Separate and Unequal: Being a Paranormal Outsider

Separate and Unequal: Being a Paranormal Outsider

There’s something you might not know about me; something I rarely talk about with people. It’s not that I feel some sense of personal shame in who I am, but when it’s discussed, it always leads to some form of debate. But here I go, saying it out loud.

I’m an atheist.

You might think it’s an odd combination: having no belief in a higher power, yet hunting for things which have not been proven to exist. On the contrary; I think it’s the ideal combination. I have no theological bias, make no assumptions, and form opinions from the viewpoint of the neutral observer. If I hear a noise late at night in the woods, I try to figure out what caused it instead of projecting my own religious belief onto it and calling it a demon.

Spiritualism was an attempt at turning ghosts and hauntings into a religion. Of course, even Christians turned against it.

The paranormal community might sound like a diverse place to be, but there seems to be an unwritten rule that pursuing unexplained things requires more than belief; it demands faith. And that faith is always tied to some form of organized religion, most predominantly Christianity. It may take the form of prayers, but often we see it in discussions of angels, demons, and exorcisms.


Is there harm in having faith? The answer is debated far and wide. Personally, I believe in allowing anyone to believe in, pray to, or worship any god or goddess they so choose. I have friends of every religion and have been exposed to them all in one form or another. Whatever you choose to believe (or not to believe) is your own choice, but when it comes to the paranormal, the link is in desperate need of disconnecting.

The main problem is the focus on one simple word: belief. You can believe in ghosts, Mothman, the Tooth Fairy, or any one of the thousands of ideas or creatures professed to be factual by someone somewhere on the globe. But there’s another side of the word; saying “I believe” can be the equivalent of “I think” or “I suspect”. If I say, “I believe it’s five o’clock,” I’m not saying that is my personal faith, it’s merely a guess of approximate time. There’s no need to consult an oracle; I simply need to find an accurate clock to be certain.

So often in the field of exploring strange creatures and alleged hauntings, people forget to differentiate between the two. Belief and faith get mixed together so tightly, we don’t allow them to be considered separate ideas. In the United States, we have separation of church and state. Shouldn’t there be separation of church and supernatural too? Things like demons and angels don’t necessarily need to be stripped out of the field, but the religious connotations and attachments should be. Mixing the two together can be harmful or even dangerous. If you tell a catholic their home is occupied by Satan himself, you’re feeding into their own fears and faith which could lead to emotional and mental stress at the very least. And if you tell someone there’s a guardian angel looking out for them, shouldn’t some of the blame fall on you if they take it to heart and do something dangerous which leads to their death?

Whenever people complain that the paranormal isn’t taken seriously, most of the reasons revolve around its involvement with religion. If you’re trying to be scientific, tossing around holy water doesn’t scream, “Hey, look at me! I’m unbiased!” I’m not saying you must be an atheist to conduct some sort of research or investigation into unexplained phenomena, but you would be wise to leave your religious views and trinkets at the door.

The patron saint of aliens? Listening to ancient astronaut theory does make you wonder if even it's become its own religion. "The will return..."

So, what’s my personal viewpoint, dare you ask? I believe there are yet-unexplained phenomena occurring around the world which warrant further investigation to find the answers to what causes them and why they happen. Do I believe that dead people return from the grave for slumber party Ouija games or coffee house tarot readings? As much as I can’t say with absolute certainty that they don’t, I find it extremely unlikely. The same applies to 5,000-year-old inhuman evil entities possessing people or Jesus making that surprise photo op on a piece of toast. I can’t be the only person on earth who realizes that no one has ever sufficiently answered the all-important first question: what is it? Ask anyone what a ghost is, and you’ll get many different answers. Before you start using gadgets and gizmos to “detect” a ghost, shouldn’t there be some understanding of what precisely it is you’re looking for, what it’s composed of, and (after answering those questions) how it behaves? Just because someone says a ghost is a dead guy’s soul reduced to electromagnetic energy doesn’t mean they have the slightest clue what they’re talking about… or any science at all to back up their guess.

