Thursday, October 30, 2008


One of the advantages of living in a quiet backwater of the blogosphere is a certain kind of Dutch courage. You figure no one is going to read your words except for a small group of friends plus the stray wanderer lost on their way to somewhere else.

But that's not always true.

Yesterday I mentioned Mark Matlock's book "Don't Buy the Lie" as a jumping off point for a commentary on Halloween.

This morning I wake up to discover a comment from, gulp, Mark Matlock! I mentioned that some of his approach "set me on edge" and Mark asked what that was. A fair question. Since I started it out here I thought I'd answer it here as well.

Let me be clear that I've read a total of about 9 paragraphs out of a book of 176 pages. It would appear that both Mark and I share a healthy skepticism on much of the occult stuff out there. His book did what good books always do - kick off some thoughtful consideration.

Sound like a case of energetic back pedalling? Not really. Think of it more along the lines of the natural Episcopal distaste for making guests feel uncomfortable or being caught in an unseemly spat.

So what put me on edge? Mostly from the section dealing with ghosts, parts of which I quote here:

The tellers are almost always people who heard it secondhand. In addition, people who claim to hear voices or see dead relatives almost always stop experiencing those things when they take anti psychotic medications. That suggests either that ghosts don't like medication or that people who are having intense emotional and psychological problems are more likely to see things that aren't there.

The Bible leaves little room for the existence of ghosts. It never, ever talks about the spirits of dead humans lingering here.

This is one of those moments when you're listening to someone with whom you basically agree then they suddenly say something uncomfortable. Not outrageous but just enough to make you squirm in your seat.

First, I challenge your assumption that there are virtually no first hand stories of encounters with ghosts. Curiously I heard just such a story this morning on the local NPR station. The lady believes she saw a ghost in a local theater. First hand. The genre has more than enough of these first hand stories to make me uncomfortable with this assertion.

Second, the pat statement about anti-psychotic drugs and folks who have seen ghosts is outrageous standing as it does without support. That some folks who are suffering from mental disorder are helped by drugs to eliminate unreal apparitions I do not contest. The way this is stated in the quote leaves the clear impression that ALL folks who claim to see ghosts (wait, aren't we supposed to assume that there really AREN'T any such folk?)would benefit by a quick dose of medicine to re-balance their minds. Again I think a great deal more support for the idea that folks who see ghosts are generally unbalanced needs to be offered.

Finally there is the "But it's not in the Bible" argument. Arguing (and I mean that in the rhetorical sense not the combative) from absence is one of the weakest approaches available. The Bible is silent on many things. The pure pursuit of this line of thought is the life of the Amish. I'm fairly sure that neither you nor I, being computer users, are ready to ride off in that direction.

As an Episcopalian I don't see the Bible as some sort of final word on things scientific. It spends very little time discussing how things take place (and in our more common belief does it in metaphorical terms rather than literal) and much more time telling us why. It is a book of faith that teaches us many important things. Through it we hear the voice and thoughts of God reduced to a manner which we are capable of understanding. It challenges us and in my experience very often surprises me. It is not a complete description of this world or the next. So we need to be careful about drawing absolute meanings especially from absences.

So those are my thoughts Mark. These are the places that made me uncomfortable. It may be that I've drawn an incorrect conclusion from an admittedly limited sample. I was only reacting to the passage provided. (For the record the excerpt was published in the Youth Specialties youth newsletter that I forward to the youth of this diocese in our diocesan youth newsletter. I noted my reservations as an editorial note there but thought that there was more than enough "good stuff" in Mark's words that I sent them un-edited.) Your thoughts triggered my thoughts and I appreciate that.

Thanks for checking in and leaving a comment!

Oh dear, it suddenly dawns on me that I'll probably be hearing from the Dutch embassy next! LOL.



forsythia said...

Didn't Saul consult the Witch of Endor to raise the ghost of Samuel for him? The ghost had some bad news for Saul.

PseudoPiskie said...

I have several friends who have had encounters with ghosts. One had a ghost in their Philadelphia house who appeared on the huge staircase every time she played the organ in the foyer.

Another owned a bed and breakfast for awhile. Occasionally she and guests would smell bacon and eggs cooking in the middle of the night. She got tired of that and sold the house.

I had a friend come and talk to me at his funeral. He talked to a friend of mine there too. Don't know if that counts tho.

Mark M said...

Absolutely fair critique. I have to admit, seeing the excerpt (which are a series of answers to questions at the end of the book) without the context of the book can lead to misunderstandings or uneasy feelings. The questions weren't answered in such a way to stand alone, so I absolutely see your point.

The first few chapters of the book challenge the credibility of firsthand (or in the case of your examples second hand) experiences as validation for the supernatural.

The book does not discount the reality of a supernatural world, but challenges the credibility of our perceptions. As a professional magician (I am a member of the Magic Castle in Hollywood) I am part of a community that has created an art form based on manipulating perception. Magicians, beginning with Houdini, have challenged people's understanding of psychic and many supernatural experiences.

Don't Buy The Lie, tries to help students think critically about their own experiences and explore what the Bible does teach about the supernatural realm.

It isn't a perfect book, but tries to make some sense about the supernatural while trying not to be sensational.

Thanks for the exchange and feedback!