Good thing he was wearing a shroud.
I’d hate to see his ghost wang.
I may be a secular atheist these days, but I grew up in a family that had a lot of experiences with ghosts and the supernatural. I believed in just about anything you might classify as “weird” or paranormal throughout my childhood. Especially ghosts, as my family had loads of ghost stories to tell from their personal experiences. It took decades for me to drop these beliefs.
My Family History With Ghosts
The way my mom tells it, she pretty much grew up in the Amityville Horror. Her whole family was kept awake many a night by loud thumping noises. Sometimes they would see ghoulish women looking out at them through the upstairs windows. My grandfather would run inside and charge up the stairs to catch the intruder, only to find no one was there. These events usually happened at night. Turns out that ghosts like it when things are dark.
The family eventually moved to another home in a neighboring town. They bought a piece of used furniture that contained a large mirror and some fancy metal etching. Lots of weird things happened in the presence of this furniture. The one story I kept hearing about is how it somehow tried to strangle or choke my grandfather. I don’t quite understand how this was supposed to have happened. Maybe it had invisible, “ghostly” hands? No one was ever able to give me specifics. But they all say it’s true.
Cool, but still the wrong kinda ghost.
Try the next one. :^D
Much later, when I was a kid, all kinds of weirdness happened at my grandmother’s home after my grandfather died. Things like jelly beans, dog food, and chips of soap would fly through the air from the kitchen and hit the wall at the end of the hallway. My grandmother thought an animal might be responsible, like a squirrel or a raccoon. (Are animals like these known for this sort of thing?) I actually saw this with my own two eyes on a few occasions. Then my grandmother started hearing voices at night and experiencing sleep paralysis while the voice floated malevolently above her. It usually repeated her name over and over or said it wanted to kill her. Sometimes it threw bars of soap at her that would hit the window above her head. I have no idea why this ghost had such a fetish for soap.
There was also the collection of weird pictures that so many families have. You know the ones with “white clouds” hanging around certain people or certain objects that you identify with dead loved ones. My grandmother used to record TV shows by putting a cassette recorder near the TV speaker (before VCRs became affordable) and she started getting creepy messages. Unlike the usual stuff you hear on so-called ghost recordings, there was clearly a voice on the machine. It was quiet, but easy to understand and always had the same message: “Kill (my grandmother’s name).” You could hear the TV program at the beginning of the recording, then the “thunk” of someone hitting the stop button, followed by a very quiet but easily understood recording of a voice.
Now THIS is more like it. Ghost boobies rock, man.
My grandmother began looking for a solution to all of this. She tried contacting priests and psychics. The psychics told her there were five ghosts in the house and that one of them wanted to hurt her, while the rest wanted to protect her. They advised her not to move because the bad ghost would follow her but the others would prefer to stay in the house. (I have no idea why this would be the case, but okay…) Eventually, various “ghost hunters” began contacting her and asking if they could investigate her home. She always declined.
After my mother’s second divorce, she had to move in with my grandmother for a time. My mom began having the same experiences with voices waking her out of a sound sleep, paralysis, and so forth. When she finally got her own place again, the lights and TV tended to shut off and on of their own accord.
There’s more, but the point is that I can understand why people believe in ghosts. I still try to make allowances for the possibility of ghosts, but so far, I don’t know of any that can be proven.
Skepticism Sets Me Free
As you can see, I had plenty of reasons to believe in the supernatural. Especially in ghosts. But as the years rolled by, I began to notice some things.
1. Nearly all of these experiences were stories passed to me by my family. I had experienced almost none of them first hand. I reject the notion that my relatives are lying to me, or that they might be crazy. Their recollections were likely as accurate as they could make them. But my only direct “supernatural” experience was the sight of dog food flying through a hallway, one little piece at a time. This left me convinced that ghosts were real for many years, even after I realized that I was an atheist. Now I know that this isn’t proof of ghosts. It is only proof of something unexplained.
2. Most of these events occurred when the observer was woken from a sound sleep or in a situation where they could have easily fallen asleep. So these are far more likely to be hypnagogic experiences than supernatural ones. That is to say that there could be a defect that runs in my family, where one is awake but still dreaming at the same time. I have experienced sleep paralysis three times in my life, and once I was actually dreaming while I was unable to move. But I knew it was a dream. It could be that the rest of my family is more affected by this condition than I am. Note that this doesn’t make you a crazy person, but it does mean that your experiences can be as convincing to you as they are unreal.
3. Even if these events were real and not delusions, I can invent better explanations for them than, “It MUST be ghosts!” Maybe advanced aliens or time traveling teenagers with invisibility suits are screwing with us. Hey, I’m not saying that I believe either of these explanations, but they make more sense than assuming ghosts did it. At least we have reasons to think that aliens might exist and that time travel might be possible. We have no objective reason to believe in spirits or ghosts, only the stories we hear from ages past.
4. Some of the events I mentioned could be explained in more likely ways. Here’s one example: my grandmother had a teenage neighbor who had a key to her home. This neighbor was known for prank calling people on the phone. If she can do that, she could surely have been the one leaving the recordings for my grandmother to find. Which explanation is more likely? Here’s another one that I have since confirmed: my mother forgot that the remote on her old TV used to turn the TV on and off at random. I reminded her of this when she told me about the TV coming on by itself, so she started leaving the remote pointed away from her TV. The mysterious malfunction went away. Notice how she already knew this, but then forgot it until I reminded her.
Mr Ed is frozen in terror!
Wake up, Ed! Wake up!!
I wasn’t too worried about these ghosts coming after me until I became a Jehovah’s Witness. Once I found out about the Society’s teachings on ghosts (they’re really demons pretending to be ghosts according to the Watchtower Society … shhhhh!) I was petrified that the demons haunting my family would come after me. After all, I was part of the one and only “True Religion,” so I thought they’d love a shot at terrorizing me as they had my grandmother. My paranoia even lead me to believe they had at times.
I remember hearing a noise in my sleep as a teenager and jumping to the conclusion that a demon was messing with me. Later, I realized it was just a mouse nibbling at some food I had left in my room. (Don’t leave food in your room, kids.) So I was worried about nothing. And the dumbest thing was that I immediately jumped to the most unlikely conclusion imaginable.
I was afraid to go near anything with a supernatural bent for years as that was how Satan gets ya. (All my ex-Witness readers know the drill…) I even avoided movies and TV shows with a supernatural theme because I was afraid this would “attract” the demons to me. This is something that many Jehovah’s Witnesses believe to be true, but they aren’t the only ones who do. Now I know better.
Generally, most Witnesses don’t regard themselves as superstitious. The Society even publishes articles talking about how great it is to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses because they are supposedly free from superstition. (I guess believing in demons that can live in your lampshade like a genie in a bottle doesn’t count as a superstition to them. Uh…how about you?) I suppose no one really thinks of themselves as superstitious. Superstitions are merely false beliefs in the supernatural, and no one sees their beliefs as false or foolish. But the Witnesses seem pretty superstitious to me.
I try not to be too hard on people for believing in ghosts and the like. This is hard to do sometimes, especially when their beliefs seem crazy or they get upset at me for being a skeptic. The fact is that some things really do look like a supernatural event. We just have to remember that not everything is as it seems. An unexplained event is just that: nothing more than unexplained. That doesn’t prove that it was supernatural in any way. This is one advantage of being a skeptic over being a true believer. I look for the real truth instead of making it up as I go along.
I’ve tried both sides of the belief fence, and all I can say is that it’s good to be an atheist from my point of view.