And therein lies the problem with mixing religion and ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, and the like. Religion relies solely on faith while science demands evidence. How is it, then, that in the 21st century, we pretend that two opposing schools of thought belong together? Why are demonologists accepted as experts while skeptics are dismissed as delusional? How can “scientific” paranormal groups immediately jump to the conclusion that a house is haunted without calling in a psychologist instead of a psychic? The answer is quite simple: it’s much easier to give a homeowner exactly what they expect you to find than to risk the chance that they’re might not really be something there without a logical, rational explanation.

Is there something to the phenomena we call ghosts? Do uncatalogued animals roam the wilds of the seven continents? Is there intelligent life zooming around in space? I honestly don’t know. But you can bet that I don’t need a Bible to find the answer.


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  1. S.

    06/28/2012 at 9:54 AM

    “Faith is for pussies who are too afraid to go out and find the truth for themselves”. These, occultism, UFOs, etc., are the areas where we need faith the least; such interests should be pursued with credulity and a sense of humor. Nice article.

  2. Greg Newkirk

    06/28/2012 at 1:06 PM

    This echos a lot of how I’ve felt over the years, increasingly more so. While I wouldn’t classify myself an atheist (lots of good old pent up Baptist guilt still rattling around inside), I find myself feeling a bit out of place when I’m around ghost hunters who insist on prayers before investigations and conversing with people who claim to be “demonologists” and “scientists” in the same sentence. Yeah, I believe in ghosts, but I don’t think they’re dead people either. I also don’t think they’re demons. Apparently, that puts me in the vast minority.

    Here’s an extremely fun test you can do on your own: secretly profile the religious and political views of every “ghost hunter” you know. The results will most likely end up pretty far on the right. Why is that?

    Also, the “Christian Singles” targeted advertising for this post is killing me.

    • Ken Summers

      06/28/2012 at 1:27 PM

      HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!! “Meet Christian single ghost hunters near you! Join now for your free tarot reading!” 😉

      That’s a lot of the reason I’ve stayed pretty “independent” in the field for the last several years. If you’re not a straight, white, Christian Republican, then you’re usually the odd man (or woman) out on a ghost hunt. I hate to say it, but there’ve been studies that show conservative people tend to have fewer critical thinking skills and a lower IQ (it’s science, not deliberately trying to be derrogatory, and not saying all), and with a strong tendency to believe in things without requiring evidence, I think it’s a natural leap for many of them.

      I never went to church (except weddings and funerals) throughout my childhood and teenage years, and my parents (both raised Christian) openly let me make up my own mind without shoving anything down my throat. That left me very open to people of all religions, so I really never have viewed any one religion as superior, better, or any of that. To me, “atheist” is just a classification; a word. I’m not in some atheist club or drilling it into people’s heads. I just don’t really believe in anyone being up in the sky screwing with us.

  3. Lonnie Scott

    06/28/2012 at 1:22 PM

    I have to say I’m surprised so many Ghost Hunters are on the Christian right, demand prayer before entrance, and have demonologists as scientists. I do know most people calling themselves demonologists are just a Christian with a militant agenda. They don’t know much of any real Demon lore.

    I have days when I feel a little atheist. Most of the time I prefer a Universe populated with Gods as a polytheist. I just consider everything in terms of probability. All the oxygen in this room could suddenly be sucked into one corner. It’s unlikely, but remains ever so slightly possible.

    I’m also unconvinced that cameras, emf readers, and recorders are truly capable of picking up spooks. I suspect if there are ghosts in one place, than they can be everywhere. Security cameras should have miles of footage of spooks. There are some seriously awesome systems out there. Of course, who’s going to be the guy that comes forward with shaky evidence? Jason and Grant don’t work security.

