Death, Life and Being Human

When I die, I’ll still be a human: a dead one.

I won’t be necessarily be better off as a disembodied soul. Or basically different.

I’ll be a human whose soul and body aren’t connected. It’s a temporary condition. My soul and resurrected body will be together, eventually, along with every other human’s: in time for the Last Judgment. (Catechism, 990, 10381050)

If I’ve got any sense, I’ll be in that “great multitude, which no one could count” Revelation 7:9 mentions. Opting out is an option. But not a good one. (March 11, 2018)

I like being a creature made of matter and spirit.

That’s just as well, since I’m human and always will be. Maybe that seems odd, coming from someone who says he’s a Christian.

I’ve run into interesting notions and assumptions, maybe folklore by now, about life, death and all that.

I’ll never be an angel. Angels are pure spirit, an entirely different sort of creature. Angels are the ones who are agents for God. They’ve got intelligence and will, like we do; so working for God is their choice. Or was. (Catechism, 328336, 391395)

They don’t exist in space-time, not the way we do, so my language’s verb tenses don’t quite fit their situation. I’ve got more to say about angels, artistic conventions, and Mycenaean Linear B, but that’s yet another topic, for another day.

It’s like the 1937 movie said: “You Only Live Once.” Reincarnation doesn’t happen. I get to go through this live once. Or need to, from another viewpoint. (Catechism, 1013, 10201050)

Logical Explanations and a Pulsing Tombstone

Uncle Deadly is one of my favorite Muppets. His recent Halloween appearance on The Muppets YouTube channel showcases his witty charm.

Both an actor and vocalist, Uncle Deadly’s interpretation of “Sheik of Araby” was unforgettable:

“…At night when you’re asleep
Into your tent I’ll creep….”
(“Sheik of Araby” lyrics (Fats Domino))

So, for me, was his title role in “Phantom of the Muppet Theater.”

The following “Phantom” dialog makes more sense with an explanation. Not much more, since this was The Muppet Show. Kermit, the Muppet Theater house manager, has been dealing with panicky Muppets.

After a false alarm, Kermit says “…there is no such thing as a phantom. That’s final, period, end of report!” Then Fozzie asks Kermit what’s behind him, and leaves the long-suffering frog:

Kermit “Uh, you will notice that I didn’t fall for their joke. And if it isn’t a joke – I mean, if there is someone or something behind me – there is no doubt a logical explanation for it. So I shall now just turn slowly around and see what is going on here.”
He turns around and faces Uncle Deadly.
Kermit Uh, pardon me, sir, but is there a logical explanation for your presence here?”
Uncle Deadly (cackles)
Kermit “Apparently, there is no logical explanation.”
He runs away screaming. Uncle Deadly cackles.
(The Muppet Show, Episode 121: Twiggy (1976))

I think Uncle Deadly’s response was more a ‘nya-ha-ha-ha‘ than a cackle, but that’s not my point. Kermit’s “apparently, there is no logical explanation” remark reflects both the frazzled frog’s inner spirit and a common perception of logic and reality.

Today’s notion that realty includes the material world and nothing else is part of the Enlightenment’s legacy. So is seeing logic and ‘spiritual’ perceptions as incompatible.

I don’t agree, but think generations of Post-Reformation state-run religions, turf wars, famines, plagues and witch hunts — fueled by faith-based propaganda — left a bad taste. (March 9, 2018)

Devoutly daft Christians don’t help.

Neither, I think, do “miraculous” products, apparently-Christian superstitions and folks who believe them. (August 13, 2017; July 23, 2017)

In a way, superstition is religious feeling gone wrong. If I believed that a prayer works if I say the right words with the right gestures, no matter what’s going on inside me — that’d be superstition, and a bad idea. (Catechism, 21102111)

Thinking that my soul can’t die doesn’t mean I think a local cemetery was haunted during the 20th century. I do, however, think a local story about the cemetery is true.

A particular tombstone pulsed with a pale radiance at every rising of the full moon: regular as clockwork, for years. I’ve seen the cemetery. Some of the older locals could have shown me the tombstone.

One of them told me how and why the tombstone pulsed with strange radiance at each clear rising of the full moon. And why the tombstone gleams no more in the gloaming.

The ‘haunting’ ended when a supper club on the south edge of town closed. The eldritch pulse was moonlight reflecting off the establishment’s rotating sign. When the sign stopped turning, the tombstone stopped pulsing.

“A Christmas Carol” and Metaphysics

I’ve never chatted with a ghost, or had the opportunity. Meeting a ghost, I probably wouldn’t say what Scrooge did. I’m a real American, living in 21st century Minnesota: not a fictional Englishman in residing in 19th century London.

But I’d likely have Scrooge’s doubts about what my senses were telling me.

I think Marley’s questions made sense. So did Scrooge’s replies:

“…’You don’t believe in me,’ observed the Ghost.
‘I don’t,’ said Scrooge.
‘What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Scrooge.
‘Why do you doubt your senses?’
‘Because,’ said Scrooge, ‘a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!’…”
(“A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens (1843) via Project Gutenberg)

Maybe “an undigested bit of beef” wouldn’t make someone see Marley. Our sensory organs and brain aren’t quite that unreliable. But hallucinations happen, Quite a lot can go wrong, and occasionally does.2

Scrooge and Marley were discussing what’s real and how we know about it: ontological and epistemological aspects of metaphysics. But without the obfuscatory grandiloquence that arguably gives metaphysics a regrettable reputation.

