I saw a video today, and I thought the Friendly Atheist and Atheist Voice had perfect timing in releasing it shortly before the western world’s favorite spooky day.
I don’t know when last I believed in ghost. The whole idea seems silly in retrospect, something that is accepted based on legends, stories, and made for TV movies. I’ve never seen a ghost, the closest I’ve come is faulty intuition about what lurks in the shadows around me.
When I was a kid, I remember my older sister and cousin playing Bloody Mary in a bathroom at our grandma’s house. In my memory, I can’t remember where the adults were, if they were around at all. I just remember everyone daring my cousin to do it, and him accepting the challenge. They went into the bathroom, and I stayed out in the living room.
There was suddenly screaming from the bathroom, the door was flung open, and they came pouring out telling their story. I remember my cousin actually being hurt, holding his back, screaming bloody murder.
That is the closest I’ve come to a ghost, a game of Bloody Mary that I wasn’t part of. At some point I discarded ghosts, maybe it was somewhere around the 3rd TV series where plucky young people took gear into old buildings and claimed ghosts were real when they heard echoes in the hallways.
Only recently did I start to consider ghosts critically, or rationally. When I was a Christian, I should have asked the question then. What would ghosts be? When people die, don’t their souls depart? Why would the Christian god let some ghosts hover around on Earth?
In the bible, old and new testies, there seem to only be 6 mentions of the word. Some of them aren’t translated as ghost depending on version. In each, a ‘ghost’ is seen, but the bible quickly refutes the idea that ghosts should exist (Samuel 28. Matthew 14. Mark 6. Luke 24.). Except maybe in Isaiah, but whatever. The point is, any god fearing Christian should assume ghosts are not real, because they go against everything that they should believe about their holy text.
So why do so many people believe in ghosts? Why are they such a huge part of our culture, our legends? If you ask me, they were around before, and survived.
If you imagine the Jews living in Rome, and suddenly the Christian church, you have to realize that the Roman tradition would have had real spirits in their legends, that rose up, returned, did deeds, and were probably then banished back to the underworld. Even before that, there were stories of ghosts. So the Christian legend was up against an insurmountable tradition, the idea that people’s spirits stuck around, got angry, or sad, and wanted to hang around abandoned amusement parks to mess with horny teenagers.
I know an atheist (maybe an agnostic) who believes in ghosts, to a degree. Which to me is amusing in its own way. To discard such lofty ideas as an all-loving god, but keep the terrifying idea of vengeful spirits. It isn’t that ridiculous though when we look at how our world works. We keep mementos of our lost friends hanging everywhere, we keep their presence fresh in our minds. Our media and entertainment is quick to teach us how to transform a welcoming face into that of a ghoul in the shadows. Is it any wonder that when something creaks, we are quick to put a face on it, try to understand it, personify it?
I have loved ones I’ve lost, and I don’t want to imagine them as wandering souls, that seems tragic and also selfish. Why, of the billions that have lived on this world, would people related to me stick around? Why would the dead contact me instead of someone else? If ghosts are created when people die without finished business, or when they want to stay close to loved ones, this world would be filled to bursting with passed spirits. Like any other supposedly hidden supernatural activity, the truth of ghosts would never be able to hide. They would be everywhere around us, not in the shadows, in the very air we breath. We live on the piled dead.
No, the truth of the matter is we are both afraid of humans truly passing, and at once afraid that they don’t. That is why we keep their smiling faces around us in pictures, and why we bury them deep and far away.
Oh yeah, have a Happy Halloween everybody!