We live in a culture that is trying very hard to discard its religious roots. Atheism, agnosticism, pluralism, modernism, and materialism have all had a very negative effect on faith and a large segment of our population does not have any religious affiliation and thus no teaching of a religious nature. This has affected our morality as a people and has caused us to accept some strange, and sometimes destructive beliefs. It has been said that “the man who doesn’t believe in something will believe anything,” and there is some measure of truth in that statement. One of the things that has come out of this belief in anything, has been the unquestioning acceptance of the paranormal. The paranormal includes anything that cannot be tested scientifically. It does not involve just religion, but also involves things such as black magic, voodoo, witchcraft, clairvoyance, spiritualism, poltergeist, ectoplasm, psychic sciences, divination, and ghosts.
We do want to emphasize that we are not talking sleight-of-hand, recreational magic, or things that are done as a game or as a show. True magicians will tell you that what they do is only a trick or an illusion. Houdini had a trick in which he would hang a slate from the ceiling, take a cork ball and soak it in white ink, and then ask a person from the audience to take a sheet of paper, and walk out of the building. The person was then told to write a message on the sheet of paper and put it in his pocket. He would come back into the room and take the cork ball which was in the ink and hold it against the slate where it would stick. The cork ball would then start to roll across the slate writing out the message that the person had written on the slip of paper, and then it would fall to the floor.
Was this a paranormal demonstration? No it was not. Houdini wrote this comment about the slate writing trick. “I have devoted a lot of time and thought to this illusion. I won’t tell you how it was done, but I can assure you it was pure trickery. I did it by perfectly normal means. I devised it to show you what can be done along these lines. Now I beg of you, do not jump to the conclusion that certain things you see are necessarily ‘supernatural’ or the work of ‘spirits’ just because you cannot explain them” (Scientific American, February 2011, page 89).
While tricks can be entertaining and interesting, they are just entertainment. Raising someone from the dead however, is a very different type of activity. Witchcraft, black magic, voodoo, and even ghosts can be dangerous and destructive. The Bible has many passages in which God warns his people against engaging in these things. In fact, severe punishment was meted out for people who did persist in such things — even capital punishment (see Exodus 22:18; Deuteronomy 18:10 –11; Leviticus 20:27; Galatians 5:20).
Why is God so severe in his reaction to his people getting involved in the paranormal? There are at least three major reasons:
1. It causes people to put their faith in something other than God.
2. It takes people away from the source of real answers in their lives causing them to devote energy to something that doesn’t provide real answers.
3. It puts people in the path of dangerous people.
On June 17 –18, 2011, we had the privilege of being a part of a seminar on “Christianity and the Paranormal” sponsored by the Apologetic Research Society (www.EvidenceforChristianity.org) and led by Dr. John Oakes. The idea of the seminar was to investigate claims about ghosts with a group of Christians — some who believed in ghosts, some who did not, and some who were not sure. The seminar was held on the Queen Mary docked at Long Beach, California. This ship was built in 1936 and used to carry passengers from Europe to the United States. It was also used as a troop carrier ship in World War II because it was so fast (for its day) that German submarines could not keep up with it. It became known as “The Gray Ghost” because of its great speed and appearance to the Germans.
The ship has a long history of people getting killed on board. In one case it rammed another ship and cut it in half, causing the deaths of some 300 sailors. It was claimed that the ghosts of those killed on board were very active even as the ship became dry docked and turned into a hotel. There is a tour you can take on the ship that reminds you of the haunted mansion in Disney World with some of the same theatrics and illusions. It is a fun show, but not terribly convincing. The Apologetic Research Society had arranged for some of us to take a special guided tour by a psychic spiritualist expert who was to show us the actual ghosts. I believe as Christians that it is important to investigate claims of this nature and help people understand what is going on. First John 4:1 tells us, “Do not trust every spirit my friend, but test the spirits to see if they come from God.” Verse 2 tells us that we can recognize the false spirits by their refusal to confess Jesus as the Christ. First Timothy 4:1 is prophetic in its teaching, “God’s spirit specifically tells us that in later times some will desert the faith because they continuously give their attention to deceiving spirits and demonic teachings.” We are certainly seeing that being played out over and over in today’s world. Science is another tool we can use to investigate the credibility of claims about ghosts and other spiritual powers.
