Saturday, June 26, 2021

The ghosts of Covid

By, of all things, CNN.  I read through this, chuckled, sighed and rolled my eyes.  It's a propaganda piece for Covid of course, telling about cases where those who died due to Covid have been reaching out from beyond the grave to their loved ones.  Not that I have a problem with the premise itself, but that it's soooooooo wrapped around Covid Press is the difficult part to stomach. 

Naturally CNN, being CNN, has to believe that unless a lab-coat-science-guy can label it, it's not credible. Sadly, that seems to be many church leaders', and church traditions', approach.  Assume more or less an atheistic model of the universe, primarily material, explainable by science and only science ,,, but if that doesn't work then spirit and miracles stuff is a nice fallback. 

With rising suicides, drug abuse, depression, diseases, cancer rates among younger and younger age groups, dementia and Alzheimer's being found among younger and younger age groups, food allergies skyrocketing, and a plethora of other ailments and syndromes being diagnosed, you'd think we'd question this dogged veneration of STEM and the latest Research (TM).  

More than that, as we look at the last half century of applying 'science and research' to all of our problems, and see rising rates in these and other problems - not to mention how often the latest 'revelation by the 'experts' turns out to be dismissed by generations of later experts - we might want to consider the possibility that STEM isn't the end all answer to everything.  

Maybe mental health is a lucrative industry, but a poor substitute for religious devotion and spiritual enlightenment.  And perhaps there are parts of Creation, both visible and invisible, beyond the reach of STEM, lab coats, modern scholarship and the "experts", opening up the door for religion to step in and reassert itself.  You'd think, wouldn't you. 


  1. I bought the book by the vet who had a private mass that was attended mostly by ghosts. I'm not concluding one way or another on that, but at least it is an interesting story. The whiffs of perfume are less convincing, but then if they were real, they were not there for my benefit anyhow.

    We have to evaluate such stories something like a private revelation and something like one neighbor who thinks another might be a spy for Russia. We should not a priori reject the possibility, but we should bring a lot of skepticism to the claims, and both the nature of what supposedly happened and the characters of the people reporting it have to be taken into account.

    1. I used to be far more skeptical about anything near the supernatural. Accepting the miraculous in the Christian Faith was tough for me. Over the years I've softened. Partly because of a few events that happened in my own life. Partly because I've lived long enough to see some of the things I thought had been smack down proven true in this world beyond a reasonable doubt suddenly be tossed aside. One thing I enjoyed about the Orthodox during my sojourn with them was their tendency to have a very long view toward things.

      What, I asked a bishop, is their approach to evolution? His response? There is no doubt truth to it, but we would have to be foolish to think that if humanity lasted another 2000 years, what the world understood about evolution would look anything close to what it looks like today. And that goes for 90% of what we've come up with over the last couple centuries.

      I like that. Because of that, they tended to say we can certainly test certain supernatural claims, but the presence of a perfectly viable material explanation does not negate the presence of a supernatural happening.

    2. Yes, science progresses, but beyond a certain point it's really a series of refinements rather than (practically speaking) total revolutions. Both relativity and quantum mechanics did indeed revolutionize how physicists think about the world, for example, and they work in circumstances where Newtonian physics does not -- but if your engineer wants to use relativity or quantum mechanics in his bridge design, for Heaven's sake fire him.

      If a ghost can be explained by physics, now or in 2000 years, it is not a ghost. Physics is about "bodies", be they as strange as magnetic fields, but ghosts are either spirits and NOT bodies, or they are nothing at all. If you read the literature from about 1850 or so to maybe 1930, you find all sorts of mystic references to "magnetism", but magnetism is actually no more ghostly than billiards.
      In fact you see this continuing today, with "paranormal investigators" insisting that electromagnetic fields must be associated with hauntings and that spirit and energy are the same thing; they have no real excuse for this other than the fact that they really have no understanding of electromagnetic fields, energy, or ghosts, so they MUST be the same thing. If spirits are physical objects, though, they are not spirits at all, except in an alcoholic sense. "His Master's Voice" may have confused the dog (it is based on an actual event), but the phonograph was not the ghost of the dog's dead master.

      Yes, I have had odd experiences, too; experiences that conveyed meanings I accept as true. Now that I think about it, these were all dreams, or a sudden strong conviction of something unlikely that turned out to be true, or unlikely and seemingly meaningful "coincidences" of the type people now call "synchronicity". These were not miracles at all in the sense of turning water into wine or curing lepers; they made no dent in the physical laws. These have been very important to me, but they could not possibly be as convincing to you if I were to describe them -- and even I do not and cannot treat them as de Fide.

