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.
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.
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)
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, 1934–1937)
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, 355–379, 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))
I won’t 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, 1038–1050)
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, 328–336, 391–395)
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.
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.
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)
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, 2110–2111)
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.
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 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’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?
“When Saul saw the Philistine camp, he grew afraid and lost heart completely.”
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.”
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 18:10–11; 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, 329–330, 391–395, 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:
(April 21, 2018)
- “Materialism, Robots and Attitudes”
(April 15, 2018)
- “Spirit Photographs”
(April 11, 2018)
- “God Doesn’t Make Junk”
(January 14, 2018)
- “Planet 9, Maybe; Nibiru, No”
(September 29, 2017)
- “Brain Facts and Figures”
Eric H. Chudler, Neuroscience for Kids, Washington State University
- “Appraising the brain’s energy budget”
Marcus E. Raichle, Debra A. Gusnard; PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America) (August 6, 2002)