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.
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.
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.