Religion and the paranormal
Often I will ask readers of the blogs to give me suggestions of topics they would like me to write about. When I write, I try to include different points of view in my research and allow the reader to form their own opinion based on the information presented to them so I am often asked to tackle topics they don't quite understand themselves. In some ways I am doing the hard work for them by doing the research and presenting it all in one streamlined place - which is what I love doing by the way. Aside from the usual 'write about haunted house stories', one of the most requested articles has been to talk about religious beliefs and it's influence on how we investigate the paranormal. A lot of investigators believe that some are blinded by faith in a way that affects the way they investigate the paranormal. On the other hand, some investigators believe in certain figures which are bred from religion without actually knowing any reasoning behind it. Demons is what comes to mind here - one of the most misunderstood words used within the paranormal field and I will talk about this more below. Investigating the paranormal is always going to be from a bias perspective based on how the person views the paranormal. For a lot of people, the way you view the paranormal can stem from your religious beliefs. In order to properly understand how much of an influence religion can have on paranormal investigator and how they interpret activity, we first have to have a better understanding of religion itself. What are the different religions and more importantly, how do they view the afterlife ... if at all?
I could start by asking the question 'What is religion?', but this can be really difficult to define in words as it is not always identified as one thing and it can mean different things to different people. What I can say is that it is a faith based belief system that is controlled or overseen by someone of superhuman ability or in the better word - a God. Followers worship the god and live their life according to their lessons and teachings of their God. One person described it perfectly when they said it wasn't so much a religion to follow, it was a way of life. While each religion is different in the things they believe and the lessons and teachings the preach, what they have in common is their faith in their god. It may also surprise you that different religions believe in different things pertaining to the afterlife. In fact some religions don't even believe in an afterlife at all.
I am certainly not going to pretend to be an expert in religion. While I was baptized as a Christian from the Church of England when I was a baby, I personally as an adult do not believe in a god and do not identify or conform to any sort of religion. I guess you could say that I am an Athiest. In order to look into the different religions, I have had to resort to extensive online research. Even then what I have found could be wrong because I am not a part of each mentioned religion, so if I have misrepresented your religion in any way, please do not take it as a sign of disrespect as it is certainly not intended that way, I simply don't have the intricate knowledge of every religion. An article published by HJ News had a pretty easy to understand list of it's interpretations of the religious beliefs of the afterlife. With some fact checking, I have found this to be the best understanding and representation of the different religions. You can see the original article they posted here: What religions believe about ghosts
• When someone dies, their spirit goes to heaven, hell or purgatory.
• Ghosts are not spirits of the dead but malevolent spirits or demons.
• Attempt to contact spirits is strictly forbidden.
• When someone dies, their spirit is powerless and is unable to interact with the living world.
• Demons or unclean spirits deceive humans by posing as spirits of the dead to keep believers from worshiping Jehovah.
• Attempt to contact spirits is strictly forbidden.
• There are realms in which spirits exist.
• In the absence of specific biblical evidence, the church does not speculate on whether ghosts exist or not.
• Lutherans do believe in biblical teaching against occultism and contacting dead.
• No firm doctrine on whether ghosts exist.
• Spirits contacted by mediums are most likely demons or devils who were cast out of heaven during the rebellion.
• Some LDS leaders have speculated that the spirits of those who have passed on are not far from the living.
• Occultism, seances, Ouija boards, spiritualism are tools of Satan and are to be avoided.
• Once a person dies, their soul remains in the grave and a barrier is set up. They cannot return to the place of the living, neither can they ascend to heaven or hell just yet.
• There are jinn, which are another creation of Allah, that live in a world parallel to humans. They are physically invisible and possess powers including taking on different physical forms.
• Jinn can sometimes appear as “ghosts” in an attempt to lead people astray.
• When a person dies, their spirit is divided into three aspects. One goes to heaven shortly after death, one wanders around the physical plane seeking the body it came from and will eventually fade away and another remains by the buried body forever.
• A dybbuk is a ghost of a deceased person who will possess another human for malevolent purposes.
