Thursday, May 26, 2011

Save your sermons for someone who's afraid to love

At a post on Secular Right in the context of the recent apocalyptic predictions by radio broadcaster Harold Camping, Razib muses on the consequences of nerdish supernatural belief on larger society. He mentions how even as a kid he could scarcely identify a spiritual bone in his body:
I have never really believed in the supernatural. As a small child I knew I was supposed to believe in the supernatural, but I honestly had a hard time taking any of it seriously. I have normal human instincts, like getting “spooked” in the cemetery…but my own personal experience with friends visiting cemeteries at night for fun and laughs as a younger man is that actually opening yourself to the possibility of the supernatural naturally changes how you view “creepy” background events (my friends who believed in ghosts were really easy to scare, it was quite fun!) Most of my friends might assent to the proposition that there probably weren’t ghosts in cemetery X, and that that ghosts may not even exist, but most of them did not dismiss out of hand the very possibility of the existence of ghosts. I did.
Since both audacious and epigone are in the name, I won't shy away from comparing myself to Razib here.

I never believed in the existence of ghosts or other supernatural agents, but for as long as I can remember I've always wanted to seek them out and prove myself wrong. As early as first grade, I regularly watched Unsolved Mysteries and other shows dealing with the paranormal in a "serious" way, hoping to find that my skepticism was ignorance. I watched the segments about the supernatural with fondness, figuring that if spirits from beyond this world existed, that really meant God could exist, too. And if God really existed, why would I be afraid of anything? What happens to me doesn't matter. It's not in my hands, because I'm lying in the hands of God.

I never found the stories very compelling, however, and was unconvinced by putative evidence for the existence of the supernatural. More tragically, the gruesomely natural segments about murderers breaking into people's houses at night and killing them scared the piss out of me to the extent that I would regularly sneak into my parents' room and sleep on the floor at night when I couldn't get the intro music and the scary images that followed out of my head (they'd throw me out whenever they heard me crawling in, but oddly never seemed angry in the morning if I'd arrived stealthily enough the night before).

Anyway, conversely my thinking was* that if there is no supernatural, there's probably no God, either. And that means someone could come in an axe me for whatever reason and that'd be the end of it. You're born, life sucks, and then you die. If I wasn't vigilant enough, I'd be one of those who'd die a young and painful death.

* I'd say my thinking is still this way, if not for the fact that I'm, uh, not exactly vigilant anymore, playing lots of risky sports, getting myself into some extremely contentious situations when it isn't necessary, and never locking the front door or either garage door. The latter isn't worth chancing when the result of a misplaced key is having to find a non-destructive way in.


Dahlia said...

Become a good listener with an open mind and you'll be surprised what people have experienced. It's nothing like in those shows or magazines. They will have to be able to trust that you won't think they're a crackpot and they will have to be close to you. You can hear stories of the supernatural as well as the bizarre and deeply personal; I had two people confess murders to me when I was between the ages of 16 and 19.

I did experience the supernatural once. I've only spoken of it to a couple of my immediate family members and I can count them on one hand.

OneSTDV said...

I wonder if many atheists scientists find a proxy for the supernatural by believing in intelligent life, ala SETI. (Speaking from personal experience.)

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...

I'm a firm believe in the supernatural--both God and spirits--in large part because I've had first-hand experience with both. I do not try to proseletize or convince, however, because that's just not my bag as the hippies would say. As a Christian, this failure to proseletize constitutes a failing.

Audacious Epigone said...


I've been around a few people who've boasted of having murdered, but I thought they were full of it. That's pretty steep at the age of 16.


Or how many of them find the same in "Gaia worship"? Alan Weisman, in The World Without Us, is a perfect example of this.


To what extent does that effect your daily existence? I assume the world looks a lot different with that certainty.

Anonymous said...

What a great story, about you sneaking into your parents bedroom and sleeping on the floor! I used to do the same thing and was sometimes awakened in the morning by my father stepping on me. I was 6 or 7 then and consumed with fear of the noises of the night. Eventually I got over it and now when people ask me why I'm an athiest I tell them I stopped believing when I realized there were no monsters under the bed.

Anonymous said...


"As a Christian, this failure to proseletize constitutes a failing."

Not it doesn't. Obviously you are willing to tell people you believe, so you aren't denying it. The average lay person is not called to preach and teach, only to confess and teach his own family and love and serve his neighbor through his vocation.

Here is a good short book on the doctrine of vocation to help you dump the guilt, brother.

Anonymous said...

I find it really interesting when rational level-headed folks tell me they had some paranormal experience. I am disinclined to believe this stuff, but so were they, which is what makes it interesting.

When some touchy feely type tries to tell me this crap, I figure they are a just too credulous or superstitious.

Funny t-shirt I saw:

I don't want to be a Gnostic.

Ed Tom Kowalsky said...


My faith provides comfort and confidence in the afterlife, and moderates fear of death, but does precious little to still my incredulous dismay over what is happening to America and the West. And I hardly believe God will step in to prevent us from destroying our nation and civilization.


Thank you for the kind words.

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Audacious Epigone said...


I share that sentiment. Steve Sailer, for example, isn't completely incredulous, for more-or-less the same reason, I think. ... I can't find the link to the post I'm getting that from--it was from several years ago, guessing 2006 or 2007.

agnostic said...

I experienced what most would call the paranormal in college once, although I interpreted it as a higher power sending me a sign that they were real and capable of influencing the world.

It doesn't stick in my mind, so I don't dwell on the supernatural very much. But since it happened, I do believe in it.

When I'm dancing before a group at a club, I work myself into a trance-like state where I feel like something else has taken over, and spirit possession counts as a supernatural experience in just about any group.

agnostic said...

Also important to remember that even primitive people don't discount various material causes. If the supporting poles holding up a granary collapse, they may be believe that they collapsed because the wood was rotten, that the wood was rotten because termites had infested it, etc.

But why did they collapse at just the moment when those particular people were sitting underneath the granary? *That* was caused by witchcraft, in the Azande's view. Material factors only go back so far into the chain of causation.

So a material understanding of how the brain enters a trance-like state, say, doesn't preclude a belief in the supernatural. That may be the material basis for spirit possession, but why did this spirit choose that person at such-and-such a time?

After all, if you're not in control, something else must be.

hbd chick said...

i'm an agnostic and i believed in everything when i was little (why would people lie?): god, santa claus, the easter bunny. my favorite were guardian angels -- i mean, what could be better than a 24/7 angel looking out for you at all times! it was better than having an imaginary friend. (~_^)

that all changed in the summer of my 14th year when i, very literally, had an epiphany one day -- totally out of the blue -- that, gee, we can't know for sure that there is a god, can we. (btw, i'd already given up believing in santa and the easter bunny by this time.) so i became an agnostic -- not by choice, i think, but just 'cause that's the way my brain developed.

before that i did believe in ghosts and some scary supernatural sh*t, but not anymore. i tend to lean strongly towards being an atheist except for the nagging notion that we can't know for sure that there isn't a god(s) either.

hbd chick said...

@ed tom - "I'm a firm believe in the supernatural--both God and spirits--in large part because I've had first-hand experience with both."

how can you be sure that your personal experiences with god/some spirits weren't figments of your neurological system? our brains are not to be trusted, you know.