Follow Up to My Post about the Paranormal

Follow Up to My Post about the Paranormal August 21, 2014

I didn’t want that post (the immediately preceding one) to get too long, so I omitted one observation-experience that formed part of its immediate background. I mentioned the advice columnists who told the boy’s mother to take him to a doctor–assuming he was suffering delusions when he claimed to be seeing and hearing from a dead cousin about whom he knew nothing naturally.

I confess that because of some of my own life experiences I am interested in the paranormal. I watch television programs that purport to be serious investigations (not the ones where camera crews go into allegedly haunted houses with all kinds of gadgets). I think I am pretty adept at discerning the serious ones from the hokey ones.

Recently I watched an hour long documentary about the “real story” behind the movie “The Exorcist.” First, let me say I never read the 1971 book by William Peter Blatty. It was promoted as a novel, but I heard several times that it was based on real events. And I never watched the movie.

I do not jump to believe every tale of demon possession or other paranormal experiences, but my belief in the Bible and my acceptance (if that’s even the right word) of the biblical worldview inclines me to be open to the possibility of it.

The television documentary was about the events that lie behind Blatty’s book and the movie based on it. Several researchers, including some university professors with good academic credentials, have looked into the case and concluded that what happened (much of which is not in the book or the movie or is changed in them) did, indeed, really happen–and some of it is blatantly supernatural.

Most interestingly in the documentary the narrator-researcher found one of the Catholic priests who participated in the exorcisms of the boy. (It was a boy, not a girl as in the movie.) When the documentary was made the priest was in a retirement home and old but mentally sharp. He described the boy’s case and the rituals in vivid detail. He claimed that he personally knew of forty people who, over a period of months, saw the boy’s bed levitate off the floor, heard voices in the room, etc. He scoffed at any idea that the boy was merely emotionally disturbed. So did one psychologist who studied the case. Another university professor who studied the case for years, interviewing many of the participants (including the boy and his parents) concluded that what happened could not be explained scientifically.

Of course much that was included in the book and the movie was fiction. (By all accounts the boys head did not spin.) Yet, according to the researchers, not all of them religious people, something was at work there that is beyond natural explanation.

I was convinced by the evidence, not by the book or movie (which I did not read or see but heard much about), that, in this particular case, something supernatural happened. The priest’s account had the “ring of truth.” The secular researchers had no motive to conclude that it was supernatural.

This reminded me of Daniel Epstein’s biography of Aimee Semple McPherson who was, of course, the best-known evangelist of the first half of the 20th century. He went to great lengths to investigate claims of healings when she prayed. He concluded that scientific evidence (medical tests before and after the healings) were conclusive–some people recovered from serious illnesses in ways not explainable by current science. But he attributed it to “mind over matter” that is not yet fully understood.

I have to conclude that SOME reports of supernatural occurrences are valid. I expect naturalists to explain them in naturalistic ways, but as a Christian, with a worldview shaped by Scripture and my own Pentecostal experiences, I have to be open to them. That doesn’t mean being gullible or tossing aside healthy skepticism. Anyone who knows me knows I am quite skeptical of supernatural stories. But I have to be open to the possibility. And some well-researched events support that openness.

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