    I will maintain my curious mindset. You’re right, the world is full of mystery. Don’t get all serious about it. Have some fun.

    • Ken Summers

      06/28/2012 at 1:36 PM

      Good points, Lonnie. Technically, anything is possible. That’s why you can never prove something doesn’t exist. Practically anything, in theory, has even the tiniest possibility of happening or existing. Call it what you will, the important thing is to figure out what it is not stick to tired, unsubstantiated claims and explanations.

      In order to say a ghost can be photographed or its voice recorded, we’d have to say we know what it actually is. Or at least be on the way to understanding the mechanics of a haunting. There are lots of other possible explanations for many photos, EVPs, etc. that can’t be ignored. That’s not to say that there couldn’t be some cases where it doesn’t happen by freak accident, though. It’s such a tricky thing, especially since there aren’t scientists working diligently on the possibilities. And there very well could be scientific explanations beyond hallucination, misidentification, etc. If photons can be both a particle and a wave, then who’s to say other particles may not exist with similar properties that could create some phenomena. All hypothetical, of course.

      My attitude has been to have fun and not get bogged down too much with the mass hysteria and lunacy. I’d love to get a few answers about what people are experiencing, but fun always comes first!

  4. Maritimer

    06/28/2012 at 10:43 PM

    Great points, well put. Religion does seem to be a common thread with a lot of people “ghost hunting”, though I have found the people altruistically interested in studying phenomena (or lack thereof) tend to leave belief stuff at the door. They’re far an few between but strike a nice path down the path of neutrality as mentioned above.

    I find it almost naive to assume that anyone knows anything about the unknown… they call it unknown for a reason after all! Personally I prefer looking at this stuff from an agnostic angle just like most of the monotonous stuff in life. I’ve never put my socks on in the morning and depended on faith to ensure results, nor would I bumble through the darkness headlamp a blazin’.

  5. ChasingMidnight

    06/29/2012 at 2:42 AM

    I’m a lifelong atheist. I couldn’t care less about feeling equal or a part of the paranormal investigation community. Being part of the paranormal community as it is today is nothing to aspire to.

    An afterlife if there is one, doesn’t have to have anything to do with a belief in a higher power. It could just be part of a biological process, like breathing or giving birth.

  6. S. Hill

    06/29/2012 at 11:44 AM

    The worst are the Christian themed paranormal groups that say they use the scientific method. My head goes all asplodey.

  7. Clevergirl

    07/02/2012 at 4:50 PM

    Interesting. Do you really find that most ghost hunters are straight, white, Christian Republican men? That hasn’t been my experience at all!

    The majority of the people I know who are paranormal enthusiasts are completely liberal and open minded, and would describe themselves as not being “religious”.

    Of course, we all have our belief systems, and I think believing in the possibility of the existance of paranatural things is a prerequisite for looking for them. (Isn’t atheism a belief system, too?)

    Not all prayer is Christian, or involves a single entity who can somehow simultaneously see, judge, and ignore every thing, being, and action. Sometimes a prayer is just a common mindset adjustment to keep a group focused on the task at hand.

    • Greg Newkirk

      07/02/2012 at 5:04 PM

      Don’t forget, they have goatees as well.

      But seriously, yeah, I do think the majority of ghost hunters are Christian Republicans. I’ve met a heck of a lot of people who don’t fall into that category, but I’ve met more who do. When I say prayer before investigations, I’m straight up talking about hardcore Christian prayer, The Lords Prayer, “St. Michael the Archange protect us”, etc.

      Of course, I could be totally wrong, and experiences vary depending on the circles that you run in, but one look at the popularity of things like demons and demonology within the paranormal right now would lead me to believe otherwise. Paranormal State was basically Catholic propaganda on cable tv.

      Here’s an interesting survey conducted a few years ago that shows that religious people are more likely, by a considerable margin, to believe in ghosts than non religious people. Those numbers jump even higher when it comes to Catholics. Just food for thought.