• An ibbur is a ghost of a deceased person who will “impregnate” itself in a human for benevolent purposes. They can be thought of as a spiritual guide or guardian angel. When the person no longer needs them, the spirit will leave on its own accord.
• Both Tibetan Buddhists and Indian Buddhists believe in ghosts.
• Ghosts occupy a distinct, overlapping world.
• A person can be reincarnated as a ghost meant to work out bad karma. These are often called hungry ghosts, described as having bloated bellies and tiny mouths with which they cannot feed their overwhelming hunger.
• A person can also be reincarnated as a ghost called a devas who will live a comfortable life.
• Many Hindus believe in ghosts.
• Ghosts are often associated with people who had unnatural deaths, like a murder or an accident, and those dead people were not given proper Hindu death rituals like Shraadha or Tarpan.
• These ghosts cannot possess people and can become officially dead by having their death rituals performed.
In 2018, the Pew Research Center stated that Christianity is still the most followed religion in the word, followed closely by Islam. It is also important to note that even though they are different, Christianity in these figures represent the Catholic Church, Protestantism, Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, Restorationism and Nontrinitarianism and independent churches.
Being a Christian is slightly different to being Roman Catholic even though they are usually both referred to as Christianity - especially for reporting purposes. They do have similar beliefs when it comes to the paranormal. Being that this is the most represented religion worldwide, I thought I would look into it a little closer. I thought I would go straight to the source and see what a Christian Church had to say about Christians going 'ghost hunting'. This is a snippet from an article posted by Ministry Matters - you can view the full article here: Christians and Ghost Hunting
I don’t think it’s a good idea to go ghost hunting in places like cemeteries or abandoned buildings for the adventure of it. But a Christian’s purpose is connected to the purpose of Jesus Christ: to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). So when there's a situation where someone is being tormented or harassed by a spiritual entity (whether human or demonic), I believe Christians have the authority to step in and confront it.
Some of the methods paranormal investigators use are dangerous. Christians should not be collaborating with psychics or other occult practitioners. And attempting to communicate with the dead in any way, especially to get information or satisfy curiosity should be avoided. Leviticus 19:31 is fairly plain: "Do not resort to dead spirits or inquire of spirits of divination—you will be made unclean by them; I am the Lord your God" (CEB).
The above lists are obviously very brief explanations and in some cases may not offer a proper representation of the religion's and their stance on all things paranormal. I was given some great insite by author Mark Ireland and reading his latest book which offers quite a detailed deconstruction of the different religions and their stance on the psychic phenomena. If you want to explore the way different religions view the paranormal, grab a copy of his book: Messages from the Afterlife. Chapter 8 is dedicated to Psychic Phenomena, mediumship and religion. His website is https://www.markirelandauthor.com/ . I have really enjoyed it and it offered some great perspective.
What I find most interesting about the interpretations from the articles written above and the research in general I have been doing in the past weeks, is that in almost all of the above religions, ghosts or spirits are not represented as our loved ones who have passed away and are perhaps visiting us with a kind message. If you ask most people that believe in ghosts and spirits and what they think they are, they tend to believe that they are the energy or the spirit of a person who was once living and has either not crossed over or is visiting from wherever realm or 'heaven' they believe it is that they are at rest. From a religious perspective this view isn't necessarily possible as in most of the religions above, they view a ghost or spirit to be someone who is stuck in purgatory or is some kind of tormented soul or demon. Communication is not encouraged and people with psychic abilities are to be avoided. I have sadly met in my travels a lot of people who were raised under a religion of the Church and felt they had psychic abilities. Some had exorcisms performed on them and one I spoke to was put through a program almost like 'conversion therapy'. Simply put, their religion saw them as something associated with the Devil. They feel because a ghost or spirit must be something evil, a medium is communicating and channeling evil. It is why in some religions, it is not encouraged to engage with a psychic medium.