      Even these experiences have to be tested against what I know with greater certainty. Supposedly the idea of the benzene ring came to Kekulé while he was in a reverie and saw a snake biting its own tail. Maybe he did, maybe not, but however he got the idea, it fit with experiments. The problem with many of the CNN ghost stories is that they are difficult if not impossible to both take at face value and square with divine revelation. We both know that not everyone goes to Heaven, but we also know of someone who wants everyone to assume that whatever they do, they will go to Heaven.

    3. I often wonder though. If a ghost can be explained by physics, does it cease being a ghost? Or perhaps we were wrong to imagine a ghost as something that had to stand separate from an explanation by physics. Not that there isn't a 'supernatural', but perhaps we narrowed the concept too much while broadening the boundaries of just what the physical sciences can speak to. I'm no scientist of course. I just wonder if our modern understanding of 'where science speaks, the super drops off natural' is the best way to understand those 'all things visible and invisible.'

    4. The difference between spirit and body is not just quantitative, it is qualitative. It is also one of the first things you will run into if you study Catholic theology. When we say, "God is a spirit," that is completely incompatible with the idea that one day we will discover that God is a magnetic field or the Higgs field or whatever strange new ideas might come up later.

    5. Oh, I get that. It just dawns on me that through the ages, the development of some new technology, or even a new breakthrough in knowledge about the world, didn't send people into an either/or dilemma. As we developed the craft of making steel, for instance, people didn't suddenly imagine there was nothing supernatural involved since we've figured out this leap forward in technology. Likewise, we all scoff at the olden times when people would attribute to supernatural causes such things as illness or spoiled milk. But does the fact that we know my illness was caused by a virus mean that there is nothing supernatural going on at the same time? Not that there isn't a difference between the spirit and the flesh. But perhaps that difference isn't quite as either/or as we moderns tend to make it.

    6. I would say that God rarely touches His creation without "wearing gloves" -- using creatures as intermediates. Even the flame in the Burning Bush seems to have been an angel speaking on behalf of God, much as an ambassador speaks on behalf of a king, rather than being God Himself speaking directly. Of course God is perfectly capable of acting directly, but like a coach who wants his bench-warmers to get some time on the field, He wants us creatures to participate. That has really nothing to do with science, though.

      You're wrong if you think all this is new, though. It's pretty clear that people believed for a long time (and probably still believe today) that art has magical properties, at least if it was done well enough and in the right way. It's very clear that people thought that about writing, and people still think that, which is why they try so hard to change the definitions of "marriage", "boy", and "girl". People who believe AI is magic are just the last to arrive at a party that has been going on for ages.

    7. I understand that people for long ages attributed such magical properties to things varying from metallurgy to even the spoken word. Names, as they say, meant far more for most of history than in the average maternity ward today, in many ways because of the lingering influence of the mystical behind the word.

      My contention isn't so much that people in the past didn't see the mysterious and even mystical as much as wondering if we might have missed some of that in our modern focus on the material unpacked through scientific study of the natural. So the burning bush, an angel, but something today we might be inclined - as some have been - to explain it away scientifically. And we might find that there really was a 'rational' explanation, something entirely natural in that burning bush. And yet, as believers, we know it was more than merely a natural event no matter what we might discover of the nuts and bolts of the bush in question. Could the same be true of far more than we sometimes give credit to today?

    8. Yeah, I've seen that: priests who try to explain that the feeding of the 5000 was just the "miracle of people responding to an example of generosity". I'll have none of that, thank you.

      If I had to choose between thinking that I am a body deceived into thinking I have an immaterial spirit, or a spirit deceived into thinking I have a material body, I would believe the latter, because only a spirit can UNDERSTAND, and so it can also misunderstand. A body can react in "reasonable" ways, like Dr. NIM, but it cannot actually have reason.

      If I had to guess where our increasingly pagan society is going, though, I would say it is towards a kind of animistic scientism. Basically, one way to get around the mystery of life and consciousness is to assume that everything is at least a tiny bit alive and at least a tiny bit conscious, with something like a rock being in a deep, deep, deep, deep coma, less alive than a lettuce plant as the lettuce plant is less alive than an astronaut, but with the difference being more quantitative than qualitative. You know the eco-pagans would be all over this idea, which they have somewhat adopted already in the form of Gaia, and I think it can safely be said that many cultures around the world do not draw the sharp line between body and soul that the ancient Greeks did and that the Catholic Church does. But AS CATHOLICS, we can say otherwise. Material bodies and spirits are not so radically separated as Descartes thought, so that (for example) places can be blessed or cursed, but they are nevertheless distinct.


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