  8. Clevergirl

    07/02/2012 at 4:57 PM

    What would be the name of the patron saint of aliens?
    Saint Van Allen?
    Saint Orion?
    Saint Sirius?
    Saint Fort?
    Saint I Told You So?

  9. Count Malachi

    07/21/2012 at 10:19 AM

    You ARE biased.
    You preclude that the existence of an unidentified or unclassified entity which may share the characteristics and behavior traits of a “demon” may be anything BUT a demon. This is because by definition; you as an “Atheist” summarily dismiss the possibility of such simply because of the implied religious allegory.

    While the entire post is rife with logical fallacies, literary malapropisms, antithetical parallelism and blaring contradictions, Do I really need to explain why this quote (below) is especially asinine?-

    “In the United States, we have separation of church and state. Shouldn’t there be separation of church and supernatural too?”

    I may elect to dissect the entire post time permitting but since I thought I would test the proverbial waters with this first.


    • Ken Summers

      07/21/2012 at 2:53 PM

      Everyone has some level of bias, as much as they strive to be unbiased. It comes from upbringing, experiences, etc. I do feel that I’m less biased than most… and definitely don’t lump me in with the traditional “atheist camp” who may champion for the removal of religion or have arguments with religious people on many grounds. I am merely absent of a belief in any higher power, deity, or whatever you wish to call it.

      Labeling something a “demon” or “demonic” has religious connotations (i.e. rooted in the word Demon). I’m not saying something can’t be malevolent, but to label it something with religious connotation implies some form of faith.

      I wrote as it comes out, so it’s imperfect. But something being an opinion isn’t necessarily supposed to be perfect. I’m human, therefore I’m not perfect. And I fully admit that I’m full of contradictions. But seeing as I don’t take myself very seriously either, that never bothers me too much. My point of all this was that investigating paranormal claims shouldn’t be connected with faith; if you claim to be scientific in one breath, and tell someone their house is host to a demonic entity sent by Satan in another, there’s a slight conflict of interest…

  10. Count Malachi

    07/21/2012 at 10:58 AM

    Okay… this remark also epitomizes absurdity:

    “Whenever people complain that the paranormal isn’t taken seriously, most of the reasons revolve around its involvement with religion”

    No, its because of para-TV emulating dorks running around with laughably useless gadgetry claiming to employ “scientific methodology” when there is NONE.

    It’s the dust orbs, breath/mist/smoke/eto photo, really bad EVPs and countless video hoaxes we see on a daily basis.

    How about the new-age crap and contrived religions like “Wicca”, based on the fictional doctrines of a pedophile in the 1950s?

    Do I need to mention shows like “Ghost Adventures” or “My Ghost Story”?

    Question for Ken:
    Do you believe it is possible for “demons” to exist?

    (I’m Agnostic for the record)

    *BTW-I’m not singling out Ken or this blog post, it just happened to be the first one I have read here in a while.


    • Ken Summers

      07/21/2012 at 3:06 PM

      I never said all. There are lots of reasons it’s not taken seriously. Any time a “scientific approach” is claimed and not actually taken it makes it all the more laughable, but one big facet is the reliance on faith. Even when people say “ghosts are made of electomagnetic energy” or “cold spots indicate ghosts”, it’s not based on concrete evidence, just the myths and beliefs developed by people over the years. A large part of investigation, customs, and “knowledge” is just a form of faith, not a logical, scientific approach.

      Honestly, Malachi, in answer to your question, I believe it’s possible for anything to exist. Demons, angels, purple clouds, rivers running uphill, you name it. That’s just because anything could, in theory, happen. I may find it highly unlikely for demons to exist, though, due to a lack of corroborating evidence. Could a “ghost” be malevolent in nature? Of course. If someone is mean, I don’t say they’re demonic, I say they’re a mean person.