My role in the conference was to provide some scientific tools and concepts that aid in looking at the ghost issue. Our expert guide for the trip was an attractive young woman who not only did this kind of contract guiding of people on a ghost ship, but also did seances and medium sessions. She was bright, informed, talkative, and seemed to be convinced that she was in regular contact with John, Jackie, and Henry as well as a number of other ghosts who were regulars on the Queen Mary. We started our tour at 10:00 P.M. and went to the bottom of the ship where we walked through boilers, engines, old swimming pools, locker rooms, crew quarters, and special rooms until 2:00 A.M. Some of us had brought lights, and our psychic ghost leader had brought some special tools to help locate and communicate with the ghosts. The most “spooky” thing that happened in the tour was that shortly after we started a raccoon came running through the area. How he got into the ship or why is a mystery, but it certainly changed the atmosphere of what had started as a serious investigation.
One of the first tools our psychic expert leader had brought, which she said was probably the best tool she had, was a divining rod such as those sometimes used to find underground water (a dowsing rod). In this case they were brass rods bent at a ninety degree angle. The idea was that you would hold the rods loosely in your hands with one side pointed down toward the ground and the other pointing straight ahead of you. By holding them side by side the two rods were perfectly parallel. You would then call out to the ghost to come and move the rods so they crossed. We stood for a very long time with nothing happening. Finally one young lady did have the rods cross and the psychic host informed us that the ghost had crossed them. She said you could even ask questions of the ghost and that “yes” answers would be the rods crossing and “no” answers would be them uncrossing. Why ghosts have to use such a weak and problematic method of communication was never answered, but we were told of trip participants who had suffered scratches on their neck when they offended the ghosts. The problem with this method is that if you hold the rods for a long time your muscles fatigue. If you let your hand dip slightly, gravity will start pulling the rods together. The whole issue of dowsing is at least to some extent based on that same idea.
In the swimming pool area there had been reports of pictures of ghosts having been taken and she even had a photograph album with pictures of ghosts which consisted of orbs of light showing up in the pictures. Some of our folks were also getting bright orbs of light in their cameras seemingly coming from something that our eyes could not see. As I walked around this area I noticed a variety of signs from the 1900s encouraging patrons to use the ultraviolet light treatments that were offered in the swimming pool area. Some of these very large lights were still on and I could take a piece of white paper and in total darkness get a violet color to appear on the paper. Some more experiments need to be done, but it appears to me that the orbs are ultraviolet light picked up by the cameras.
The highlight of the night was that we were taken to a locker area near the pool where a seven-year-old girl drowned many years ago. Each of us were put into dressing room stalls and all the lights were turned off. You can imagine what was going on with our group of nutty Christians enjoying being together. Doug Jacoby reached under the wall of his dressing room stall and grabbed the ankle of the people on both sides of him precipitating major screams. When we all got quiet our host called Jackie to come and visit us. Sure enough, she saw the seven-year-old girl playfully run across the area between the stalls. None of us saw the girl, but our host gave a confident description that was a testimony that could not be refuted. Of course, none of us could verify it.
Some questions that have to be raised in any investigation like this include what are the background, medical condition, and psychological make up of the observer? In this case we eventually learned that our expert psychic host has a history of severe seizures when she was a child. In her adult years she had a seizure when she was driving and the car flipped causing her to sustain massive brain trauma. She went through several years of treatment for mental disorders resulting from the accident. In most paranormal claims that involve the testimony of an individual, there is a history of injury, mental illness, substance abuse, or physical abuse to the individual making the claims. Famous cases like the “Amityville Horror”, the “Betty Hill Abduction” incident, and the “Roswell” incident all have a common thread along these lines. Even traumatic experiences like the death of a loved one can cause people to experience images such as these.
After four hours of wandering around the bottom levels of the Queen Mary, and hearing and watching the best efforts of a psychic paranormal promoter, most of us found no evidence that there are any ghosts on the Queen Mary. The prohibitions of God’s people being involved with paranormal things like ghosts have logical reasons behind them, and I am personally convinced that there are no such things as ghosts. That is not to say that Satan is not alive and well on planet earth. It also is not to underestimate the various ways in which evil forces can impact our lives. It is to say that those who try to make money through ghosts and conversations with the dead are not those whom Christians should follow or trust. We must indeed “try every spirit” with all the tools available to us. We know that “… every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God … and is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3, NIV 1984) and that we can in fact “Work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
Cover montage: Roland Earnst from two pictures: ©photojohn830. Images from BigStockPhoto.com
© photojohn830. Image from BigStockPhoto.com
© rboncato. Image from BigStockPhoto.com