Thirsty Thursday/Friday: Reconciling Atheism and the Paranormal

 

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it’s like if the girl from The Ring was slightly less waterlogged and way hotter

Hey thotlings! Me-wow, has this past week been weird af. Over here on the East Coast we gots us nearly three feet of snow. Some people were unlucky and got stuck at work for days on end #threehotsandacot, and the even unluckier were found dead in the snow due to scary rando accidents. But the luckiest sat on their asses, watched Lifetime movies, and ate through the ten pounds of guacamole that they stockpiled. Fortunately, I found myself in this third category, but as I think about the sorry souls in the other two, I can’t help but feel like this discrepancy in trajectories is just more evidence that there isn’t too much deistic intelligence going on up there in the universe.

And that, friends, is precisely what I’d like to discuss with you today. That being said, this isn’t some fucking YouTube Atheist Community rant. I think people should be able to subscribe to whatever ideology, or lack thereof, that they please. Like if there are some Pastafarians living down the street walking around with colanders on their heads I don’t really understand how that affects me, plus putting down other people’s oftentimes means putting down their culture as a whole. And that’s fucking lame as fuck. Cultural relativism and junk. So yeah, people can do what they want. It’s for that reason, in addition to there being issues of access and, again, cultural differences, why I feel strongly about not preaching my vegetarianism/newfound veganism or whatever, beyond sharing yummy recipes that explore the creative potential of cauliflower.

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But perhaps another reason why I am not quick to evangelize my atheism is that I grapple with it myself. As a kid I went to church, Sunday school, Jesus camp, the whole nine, and oh my god, it was so boring I wanted to drown myself in the baptismal altar. I usually spent services thinking about the acolyte boy or what I was going to wear to school that week. When I was really little I used to think about how everyone else there must know none of it is real, too, and that, like me, they’re just too afraid to say anything. Again, it’s cool if the church Jesus religious kind of thing floats other people’s goats, but personally, I was profoundly spiritually unmoved.

Yet, in other contexts, as a tot thot I seemed to feel a strong draw to the prospect of the paranormal. My dad had this book about all sorts of spoopy fun, ranging from UFOs to poltergeists, that I carried around with me until the spine wore out. Even before I could read super well, I would stare at the pictures of the crop circles and depictions of Rasputin’s hijinks for hours on end. My sister and I also managed to read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark to tatters, at least until the day it mysteriously disappeared. More than anything, though, anytime a preview for a horror movie would come on TV I would immediately stop. I had to watch every second, even if it terrified me half to death. I was never allowed to see them, of course, but lucky for me by the time I got to junior high I would camp out in my room every October to watch AMC Horrorfest to catch up on what I had been missing out on for so many years.

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But as I was watching The Exorcist, enraptured in the magic of the priest summoning god to cast the evil out of a Linda Blair that was pukier than my hair after the first time I drank malt liquor, I couldn’t help but feel kind of conflicted. Like how could I spend so much time on the YouTubes watching footage of alleged exorcisms when I don’t subscribe to the forces that are supposed to be controlling them? If you watch films like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the paranormal is actually used as evidence of a god’s existence – but does the spoop need to be defined in such limited terms? Well, I took to the internut to find out, and it seems like while I haven’t been alone in my dissonance, others have been more successful in making sense of it.

The dudes over at positiveatheism.org offer a thought-provoking distinction between the supernatural and the paranormal. While the former denotes something being above nature, the latter implies that even though we may not yet completely understand how, spoop has some sort of place in the natural puzzle. This definition of the paranormal led me to the question of how the human soul may fit into the laws of nature. I’d like to think the soul actually exists and doesn’t just seem like it does because we’re self-aware, intelligent beings. Does that make me happy-go-lucky sucker? I would like to think not, largely due to the idea that the existence of a soul doesn’t necessarily have to be antithetical to science, or products of intelligent creation. The Scientific American points out that physics hasn’t found any indication that particles of a soul exist – yet. While the concept of a soul chilling around after death doesn’t fit well into current theories on physics, all scientific theories are, indeed, theories. As I discussed in my Sociology of Black Metal article, while research strongly supports certain ideas and the plausibility of these ideas can be bolstered through peer review and study replication, and it is not entirely accurate to ever really suggest that something has been definitively proven.

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If the soul is a form of physics, perhaps when someone dies under conditions of unrest the particles are unable to completely die. So, they linger, sometimes spurring some kind of residual energy that mimics deistic or demonic fuckery. Honestly, if spoop is all just a product of the human body, I wouldn’t really be too surprised since it would mostly be in-step with my own paranormal experiences. My first event was when I was 13. I’ve always been into fashion and junk, but even more so in junior high when shows about the industry like The Hills were kicking ass. Tall, thin, and with the face of a Tim Burton character, I naturally wanted to be one of those sad sack super models. One night, after cutting up a bunch of magazines to cover my bedroom wall with, I came across an article about a model that died from anorexia. As soon as I finished reading it, the power mysteriously went out. Judging by street and porch lights, my house was the only dark one on the block, and the weather was perfectly calm. I was too scared to sleep in my own room, so I tried the family room, but I couldn’t shake the panic. I felt like someone was standing in the doorway watching me. Maybe I was just a scared kid, but I also couldn’t help but feel like I had attracted the residuals of the dead model since my soul had been falling down the same path as hers, which, in its own way, yielded a kind of warning. Sounds stupid as shit, I know, but I actually ended up developing an ED down the road, and I’ve come to see the event as some crazy foreshadowing.

Working in an assisted living facility with close proximity to a dementia unit and hospice has been interesting as well. My brushes there have mostly been limited to going in for a 6:00 am shift and feeling like someone is sitting in a seat that’s completely empty. But my coworkers haven’t been as lucky (or unlucky?). When my sister worked there, she came in to find another worker practically in tears after hearing three distinct clinks and seeing feathers float from the ceiling out of nowhere. Some overnight aides have reported smelling the colognes or perfumes of deceased residents when clearly no one had been around. Others have experienced shit so crazy that they don’t even want to talk about it. But perhaps if all of this stuff is literally just the result of there being people, maybe we don’t have to be so afraid. As my sister once pointed out in one of our extended conversations on this topic, maybe there aren’t demons, but rather just the souls of dead assholes beboping around. Taking it one step further, maybe these angry particles produce real bodily effects on mentally/emotionally/physically vulnerable people, spurring mental illness that mimics possession.

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The humanist value of paranormal investigating should also be considered. Back in my communist pamphlet-writing days when I briefly abandoned my obsession with the spoop, I probably would have rejected such a notion on account of it being a bourgeois tactic to distract the masses from the Revolution, kinda like those Roman circuses. But now I’m not as sure if I’m as quick to extinguish the possibility of its merits. Actually, I think I feel quite the opposite. The paranormal gets people thinking and excited. It’s a chance for us to explore things outside of what to order at Taco Bell or what to watch on Netflix. It gets people studying history, genealogy, and new cultures, and I don’t think any of those things are at odds with atheism at all, or even political revolution for that matter. At the end of the day, “atheism” literally only means the absence of theism. The lack of gods. But that doesn’t mean it’s the lack of everything. It is not synonymous with nihilism, although I feel as though it is often mistaken as such. That is why when someone inquiries into my religious affiliation, I feel the need to clarify – I am an atheist, and I believe in the human spirit.

 

Chat with me more on this topic via email.

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