It made me a little bit confused. I know that particularly in modern society people don't necessarily follow the hard line of religion. A lot of it can be argued and people can interpret the scripture differently and some people choose to only take on board some teachings. The main thing that confused me was that all this time I thought some people were so blinded by faith that they couldn't necessarily interpret their paranormal experiences properly. An example being any negative experience is often described as 'demonic'. I guess 'being blinded' isn't really the right way to describe it because if they were so blinded by faith, they wouldn't be investigating the paranormal at all. It meant there was a perspective that I was missing and it wasn't something I couldn't find in a book or on Google. Confused with all this information, I went to the people. I wanted to hear from people themselves about their religion and their belief in the paranormal. Most importantly I wanted to understand if their belief was different to their religion. Did they participate in activities that are not encouraged or even forbidden by their religion? In some religions, contacting spirits and using things like spirit boards or doing table tipping is considered 'the devils work'. I also wanted to understand where the fascination with demons really came from. We tend to blame religion (and some reality television) for the resurgence of demon talk in modern day paranormal investigating. So I created a survey and asked followers to complete some basic questions to help me gain a little bit of perspective. I had around 47 people answer my questions or contact me regarding my questions around religion and the paranormal. I promised everyone confidentiality and I am sticking to that so I will not be publishing the things that they have said to me, but it did help with the perception and clarity I needed to properly understand the implications of religion and paranormal investigating ..... well my interpretation anyway.
Before I get to what the results told me and my thoughts, I asked fellow blogger and friend Ashley Knibb for his much valued opinion on this subject. In his words:
Religion and the paranormal have been keen collaborators from quite possibly the dawn of time. In fact before the advent of modern science and a world where we have a greater understanding, more natural events were considered supernatural and often attributed to the gods. As our understanding of the world grew we began to understand more to be normal and accept it as a part of nature. This even to some extent began to detach our comprehension that the gods were to blame for many things we didn’t understand originally. So, as you can imagine as we evolved over the centuries our understanding between normal and paranormal was blurred due to our religious viewpoints. Religion has often dictated what we should or should not believe in too, attempting to structure our beliefs. This too can have a fundamental affect on our belief systems too. Now when we look at this today and apply it to how people may investigate the paranormal we often see that their belief systems can influence their approach greatly. These belief systems don’t necessarily need to be spiritual either. During past investigations I have witnessed some investigators that generally approach with what could be deemed a scientific approach often disregard other possibilities, but surprisingly not because they are spiritual. Their belief system would define what they believed to be the answer so much that they would only see that possibility. A classical example being EMF, they would state that presence of high level EMF explained hallucinations and disregard sighting of apparitions based on this alone. Problem is there is actually no categorical scientific evidence to support this. The jury is still out on that one. The point being is their belief system focused them on that point being true. A distinct similarity to a spiritualist medium that believes they are in receipt of information direct from a spirit, but will not accept the possibility that the information could be from a more logical source. Their belief system prevents them almost from being open minded enough to accept other possibilities. The thing about beliefs though is that they are more than often not one particular way or another, our beliefs are blurred constantly. Few have the gift of absolute clarity of belief. This isn’t a bad thing though because it means we can often remain open minded to various approaches, something which is ideal for investigating the paranormal. As for me, my beliefs are simple; I neither disregard or solely believe in science or spirituality, both need some work. Which means I always do my best to follow the facts , but equally remain open minded towards the possibility of the answers being found in both science and spirituality. It’s without doubt that our beliefs can influence our approach to the paranormal, but its something I feel we should be mindful of to ensure we don’t hinder the results of the investigation.
Just how much are we influenced in modern day paranormal investigating?
The results from the survey although limited, still offered an insite into those who investigate the paranormal. At the time of publishing this article, 47 people completed the survey. Only 43% of these people believed in some sort of religion with Catholic and Christianity being the most common. The majority of the respondents either didn't follow a religion or were brought up with a religion and have gone on to leave that religion for various reasons. This doesn't come as a surprise to me as in modern society, religion is viewed much differently. People ask a lot of questions these days and tend to live life the way that they want to and parents aren't necessarily now imposing religious views, instead allowing their children to find their own. Then there are some that while they may believe in a certain god, they don't necessarily practice all the teachings down the hard line. They only follow what feels relevant to them.
