Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Christianity and Paranormal Experiences

After reading a few more books, I’ve got to say that I feel even more passionately about my position than ever before. I recently read The Christian Delusion edited by John Loftus, Losing Faith in Faith by Dan Barker, and Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris. I read Harris’ book twice since it was only about a forty minute read anyway. I’m looking forward to reading Harris’ End of Faith once it arrives. I fell in love with his clarity of thought while reading Letter to a Christian Nation. I do wonder how I ever came to believe in God and Jesus after reading such thoroughly impressive argumentation against Christianity. I would definitely have to say that my mom was the main, or one of the main, culprits in this situation. She can really make you believe in this god. She does so by telling many compelling stories referring to personal spiritual experiences, demonic possession and a myriad of healings.

As a youngster, she used to tell me about this time when she was literally dragged from her bed, went down the stairs and was placed on top of the cold tile floor at the bottom. She recounted vivid details of seeing our cat on the way down. He looked demonic and distorted in nature. Fire was everywhere, just like we would all envision hell. An eerie voice surrounding her stated repeatedly, “If you don’t, if you don’t”. She could see the very entrance to hell at the bottom of the stairs as she came closer and closer to its looming grasp. Once this vision faded, she noticed that her wrists were sore from where this aberration dragged her by the arm. She told me this with utter sincerity, and she has a way of telling stories like this that can bring the most ardent skeptic to doubt their skepticism. On more than one occasion, she has told me that she saw a demonic creature that was “blacker than black” scurrying around her house in the wee hours of the morning.

I would spend part of the night, as a small child, in horror as I tried to close my eyes and get some sleep. At one time, we lived in a private community which was supposedly built on top of an Indian burial ground. On one occasion, as I was trying to sleep, I saw what looked like a monkey with a human body standing beside my bed. It had a Cheshire Cat like grin on it's face but was not cartoonish at all. I rather emphatically pulled the covers over my head and waited for this “ghost” to find someone else to spook. Eventually, I racked up the courage to look again and did not see it anymore. We had a pastor friend during this time that stayed in a vacant condominium several doors down from us for just one evening. This same pastor later stole some of our belongings when he was “helping” us during a move but that’s another story. Anyway, I remember my mom telling me that this pastor became extremely frightened that night after seeing a “person” walking up and down the hallway outside of his bedroom. In fact, he spent the rest of the night sleeping out in his van! Coincidentally, this was the same condominium that another person, who we admiringly referred to as “Vodka John”, kept complaining of seeing some sort of figure or “phantom” roaming around late at night. We all thought that Ole' Vodka John had a little too much to drink, until the story was reconfirmed by our pastor friend. You can only imagine how these kinds of stories can make a person think— let alone a small child.

My mother was taken under the wing, so to speak, by her best friend in high school. Her friend was and still is very charismatic. My mom told me stories about her friend that would make the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up. My mom told me about this demonic statue that her friend was given as a gift on a missionary trip one time to a country which escapes my memory at the moment. Her friend stated that strange noises and poltergeist like activities occurred on a nightly basis. There were doors opening and closing without human assistance. She could hear footsteps outside her bedroom door as well. After prayer, my mom’s friend decided that she needed to discard this demonic statue before things got worse. Her husband put it in the trash can and thought nothing more of it. The next day, they heard a knock at their door and discovered the statue sitting on the porch facing their direction. It was time to get serious. They decided to destroy it by burning it in the back yard. They later stated that they discovered the ear rings that this statue was once wearing lying, neatly placed, on their front porch! My mom would tell me stories regarding various exorcisms that her friend was involved in. She told me about the crazy shit that went on with her friends children who owned the Dungeons and Dragons game. My mom told me that her friend used to see the ghost of an old lady who once occupied the house that they lived in. Apparently, this lady was a sweet ghost but just a bit lost. She would wander up and down their hallway. Ghosts sure do like to walk! And of course, she told me about all the wonderful financial wealth and wisdom her friend acquired through tithing and seeking the lord.

I really can’t make sense out of most of these stories. I know that the human mind is extremely susceptible to irrational thinking and even hallucinations. I do believe that my childhood allegiance to religion was at least partially grounded in hearing and, subsequently, believing in god as a result of stories like these. My mom still speaks about the time god used me to heal her of a nasty, reappearing rash and an injured shoulder. No doubt, I would often lean on experiences like that whenever my faith would begin to waver. My mom had a way of reassuring me and reenergizing me when I started to drift too far off. My mom occassionally has dreams that seem clairvoyant in nature. For instance, she dreamt that one of her friends, who was about to go on a mission trip, got his wife pregnant. In the same dream, she also observed that her friend had recently given his wife a new red coat as a gift. When she talked on the phone to her friend, he denied that his wife was indeed pregnant, but he did say that he bought his wife a red coat. Lo and behold, a week or so later, he called my mom back and said that his wife was pregnant. This was somewhat of a disappointment because he was planning on them going out on the mission field. I could probably recall more stories if I sat her long enough. There are many of them. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade my mom for all the money in the world, but I’m definitely skeptical of the majority of these stories and think that Cognitive Science could better explain some of them. People being deceitful and wanting to believe regardless of the evidence may explain some of it. Other aforementioned experiences may have natural explanations that have yet to be discovered.

Admittedly, movies like The Exorcist and The Exorcism of Emily Rose still scare the crap out of me. They certainly seemed more realistic growing up since my mom had all of these crazy situations supposedly happen to her. Unfortunately, most of her stories can't be proven by any scientific method that I'm aware of. I find it baffling that others don't find stories of demonic possession to be very frightening. Maybe, some of us are more easily frightened by what we can't explain than others.

One time, during a particularly depressed period of my life, my mom told me that she could see Jesus standing next to me with his hand held out. She stated that all I needed to do was grab it and he would take care of me. I really wanted to believe that at the time. I was in desperate need of some “supernatural” intervention. So, why doesn’t god do this for everybody if he does it for her? Are charismatic’s really the only branch of Christianity that can lay claim to these bizarre experiences? On the other side of the equation, I have a Baptist father-in-law who pastors a church. He never makes most of the claims that my mom does. He did state that he thought that he heard the audible voice of god on two different occasions, but he certainly doesn’t live his life expecting such supernatural occurrences on a regular basis. It’s actually pretty humorous when my mom and in-laws get together. I remember one time when there was a fire near the highway a couple miles from our house. It was heading our way and our families were helping us evacuate for the evening. My mom was going around the house praying that the house would remain un-singed. My in-laws just smiled back at her like she was out of her mind.

Anyway, what do you guy(s) think? Can you blame me for buying into this stuff? Does it make you wonder about the paranormal? Admittedly, it does me at times. But, I must suspend judgment until there is further justification to believe that it speaks to a deity. Until then, we can look at possibilities that make the fewest assumptions and simplest case by wielding Ockham’s Razor.

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