I am interested in the paranormal and the supernatural. I know you are saying, “Ok, we are all interested in those topics”. My situation is complicated because I’m a Christian with orthodox beliefs [not Orthodox as in Eastern Orthodox but traditional/conservative] and a United Methodist pastor. This puts me in a no man’s land of false assumptions. The church folks look at me with suspicion. “How can he be a real Christian and be interested in ‘those’ kind of things”. From the Paranormal community I get the look that says, “Great here comes the judgement and everything is a demon”.
Neither assumption is correct. From my point of view, and many other Christian’s and pastor’s, most of the conflict that occurs due to lack of a common language, lack of trust, lack of knowledge or a demand for an inflexible predetermined paradigm. In a series of articles, I hope to explore this relationship and shed light on the common ground that already exists between the Christian and Paranormal communities. Yes, there are differences and places where disagreement will occur.This should not stop an open conversation.
As a pastor and student of the Christian Bible [ThM 2012 Johnson University, Knoxville TN] so I live in a world of words. They frame my thinking on all subjects. To communicate we must understand how a word is being used. Thus, the first place to start is identifying the meaning of the words paranormal and supernatural. I must admit that the line of demarcation between the paranormal and supernatural is a hazy one. Many times, they both can be found in one event. The supernatural is defined as: A being, place, object, occurrence, etc., considered as supernatural or of supernatural origin. Behavior supposedly caused by the intervention of supernatural beings. The direct influence or action of a deity or supernatural forces on earthly affairs. The word ‘supernatural’ was first used during the Middle Ages 1520–30CE (https://www.dictionary.com/browse/supernatural?s=t?s=t). The important factor in the definition of supernatural is the causation. The event, place, or item is connected to the influence by a deity or spiritual forces. For me the supernatural has more religious overtones than the paranormal.
According to the Parapsychological Association paranormal is:
Term applied to any phenomenon which in one or more respects exceeds the limits of what is deemed physically possible on current scientific assumptions; often used as a synonym for “psychic,” “parapsychological,” “attributable to psi,” or even “miraculous” (although shorn of religious overtones). [From the Greek para, “beside, beyond,” + normal]https://parapsych.org/articles/53/335/paranormal.aspx.
Paranormal events are extraordinary because they exceed the limitations of existing knowledge. The term paranormal did not come into use until the first part of the 20th century. According to Jeffery Kripal of Rice University:
“The language of the paranormal arises a bit later period it originates in the early decades of the 20th century as a way of referring to physical or quasi physical events, often of an outrageous or impossible nature…That were believed to be controlled by as yet unknown physical, that is natural laws. I am defining paranormal as the sacred in transit from the religious and scientific registers into a para scientific or “science mysticism” register” (Authors of the Impossible. The Paranormal and the Sacred).
There are many paranormal events that are not supernatural. These could include; UFOs, alien abductions, sasquatch or other cryptid sightings. There has not been enough scientific evidence for full acceptance or explanation, yet. However, all supernatural events such as ghosts, psychic predictions, or miracles, are not currently accepted by any scientific consensus. For me the supernatural goes beyond the pale of existing understanding.
In way of example I would like to build off the work of Matthew Ferguson (https://celsus.blog/). Let’s examine the claim that Dave Scott’s first Spaced Out Radio show aired in 2014 entails the following proposition: Human beings exist, and at least one has had the name “Dave Scott.” Radio programs exist and there is one originating in British Columbia named the “Spaced Out Radio.” A human being is physically capable of producing and hosting a radio program. These involves no paranormal claims and do not violate any existing knowledge. There is no scientific controversy about a human creating a radio program.
Next let’s consider a paranormal example of, “I saw Sasquatch walk through my back yard”. A creature known as a Sasquatch exists. It occasionally walks through my back yard. This would be a paranormal claim because there is no agreement among biologist, zoologists or primatologists that Sasquatch exist. The claim that Sasquatch exists exceed the boundaries of existing knowledge.
Finally, a supernatural example. Consider transubstantiation as understood by the Roman Catholic Church. Transubstantiation is, “The complete change of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of Christ’s body and blood by a validly ordained priest during the consecration at Mass, so that only the accidents of bread and wine remain” (https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=36918). The bread, wine, priest, and Mass are verifiable facts. However, the claim of “the complete change of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of Christ’s body” is supernatural. The bread and the wine are acted upon by a deity or spiritual force and the result is beyond the ability of science to measure or validate. With this as a bases for understanding I hope to explore this relationship and shed light on the common ground that already exists between the Christian and Paranormal communities.
(Photo courtesy of Yakima Herald)