A compassionate way to entertain claims of paranormal activity

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/03/11/carrie-poppy.html


“whose hosts distinguish themselves by their compassionate, open-minded approach to their subjects, fuelled in part by their upbringing in evangelical Christianity”

Say what? When did “open minded” ever become connected to a fundamentalist Christian outlook on life? Let alone “compassionate”?

Not arguing these two are not these things but presuming it came out of being intensely religious? I don’t think so.


I took it to mean that because they used to believe outlandish things, and were brought up by, with and around people who believed outlandish things, they are sympathetic to other people who believe different, but still outlandish, things.


The difficulty in compassion and understanding occurs because in these areas of “pop metaphysics” the terms have far too much emotional baggage for both the “for” and “against” camps, so they constantly argue past each other. The semantic approach would be to carefully unpack what all parties mean when using broad terms the meanings of which are taken for granted by all concerned.

For example, to either entertain or dismiss claims of “paranormal activity”, it might be productive to first establish what we mean by “normal”, and “paranormal”. Same applies to a term such as “supernatural” - one might be presuming a consensus in defining what is natural which is not shared by other parties.

Many self-avowed materialists reject outright terms based upon vague connotations despite them in no way contradicting science. For example, “occult” simply means “that which cannot be seen”, and several hundred years of instrumentation have indeed confirmed that most phenomena of the universe at large are not directly visible to human senses. Or how about “spirit”, which means “breath”? There is a lot of evidence that breath and breathing do indeed occur - even if all people might not agree upon the significance of this.

Even contemporary science has long since transcended the concretely material in its descriptions of the natural world, relying literally upon immaterial, unseen forces. Some might be rightly defensive that this could be used by some to excuse wooly-thinking and rejection of reproducible methodology, but those are more readily addressed once we move beyond bickering over the loaded nature of the vocabulary used.


Obviously she has not renounced… Christianity is Like Poppy not open-minded and doesn’t believe in ghosts…

I think the key is that the hosts are former fundamentalist Christians. If they were still fundamentalist Christians I don’t think they’d be as quick to be compassionate towards people with such different perspectives.

Having been raised a fundamentalist Christian, myself, I think that most people who believe they were abducted by aliens or that the spirits of dead people live in their homes are similar to intensely religious people in that most of them are perfectly normal folks who are just having intensely personal experiences and interpreting them in a way that brings them some kind of comfort, or at least in a way that makes sense to them.


And remember to smile as you allow them their 15 minutes of fame.


She seems to have independently discovered what Bultmann called demythologization. This is not the same thing as smugly ridiculing primitive fundamentalists. Not at all.


That is not dissimilar to how I see it. People regularly compartmentalize disparate worldviews, but tend to notice this process only once something jumps out at them. Mythology works as mythology when evaluated through the relevant cultural frameworks. It might not pass muster when evaluated by your standards of art, entertainment, or history - but it doesn’t need to, as that’s not what it’s for. Mythology works as symbology and metaphor, so evidence for or against its objective tangibility, the historicity of its content, very much misses the point and wastes time with useless controversy. Precisely like arguing about the existence of Moby Dick or Spider-Man. Looking for such evidence is not a waste of time because they are real only in a certain sense, it is a waste of time because it does not matter either way.

Myth-as-metaphor and myth-as-history are as apples and oranges, different domains of conceptuality neither of which neatly resolve into the other, and there is no reason (beyond ideology) to expect them to.

I remain skeptical. Not just about religious and spiritual claims, but about this approach.

Religious person: I believe God created the universe and has a plan for our lives.

Me: Oh. I don’t believe that.

Religious person (thinking): You’re an asshole.


Spiritual person: I believe love is a force throughout the universe and everything happens for a reason.

Me: Oh. I don’t believe that.

Spiritual person (thinking): You’re an asshole.

I think anything less than credulity might earn you the “asshole” badge, no matter how polite you may be. I’m not talking about someone being rude or disrespectful or confrontational. I’m talking about people making simple statements about their own beliefs. It all sounds very patronizing, as though what we rational people are supposed to say is, “Well, you know how fragile and childlike those religious and spiritual people are. Just let them have this one.” But the guy holding the Jesus sign or the people ringing my doorbell don’t feel the need to return the favor.

And finally, I do not believe that most religious people view their beliefs as nothing more than comforting metaphors. I’m sure there are Christians who say, “I don’t care if Jesus actually rose from the dead—it’s the story that matters to me.” But I don’t think that’s most Christians. I think religious people really believe the things they… believe.


Every damn winter I tell folks if they think their house is haunted, get a carbon monoxide detector.

Meanwhile that laughter at 10 minutes made me think the audience could use a little more compassion themselves.


More likely, “You poor, poor deluded soul.”

Fair enough.

I don’t think so. That would be fine. After all, we all tend to think people who have different political views than us or even just have different taste in movies or music are deluded. But very often when I tell a religious person that I’m an atheist (even if they started the religious discussion), they often seem to get genuinely angry, as if my atheism was an insult to them. It’s really odd.


Hunting caused by Carbon Monoxide poisoning - This American Life #319


Well, your anecdote clearly refutes my thinking. I take my hat off to you.

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That’s because your response isn’t what it’s being advocated at all. Perhaps if you’d asked “Really? Why do you believe that?” You’d have something like compassionate scepticism.

I’ve had some really interesting discussions around stuff that i inwardly think is complete bunkum. The point of the talk was that before you can convince someone, you need to at least respect the person.


Reminds me of this.


American “Christians” right there.