Ghosts!

The following is copied directly from a post I made on Facebook, and then my subsequent comments on that post.

I used to believe in ghosts. The belief was originally based on just the possibility of their existence, then “confirmed” by my own eyewitness account.

Then I grew up, thought about it, and determined that my account of seeing and hearing ghosts (in a cemetery, no less!) was brought about by

A) the pre-determination of ghosts’ existence (itself based only on assumption, hearsay, and speculation),

B) heightened senses in a dark, quiet graveyard,

C) an overactive imagination that once convinced me when I was younger that an animated skeleton was stalking me from outside my bedroom window (it also led me to believe in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and the effectiveness of a toy I had growing up called a “dream chaser”), and even

D) peer pressure. I was with friends who also saw and heard creepy things that night. However even if those friends maintain that we really did witness ghosts or spirits, I am inclined to think they have not yet come to realize the roles these four factors play in their own belief.

Once these four factors are recognized and even more importantly, accepted, it is not difficult at all to dismiss any other supernatural claims or apparent phenomena.

A friend commented, stating that he feels differently (but refrained from going into any detail), which prompted my response:

I would also add a fifth factor: that sometimes it just feels good to believe in something fantastic or magical, like ghosts and an afterlife. It feels good because it’s comforting, and sometimes the hardest thing to do is admit that just because something seems or feels wonderful doesn’t mean it’s real.

I’ll use books and movies as an example: I love reading and watching films; I love being lost in the story and imagining all the things that happen within. I love rooting for the good guy and I love when he is vigilant. I love when a story can pull at my emotions and make me happy, sad, or frightened. But when the credits roll, or when I turn the last page, the story’s over. Sometimes I get a huge feeling of relief when a story is over, and sometimes I wish it could go on forever, but every story (ready The Neverending Story joke) comes to an end, and whether or not I’m okay with that — whether or not I’m ready for it to be over — it’s over, and I know it’s not real. But it felt good. Hell, it might even still feel good.

He answered again, this time stating that he believes there are things people can’t see or explain; things that exist beyond the realm of the natural; that there are parallel worlds and dimensions, implying that some things (ghosts?) may be able to exist on multiple planes at once, and saying we should not dismiss the existence of ghosts because they¬†might exist. My final response:

I think it’s totally fine to believe we can’t explain everything (I believe the same, and wouldn’t claim otherwise). But to believe in something based strictly on its possibility is absurd. Leprechauns could exist, but I don’t believe they do. I believe there are very small people in this world, and their stature may even make them somewhat elusive, and some of them may even make it a habit to dress themselves predominantly in green, but I’m pretty sure nobody has ever been proven (or even evinced) to possess magical powers such as a leprechaun’s. Bigfoot could — hell, there’s even video footage of him! — but I believe (based on a general understanding of how the brain can play tricks on somebody) any eyewitness accounts are either hoaxes or misunderstandings. Russell’s Teapot COULD exist; there’s no way to prove it doesn’t, but since there’s an overwhelming lack of evidence FOR its existence, I do not believe it exists.

What are your thoughts?

Advertisements

Suburban Atheist

Did you know that atheists really just hate god? That we only claim to disbelieve in god because of some terrible tragedy that happened early in our lives? Here, in a retelling of the very first post I ever wrote for this blog, is the chilling tale of how I went from atheist, to Catholic, and back to atheist.

It all starts with me being born on the dirty floor of a scary, shadowy motel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a frigid night in November*. Fresh out of the womb I was broken in a couple places, crying, splotchy, and covered in a particular goo I hope to never be covered in again. More importantly, I was atheist.

That’s right, folks. I started my life crying, gooey, and atheist. Scared and alone, I couldn’t even imagine a god existing. Everything around me was all there was. This is only the beginning of my horrible tale, however. I know it’s probably hard to believe, but it gets even worse!

Though I grew slightly larger, I remained atheist for the first couple years of my life. It got to the point, though, where as a child I would believe anything my parents told me. There was a Santa Claus. There was an Easter Bunny. There was a god who made everything and would never let bad things happen and would always take care of me. But wait, wouldn’t Mommy and Daddy always take care of me? Who cares? This god fella sounds amazing! Even more powerful and mystical than those birthday party clowns who made amazing balloon animals and pulled rabbits out of hats!

By now we had moved to Texas. I grew up in Suburbia. When I wasn’t going to church on Sunday or school in the morning, I was running around outside with my friends, on lawns that were always green and freshly-mowed, with water pistols and water balloons that were so full we had to be careful not to burst them on ourselves before we could soak each other. I was climbing trees, scraping knees, teasing bees, and refusing to eat my peas. We had several pets including dogs, fish, and iguanas. I was always occupied. I praised god and Jesus once a week, and then spent the rest of the week, well, being a kid in Suburbia.

Church life was about what I imagine it would be like for most kids. We went to St. Jude Catholic church on Sundays, I had a youth group afterwards, and that was it. I can’t even say whether I ever paid attention to a single sermon during Mass. I was a kid, after all. I brought coloring books and plastic dinosaurs to church. I knelt when my parents knelt, opened the books and pretended to sing when my parents sang. Sometimes I actually sang, which was fun because I liked the songs. I had no idea what they were about, but I liked them.

Truth be told, I didn’t even know what the Bible was about. I just knew what my parents told me: Jesus was this guy who was the son of god but he was also god, and that’s okay because I’m a kid and I’ll believe whatever my parents say, and Jesus did good things and then he was crucified, but that was also okay because he did it so we could all go to Heaven, which was a really great place where everybody went when they died, so I guess we never really died, which was good because this meant I never had to be scared about dying.

And things stayed this way for a while.

I went to school and was placed into the “Gifted & Talented” program simply because I was good at math, and I met the greatest teacher I’ve ever had in my entire life, Mrs. Judith Barnes. Mrs. Barnes encouraged us to think, and read, and appreciate art, and solve logic problems. She was my GT teacher for six years, so for six years I received more and more encouragement to think, and read, and appreciate art, and solve logic problems.

I read about things that fascinated me: dinosaurs, rocks, the solar system, animals, bugs, different countries and cultures. And then I did what my parents probably didn’t expect me to do: I put down my illustrated children’s version of the Bible and picked up an actual grown-up Bible.

And I read it.

Not the whole thing, mind you. I was, after all, still a kid. I was probably around ten years old. But I read enough of it to stop, think to myself How would Mrs. Barnes want me to read this?, and suddenly realize that it couldn’t all possibly be true. Then I realized that the story of Jesus was the only fantastic story I’d hung on to that my parents had told me, having already let go of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and I found myself wondering why?

Why was I still hanging on to this Jesus fellow? Santa and the Easter Bunny had both been used to teach me valuable lessons about being good and having fun – why couldn’t Jesus have also just been a device to teach me to stay true to myself, despite how others might treat me, and to strive to see goodness in all things?

So sometime probably in my early teens, I stopped worrying about god and Jesus and Heaven and Hell. For a while, I hung onto the notion of a god that snapped his invisible fingers, made the universe pop into existence, and then just sort of minded his own business after that and didn’t interfere with anything, but I finally let go of that belief too, later on in my teens. And by the time I finished high school I was full-blown atheist.

All the while I was just a middle-class kid in Suburbia with two loving, never-divorced parents, an older brother who I fought with now and then about nothing in particular, a big backyard with a swingset (replaced later on by a pool with a diving board), and a bunch of dogs.

And that’s the story of how one simple childhood tragedy can cause any person to turn their back on god forever.

*Slight exaggeration. I was actually born in a clean, well-lit hospital room in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a November morning, which I imagine was still probably pretty cold.