Uncommon Sense

May 27, 2018

A Spiritual Sunday Message About Ghostiality

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:44 am
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I keep reading writings of scholarly people that mention spirituality as if it were a real thing. The term, spirituality, isn’t well defined and the attempts I have seen to define it so that there is some actual evidence that it exists makes it sound like high school sports team spirit. Any time a clear definition can’t be made, I know we are dealing with something that is more subjective than objective.

I grew up going to church and two terms that were interchangeable, at least in my mind, were “ghost” and “spirit,” as in the Holy Ghost or the Holy Spirit. I remember praying to “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

What if we switched the root in the word spirituality from spirit to ghost in these discussions? People would end up saying things like “I am very ghostial.” and “I was moved by the Holy Ghost.” This might get people to examine what they are really saying.

And as far as the supernatural goes, we would be arguing about whether ghostiality were real or whether there was evidence for ghostiality. Still, to be supernatural is to be outside of nature, which is … what? My best guess at a definition is a being or event that does not conform to the pattern of behaviors we observe in ordinary natural phenomena, so we are not talking about a place that is outside of nature but a behavior. For example, while air can support a being’s weight, it is only when it has wings that enable flight, so a hovering ghost would not obey the laws of flight and therefore would be supernatural. There is a TV show called, I believe, Ghost Hunters. Have they found one yet, or have they had episode after episode of near misses? Hmmm. I suspect the latter.

Every attempt to pin down a supernatural event has met with failure. I have observed some very spooky things in my life, but before I would go so far as to rule something as supernatural, I would have to eliminate all of the other natural possibilities. I have a friend who claims to have seen fairies in a garden, but then she is often stoned and hummingbirds flying quickly nearby might be mistaken for a fairy when one is inebriated. To pin down any case claimed to be “supernatural,” one would likewise have to eliminate all of the natural possibilities. For example, religious relics are notorious for being a fount of miracles: wooden statues weeping, stone statues showing the stigmata, etc. Religious people are also known to be gullible and con men have been shown to perpetrate hoaxes by the hundreds. For example, more than a few statues have been built with piping inside to allow for the flow of fluids. As another example, in Israel there is a place where you can bathe in the Jordan River, right where Jesus was baptized. Actually there are at least three such places. One of them is very popular with tourists as it is close to highway access and has government signs directing the traffic. That one is the farthest from where scripture says it happened. This, of course, results in many Christians, home from vacation, claiming that when they bathed in that water, they experienced something of the order of a spiritual experience, being such a holy place, don’t you know. (Most of these fibs or mistaken interpretations stem from wanting to acquire “street cred” in a religious community, in my opinion.)

So, the supernatural could be a possibility when, as Sherlock Holmes said so often “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” It should be the last in line of possible explanations. Theists, however, insist that supernatural causes be first in line any time something unusual happens. This has been largely self-defeating of late because if science continues to offer perfectly natural explanations (which has happened over and over and over), the refuted supernatural cause invoked becomes more and more diminished (and the believers appear more and more deluded). But, hey, it worked like a charm when we were mostly uneducated peasants and serfs.

Myself, when I am feeling spiritual, er, ghostial, I lay down for a minute until the feeling passes.


April 18, 2018

The Supernatural: A Con Man’s Special Place

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 1:53 pm
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An alarming number of people believe that there is a realm called “the supernatural.” While I suspect people have different definitions for the term, the idea is rather straightforward. Here are dictionary definitions of supernatural and the prefix super-:

1: of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially : of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil
2a : departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature
b : attributed to an invisible agent (such as a ghost or spirit)

1a: over and above : higher in quantity, quality, or degree than : more than

[Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary]

The supernatural realm is always “above” the natural realm, never sideways to it or goodness knows, beneath it. Such a realm basically can’t have a location in the natural realm, so why the insistence on the “above” nature is beyond me. I think this relates to belief in a god which is “up there,” and also another god which is “down there.” The “up” being good and the “down” being bad. Of course, the bad gods and the good gods are in the same supernatural realm, unless there is more than one such realm, but why not? The more the merrier.

I used to hear the phrase “planes of existence” a great deal before the Internet drove us to a more common vocabulary. I think this came about from a pack of cards metaphor as it makes no sense otherwise. Why would one wonder about how realms of existence relate to one another spatially when they shouldn’t be interacting, and so no “fit” is required. Of course, fiction writers, even some of my favorites (Andre Norton was a past favorite), wrote about beings being transferred between these planes of existence via various “gateways.” As a narrative device, this allows the author a great deal of rein to “adjust” foliage, animal life, geology, history, etc. to their whim. But, hey, it is fiction.

All of this was before the “multiverse” became fashionable to talk about in rarified physics circles. The Multiverse was either an invention of Marvel Comics or possibly Jack Vance, maybe Michael Moorcock, I can’t say for sure, but it is now playing a role in cosmological theoretical speculations. I suspect, however, that just as invoking gods to explain the creation of the universe, making things horrifyingly more complicated, that invoking a multiverse to make sense of our one verse will also prove to be vastly complicating and, when that happens it seems to be a sure sign of a dead-end road into a theory.

Currently I consider anyone who mentions anything “supernatural” to be one of two types of people (well, maybe three): an entertainer (Think Ancient Aliens or whatever that show is.), or a con man (most serious religionists are in this category (Think William Lane Craig.). The third possibility is that someone has been, or just is, deluded. If all of your friends and family talk about Disney World as if it were real, you’d think it is, ditto for Heaven and Hell.

Anytime you hear someone talk seriously about the supernatural (beings, locations, occurrences, etc.) grab your wallet and back away briskly. Do not run, you may trip and actually hurt yourself interacting with the only reality for which we have evidence of its existence.


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