Out of the 47 people, 2 did not believe in ghosts and spirits. The rest did believe in some form, but had different interpretations of what a spirit or ghost was. While some did believe in the usual interpretation of the soul of a person who has passed, other looked at it being a type of energy manifestation or something even other worldly. AI (Artificial Intelligence) was mentioned a couple of times as well so it really does go to show that there is not one simple answer to what is a ghost. What was most interesting to me was that 57% of the respondents use some form or protection prayer while investigating the paranormal. This to me was a small key piece of that supports my own observations when it comes to religion and the paranormal.
I have written previously about subconscious bias. The way we have been raised, the way we think, the job we do for a living and the things we believe in all have a part to play in how we interpret and investigate the paranormal. Sometimes it is at such a subconscious level, we are not aware of it. When I say it was interesting that the figure for people using some form of paranormal prayer as protection than the number of people who followed a religion, I believe some of this comes from deep down within us. We are always changing, we are evolving and so do our beliefs. Do they ever truely go away or are they just buried deep down? When we are confronted with fear, we go into with is called fight or flight mode. We act on instinct. While someone may not feel they believe in god or follow a religion, when a tough time presents and they are backed into a corner so to speak, they often seek comfort in things they used to know. It is why people who don't normally pray to god may suddenly say a prayer. It is this fear that has them seeking some kind of comfort that everything is going to be OK.
Another interesting yet controversial development of modern day paranormal investigating is the alleged presence of demons. If you haven't already, check out my article 'Let's address the demon in the room' which talks about this topic in more detail. I feel I also need to point here that I have not formally studied demonology, again this is just my own observations. Demons exist in theology. If a person doesn't follow a particular religion, why is it they believe in the demons of that religion? In this case, I don't feel it is necessarily a religious influence, but more a reality television and social media one. Suddenly every second or third person that is investigating is encountering demons and negative forces when it makes absolutely no sense. Some people can be also be grossly misled when learning about the paranormal. If you are joining the field and learning from someone that heavily believes in demons or uses religion to influence how they investigate, they are passing that onto you. While you may not be religious, you have in some ways inherited this misinformed belief from your teacher due to their own bias. There is another possibility I have pondered. This is just a what if scenario but what if someone claimed they were being tormented by a demon. You bring in a Catholic priest to exorcise the demon because that is what you believe you have to do as. What if it isn't a Catholic Demon? What if it is a Jinn? How do you know the difference? Is it the words that make a difference or how you say it? Is it just the belief behind the words? You can see wherein the belief system really matters in this kind of situation. It begs to ask the question, how many people don't believe in some kind of religion yet believe in demons?
One thing I do feel however is that sometimes religious people are perhaps unfairly judged by fellow paranormal investigators. While there is some bias there and some are more influenced by it than others, sometimes they are mocked for their beliefs. I had a comment section at the bottom of the survey for people to leave thoughts. There seemed to be an overwhelming majority that felt religion did influence how we investigate the paranormal. Some were more vocal than others and quite judgemental, and it seemed alot of this judgement came more from the problems of religion itself than the religious people investigating the paranormal. Putting that aside, is praying to a god so unbelievable and different to believing in aliens or time traveling beings or a spirit of a person who once lived? Is them being influence by religion any different to be led by skepticism? From the other end of the spectrum, are we allowing skepticism to influence us too much? Whether it is a god or a ghost or even science , we all believe in something. We need to be respectful to each other's belief system but also aware of how it can affect us. As Ashley said above it is about finding the balance. It isn't easy and not something that is just done at the drop of a hat. It is something that happens with an open yet rational mind and with experience and learning from mistakes of the past. When mentoring fellow investigators who are learning, it is important to encourage the same. It is important not to influence them using our own beliefs. Most importantly, we need to almost forget everything we know and immerse ourselves into the unknown. It means we will be able to not only debunk, but also be open to something. We are here searching for answers to the unknown, so it is important to not only be rational, but a little open minded as well. Think for yourself ....... Question everything!
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Keep an eye out for my collaboration with Ashley Knibb launching in early 2019 Supernatural Synchronicity
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