The Oxford Dictionary of Difficult Words” says that “metaphysics” and “metaphysical” can mean “abstract theory or talk with no basis in reality” and “based on abstract (often excessively abstract) reasoning.”

I don’t have a problem with abstract theory. The trick is remembering what’s real, and what isn’t.

I’m interested in — fascinated by — what’s in this universe and the rest of reality, and what might exist.

My interests encourage me to think about what’s real and what’s not, and how sure I can be about what I think I know. That’s metaphysics, but mostly I see it as common sense.

Getting back to Scrooge, Marley, and attitudes, I think Dickens said it best. Scrooge was “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner.”

I’ve seen Scrooge called a materialist, the sort who thinks physical treasures are important and spiritual ones aren’t. That’s pretty obvious, after the first few paragraphs.

A few folks have said he’s a materialist of the metaphysical variety. I see their point, since Scrooge said he thought Marley might be an indigestion-induced hallucination.

But I suspect Scrooge’s metaphysical musings hadn’t been much deeper than “It’s humbug still! … I won’t believe it:”

“…They were succeeded by a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine-merchant’s cellar. Scrooge then remembered to have heard that ghosts in haunted houses were described as dragging chains.

“…The cellar-door flew open with a booming sound, and then he heard the noise much louder, on the floors below; then coming up the stairs; then coming straight towards his door.

“‘It’s humbug still!’ said Scrooge. ‘I won’t believe it.’

“His colour changed though, when, without a pause, it came on through the heavy door, and passed into the room before his eyes. Upon its coming in, the dying flame leaped up, as though it cried, ‘I know him; Marley’s Ghost!’ and fell again….”
(“A Christmas Carol,” Charles Dickens (1843) via Project Gutenberg)

I take spiritual realities seriously and think our souls can’t die, so why wouldn’t I try contacting deceased friends and relatives? What could possibly go wrong?

The Endor Incident

Folks who say ‘it’s good to be king’ may be thinking of kings reigning in tranquil times. Or maybe don’t see leadership’s downside.

1 Samuel 28:319 opens with Samuel’s death. Philistine troops are about to attack King Saul’s territory.

“When Saul saw the Philistine camp, he grew afraid and lost heart completely.”
(Samuel 28:5)

I’ll give Saul credit for using proper, by his standards, methods first.

“He consulted the LORD; but the LORD gave no answer, neither in dreams nor by Urim nor through prophets.”
(Samuel 28:6)

That wasn’t the first time Saul had asked for advice and gotten no answer. Thinking about why God wasn’t returning his calls would have made sense. But fearful folks don’t make sense. Not consistently.

Saul, who should have known better, had a medium in Endor arrange an interview with Samuel. The deceased prophet was none too pleased. Understandably, since consulting ghosts and spirits is a bad idea. (Leviticus 19:31, Deuteronomy 18:1011; Catechism, 2116)

Saul got his question answered. Accurately, too; although I’m pretty sure Saul didn’t like what he learned.

I’ll grant that the medium could have staged Samuel’s appearance, or gotten the attention of someone who’s not one of God’s agents. Not all spiritual beings are ‘good guys.’ (Catechism, 329330, 391395, 414)

In this case, though, what Samuel allegedly said was consistent with what God and the prophets said before and after Saul’s time. Saul may have gotten who he asked for.

Three millennia later, folks who should know better still act like they don’t. Which gives me plenty to write about:


1 What we’re made of, material components:

2 Senses, perceptions, theories and a “myth:”

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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2 Responses to Ghosts?

  1. Christians (and other religions) believe that we have a body and soul. Christians believe that when we die our soul continues to “live” (exist) and will be judged by God. In effect, we can say that our soul is our spirit, (another word for soul).

    The question then arises: can these souls –

    Be seen by the living (ghosts)
    Communicate with the living (seances, mediums who “speak” to the dead, etc …)

    In Christ’s times people must have believed in ghosts. When His disciples saw Him walk on water they thought He was a ghost. Jesus did not tell them, “Don’t be silly. There are no such things as ghosts!”

    After His resurrection He asked His disciples to touch Him to prove He was no ghost. “Look I have a body … ghosts don’t have bodies!” He ate with them to prove He was a human being (body and soul) alive again, as before. Resurrected. Not a ghost.

    This then begs the question(s). Who were those beings that early Christians thought/believed were ghosts? Souls of dead people who were “seen” by the living? Or the devil pretending to be a “ghost”? For he exists as a spirit for sure.

    Not being able to ascertain whether ghosts exist or not; this leads us to the second question above as to whether they can (or do) communicate with the living via mediums, seances and the like – e.g. Ouija boards, Tarot cards.

    Or is it, once again, the devil communicating through these mediums to lead us further astray?

    God bless.

    • Good points, and questions: which is why I’ve got at least one more post about “-isms” planned. This one was going to be about spiritualism, an American version of spiritism; but “Ghosts?” happened instead.

      A quick response, about souls, ghosts and afterlife. We get a look at pre-Incarnation beliefs in 2 Maccabees 7:9. ( http://www.usccb.org/bible/2mc/7#21007009 ) The – second, I think – brother says “…the King of the universe will raise us up to live again forever, because we are dying for his laws”

      Descriptions of angels in the Bible seem to show that humans perceived them as having physical form – – – so I figure purely-spiritual creatures can, under some circumstances at least – seem to be spiritual-material beings like us.

      If that’s so, I don’t see why creatures whose nature is both spiritual and material couldn’t be perceived the same way.

      Yeah, it’s going to take at least one more post to start covering that. More, probably.

Thanks for taking time to comment!