      I could write volumes on what’s wrong with the paranormal community at large, but seeing as I don’t want to dedicate all my time (read: waste time better put to good use) on it, I just let out the occasional babbling thought. If someone wants to hunt demonic entities, perform exorcisms, etc., more power to them. But calling that “scientific” is a little off.

  11. Count Malachi

    07/21/2012 at 5:35 PM

    But Ken, If you accept the potential for the existence of a “demon” then you are more of an Agnostic than an Atheist but I wont waste your time or mine bickering over semantics…

    Ken Said:_______________
    “Even when people say “ghosts are made of electomagnetic energy” or “cold spots indicate ghosts”, it’s not based on concrete evidence, just the myths and beliefs developed by people over the years”

    Yes and this pseudoscience is almost universally practiced as SOP these days when there is ZERO evidence to support any of it.

    How do about the incorporation of Wicca or perhaps Native American spirituality in “paranormal research”?

    Wouldn’t you agree that spirituality and religion/church are inextricably linked (for a variety of reasons) and therefor the proposed “separation of the supernatural and the church” implausible?


    • Ken Summers

      07/21/2012 at 5:49 PM

      You missed my point. While you can prove something exists, you can’t prove 100% that something does not exist. Hypothetically, anything could exist somewhere in the universe (or beyond it). Purple flying monkeys could be out there, roaming deep space… If Kim Kardashian exists, anything is possible.

      I didn’t mean to single out all branches of Christianity only when it comes to mixing it with paranormal investigation. I meant all forms of religion or any belief system. Christianity is just the most predominantly used one, so there are more examples of it.

      It’s not implausible, so no. They are linked by people, but not inextricably. Someone can actually go to a location or study a case and dissect it down to search for the cause of the occurrence without resorting to any form of spirituality. People just skip over the important first questions, the neutral observation, and jump to the assumptions about haunting experiences. “Something happened; what was it?” should still be the very beginning of inquiry, not “There’s a dead guy who walks out of my closet every night ’cause he must be stuck here for some reason.”

  12. Count Malachi

    07/21/2012 at 6:04 PM

    Ken Said:
    ” I may find it highly unlikely for demons to exist, though, due to a lack of corroborating evidence. Could a “ghost” be malevolent in nature? Of course. If someone is mean, I don’t say they’re demonic, I say they’re a mean person”

    By this you seem to imply that there IS “corroborating evidence” to support the existence of malevolent entities or the ghosts of mean people but NOT demons. Why is the former more credible than the latter?

    For the record:
    I do agree that the community has been inundated with self proclaimed “exorcists” and “demon slayers” and this of course could be of severe psychological trauma to certain individuals should circumstances connect the wrong people.


    • Ken Summers

      07/22/2012 at 12:28 PM

      Oh, Jesus Christ. Did you miss my viewpoint at the end of the article or are you just trolling? lol “Ghost” was in quotation marks. There’s usually a reason for that.

  13. Count Malachi

    07/21/2012 at 6:11 PM

    Ken said:
    “Someone can actually go to a location or study a case and dissect it down to search for the cause of the occurrence without resorting to any form of spirituality”

    Ken seriously, how often are you going to get a report of an alleged supernatural disturbance without those claiming a fist hand experience harboring a preconceived spiritual or faith based belief system?

    Do you see where I am going with this?


    • Ken Summers

      07/22/2012 at 12:30 PM

      My point, yet again, is that it’s how it should be done, not that it’s how it is being done.

      I see where you’re going… trying to either drive me to drink (more) or get completely off the point of what I was saying. Doing a great job of it too! 😉

      And for the record, fisting has nothing to do with it.

  14. Count Malachi

    07/21/2012 at 6:53 PM


    FIRST hand experience, not “FIST hand experience” LOL

    • Cooch

      07/21/2012 at 6:59 PM

      Welp, there goes the neighborhood. I can’t wait to see the incoming search terms now! As if “clown sex” wasn’t a disturbing enough enough regular term.

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