Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ghosts I've Never Known

"WE have all met the man who says that some odd things have happened to him, but that he does not really believe that they were supernatural. My own position is the opposite of this. I believe in the supernatural as a matter of intellect and reason, not as a matter of personal experience. I do not see ghosts; I only see their inherent probability."
~G.K. Chesterton: Tremendous Trifles.

It is a peculiar fact that just about every member of my family has had a ghostly experience or a tale of weird encounters, while I have never experienced anything that I haven't found totally explicable. The peculiar thing is that there's nothing in my beliefs or philosophy that denies the possibility of ghosts; I've just never seen one.

And really, I live in one of the most haunted areas in our little town. Just across the street is a haunted hotel that's been featured on TV, news articles, and websites around the world. The house I live in (through no virtue of my own) is over one hundred and thirty years old. My nieces and nephews think there are ghosts here.

Lord knows, I've got plenty of dead relatives who could come visiting. It didn't use to be that way. For a long time, nobody I was close to ever passed away. But, of course, that couldn't last forever. I even knew lots of evil assholes, now passed, who could come a-haunting.

I have plenty of hypotheses about my situation. One is that everyone is bullshitting me about their paranormal experiences. The "professional" hauntings at the hotel seem like pretty obvious money-making endeavors. My favorite theory is that God knows I'll drop down dead with fright if I see a spook, so He protects me from that.

Orthodox Christianity seems divided on the existence of ghosts. One school of thought says when you're dead, you're either in Heaven or Hell, no vacations. Another tradition says the dead pop in and out for special reasons. A lot of opinion hinges on how they interpret the whole Samuel and the Witch of Endor episode.

Of course, the materialist philosophy says we're all just meat-machines. We see a ghost, that's just something interfering with the machine, a glitch in the brain or a hoax or a misinterpretation of the facts.

What do I think? I think all my ghost-seeing relatives seem sincere. They're not fools, though I'm sure they could be fooled. I'm not even sure when they describe their "ghosts" if it's dead people, and not, say demons up to some kind of mischief. That's certainly been one popular interpretation of hauntings. In which case thinking it was really ghosts would be almost comforting.

And, if they are dead people, why hang around? I remember reading a ghost story by Charles Dickens (or was it Mark Twain?) where the narrator, after getting on to comfy terms with an apparition, asks the ghost why spirits, no longer hindered by fleshly concerns, and having the entire planet, if not the universe, to roam, limit themselves to dreary places like cemeteries and abandoned houses that can only be unwholesome reminders of their death? The ghost realizes the justice of this argument and leaves for greener pastures.

So, ghosts: real or nay? I can only say, with Samuel Johnson, "[F]ive thousand years have now elapsed ...and still it is undecided whether or not there has ever been an instance of the spirit of any person appearing after death. All argument is against it; but all belief is for it."

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