Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Reconciling Personal Thoughts on Spirituality and the Paranormal

One of my favorite film concepts in cinemotography is the brain is very smart to fill in missing details. With this knowledge film makers can show close ups of people's key facial features, and the mind fills in the rest of the image making the close-up increasingly poweful.

Notice the picture of Al Pacino, left. Pacino's mom would never frame this picture next to her bed, but the cropped out forehead and hair still give us the general idea and our minds see the image in a way that appears much larger.

This powerful reality is a dangerous threashold for the mind because the mind is capable of taking small pieces of information and making them into ideas that are much larger, and potentially false, but perceived as truth.

In the late 1990s, amidst the popularity of televisions shows like the X-Files, I often listened to a popular radio show called Art Bell Coast to Coast. This popular late night radio show broadcast out of Pahrump, Nevada and dealt with often-times very bizarre paranormal issues.

Art Bell (right) often dealt with issues like UFO sightings, crop circles (way before Shymalan's movie Signs), Big Foot's and people who had Out of Body Experiences (OBE's). The also had a reserved studio line just for employees of Area 51 who might be brave enough to call.

I still remember several episodes, some radiculous (Jane Ocean who could speak with Dolphins), and some that really played with my mind (such as David John Oats and his theories on Reverse Speech).

I told my wife the other night: "Sometimes you hear one person talk convincingly about paranormal things and you believe them. You hear a variety of people discuss a variety of paranormal beliefs and everyone seems crazy."

This was my reaction to Art Bell. I listened to his show as entertainment primarily, and secondly to understand what made these people believe these things.

The increased interest in metaphysics and quantum mechanics has become the new sophisticated paranormal discussions people have. In the unclassifiable film What the Bleep Do We Know some very bizarre thoughts are spoken about as fact. Most curious is the work of Masaru Emoto who tries to show that water appears differently depending on what words, thoughts, or actions are said or around it.

Yet, these studies could easily be compared along ideas and issues where people like Dr. Elizabeth Targ studies the power of prayer on AIDS patients, or using meditation to reduce crime in Washington DC.

And at this point, these studies become a challenge for traditional Christians to reconcile. Some who are less cautious may easily praise God for the entire gamet of ideas exposed, or wonder if God lives on another planet monitoring us with Alien activities, etc. Or other Christians may write off all concepts are view any such concept as deceit from the devil.

It's a challenge because a man who believes in Alien conspiracies and Men in Black has faith just like a Christian, Jewish, or Muslim person who prays regularly.

For me, I have become a cautious person in regards to the paranormal of all sorts (whether involving crop circles or spiritual healings). Some might suggest I have little faith, but instead I believe I have a lasting nugget (or mustard seed) of pure faith. Faith that says despite all that I know people believe and think, I can passionatly pursue a God I believe is true, powerful and mighty. A good who hears and answers my prayes.

Yet, in the same belief-set, I am also very cautious. Some friends of mine in a small group were recently praising the amazing true story bestseller called 90 Minutes in Heaven written by Texas Baptist minister Don Piper. Don Piper was in an accident on January 18, 1989 and according to his true story, died and went to heaven, only to come back to life after another minister came to the scene and prayed for him.

Now, Don Piper's story sounds like a story you'd hear on an Art Bell radio show, and yet this best seller is being marketed as a true story of hope which has been in many instances embraced by the Christian community and sold in Christian bookstores as true and inspriational literature.

Many christians seem to have embraced this book because it ultimatly has an evangelical end-game and also brings hope, especially to those who have lost loved ones or who are close to death. Yet it is a dangerous game to read books like this one (or in Bill Wiese book 23 Minutes in Hell) because it can put your theology into the hands of a stranger and create truth you may want to believe but in the end could be nothing more than paranormal speculation and lies.


Ando said...

Great post! Thought provoking.

As a Christian, I'm also very cautious, even skeptical, when it comes to things considered paranormal. Even "spirtual" things, like Piper's claimed heavenly visit or demon-possession and the like. But I do find it hard, near impossible really, to argue against someone elses experience. It is theirs and they must know what happened...or they're crazy, which is often a legitimate possibility.

I've recently finished reading The Universe Next Door by James Sire, which discusses and describes various world views and this is a point he makes, about individual experience. The book was excellent, BTW.

I guess the question might be are these supposed experiences actually physical experiences, or are they only occuring in the mind and seem real? Or does it matter?

Dizzying but fascinating stuff.

Anonymous said...

Good post, RC!
I had forgotten all about it, but I remember you lying in bed, probably when you should have been asleep, listening to Art Bell. I think that I may have joined you a few times. Good times!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I hadn't heard about this book but it sounds like something I might be interested in reading. And I completely agree, some of the guests on Coast to Coast AM are so believable, you have to remind yourself to step back and look at the facts again.

jasdye said...

i join in your skepticism. especially in something that is marketed as a best-seller.

and yet...

demon-possession and miracles and that sort of stuff, i don't think that the spiritual world is as closed-off from us as the Age of Reason (and modernism and deism and the like) would want us to believe.

i think that the reason that people are so eager to believe in these almost peripheral, marginalized and, IMHO, irrelevant supernatural occurences and whathaveyou is evidence of a hunger that there must be more to life than just what we see.

which is what, in me skimming through and just reading the beginning and ending and most likely missing, i think you were saying anyway. haha

AWG said...

I lost respect for Art Bell around the time he featured "Dr. Jonathan Reed" and the alien burrito. While I was skeptical of new host George Noory at first, he's proven himself to be leagues ahead of Art Bell. Bell has retired to the Philippines with some 15 year old. Dirty old man.

AWG said...

... oh, and p.s., I loved these latest posts, RC. While I'm a Christian, I don't let myself be boxed in by that label. I have faith but I am also spiritual and know there are things that we can't and never will be able to explain with modern science. Look at Carl Sagan. He predicted "nuclear winter" and that the Kuwaiti oil fires would land us in a new ice age. As much as he's revered, and his anti-paranormal book "The Demon-Haunted World" is admired, he didn't know it all, even though he came across as a turtlenecked know-it-all.