The Christian and the Paranormal

By Oswin Craton


Why Study This Topic?

In today’s world there is an ever-increasing interest in the paranormal among both religious and non-religious alike. The interest seems strongest in those without deep religious convictions, perhaps because our secularist society leaves many people longing for something to believe in that is greater than themselves. But in recent decades a growing number of devout Christians also have developed an interest in the unexplained phenomena we hear about on an almost daily basis. Many Christians have very pronounced feelings about such matters, some believing wholeheartedly in the validity of paranormal phenomena, others feeling just as strongly that all such claims are bogus and that even the investigation of such matters is anathema. It is the purpose of this small book to look into paranormal claims from a both a scientific and Christian perspective and to ascertain whether or to what degree Christians may involve themselves with the study of paranormal events.

Before beginning our examination, however, it is important that we define the terms we will be using in this book. Paranormal terminology often is ambiguous and can have various meanings depending on the outlook of the person using the terms. For the purposes of our study, we shall define our terms as outlined below.

Paranormal. The American Psychological Association defines paranormal to mean “any phenomenon that in one or more respects exceeds the limits of what is deemed physically possible according to current scientific assumptions.” As such, the word “paranormal” is an umbrella term used to describe a wide range of alleged phenomena ranging from ESP (extra-sensory perception) to the supernatural. This broad definition would include all events that involve such things as precognition, mind-reading, telekinesis, ghosts, demons, angels, occultism, sorcery, miracles, and even God. While miracles, angels, and other biblically supported supernatural topics fall within the realm of the paranormal, for the purpose of our study we shall limit the term to refer to more modern-day allegations of events such as ESP, ghosts and apparitions, poltergeists, magic, and fortune-telling. These are the areas more generally investigated by contemporary researchers and are not necessarily religion-based assumptions.

The prefix of the word “paranormal” is para, meaning “beyond,” and the term thus describes something that is beyond the norm or something that does not have a normal or natural explanation for its existence or occurrence. There are many things in our daily lives that at first glance appear to be paranormal, but these events cannot genuinely be classified as paranormal if normal or natural explanations for them can be ascertained. As Professors Marks and Kammann stated in their book Psychology of the Psychic, “An event cannot be ‘paranormal’ unless we can first show that it is not ‘normal.’” To give an example, we all know what the acronym UFO means — unidentified flying object. Many of us have seen flying objects that we could not readily identify. But what becomes of a UFO when we later identify it as a type of experimental aircraft? It is no longer unidentified and therefore cannot retain the classification of a UFO. In the same manner, an event that we may believe to be paranormal cannot remain a paranormal event if a normal explanation for it can be found. Only those events that cannot be explained through natural means can in any wise be classified (at least temporarily) as paranormal, and they remain so only until a natural explanation can be determined. So in that sense, “paranormal” becomes only a temporary designation until the event can be fully studied and evaluated with every means currently known to us.

Supernatural. Initially I had planned to call this book The Christian and the Supernatural but decided against it. Although technically “supernatural” and “paranormal” have essentially the same meanings, they have different connotations. Super means “above” or “beyond,” and natural means that which is in accordance with the principles of nature. Supernatural, then, refers to anything that is beyond the natural or above the natural laws of the universe as we understand it. For example, if an object could levitate (defy the law of gravity), that would be a supernatural occurrence — provided no natural means could be found that would cause the object to levitate. But this definition also includes many things pertaining to religion. God is supernatural because He is above the natural laws of the universe. The Incarnation, the Resurrection, miracles, angels, etc., also are supernatural. All Christians believe in the supernatural. But that does not necessarily mean that all Christians believe in everything many people claim are supernatural. However, since as Christians we accept the existence of the supernatural, I have elected to use the term “paranormal” in this book to refer to our principal areas of study.

Occult. The occult has to do not just with the supernatural but also with things that are considered mysterious, hidden, or secret. It connotes something that can be understood only by those initiated into certain secrets, such as Qabbalistic magic. Usually included in the realm of the occult are such things as magic (actual magic, not slight of hand), sorcery, necromancy, mediumistic abilities, communication with spirits, or worship of demons or false gods. Often people who practice such things believe they have the ability to do or understand things that normal people cannot. Voodooism is a form of occultism; holding a séance is an occult practice.

We need to remember that many things in these areas overlap, however, and that this is one of the main reasons many Christians object to other Christians becoming involved in any area of para-normal investigation. Some Christians see no difference between holding a séance and researching alleged telepathic abilities. Even people who fully believe in the paranormal and practice paranormal activities themselves sometimes disagree over whether certain phenomena are due to the influence of the occult or are simply natural abilities for which we have not yet found natural explanations. For instance, we may encounter two people who both claim to have clairvoyant abilities (the ability to see objects or events removed from natural viewing, such as seeing a picture drawn on a piece of paper hidden inside a sealed envelope). One may describe the picture and claim that he knew what the picture was through an occult experience (perhaps by having a spirit look at the picture and tell him what it was). The other may describe the picture and claim that he could do so because of some kind of psychic gift and that there is no magic or witchcraft involved — it is simply something he can do that most people cannot, just as some people can lift a 500-pound weight while most cannot. Not everyone agrees whether clairvoyance should be classified as an occult act or simply a psychic ability.

Another thing we must watch with our terminology is the word “magic.” As we commonly think of it, magic is a clever means of entertainment utilizing various slight-of-hand techniques devised to fool the observer’s eye. Stage magicians are really not “magicians” in the literal sense of the word but are actually “illusionists.” Any legitimate stage magician today will quickly admit that he uses absolutely no supernatural or paranormal techniques in his performances. Everything he does has a natural explanation. What he does is create an illusion, making it appear as though something has happened that really hasn’t. He may make a rabbit disappear or may saw a woman in half, but he admits that there is no occult magic involved. He has simply honed his skills to the degree that he can create the illusion that these things have occurred when in fact they really haven’t.

Real magic is the study of the occult arts. We said that occultism dwells on the mysterious and hidden, the things that only the initiated may know. A genuine magician is one who claims to have learned these secrets and can tap into supernatural powers. There are generally believed to be three kinds of magic:

White magic, or magic based on knowledge of the secret things of the Bible and which is founded on a belief in God. Francis Barrett, the author of The Magus, practiced white magic and claimed to be a devout Christian. The term also is used by some non-Christians to refer to magic that is designed to help rather than hurt people. Some believe that white magic is in fact only black magic with a biblical disguise.

Black magic, or magic generally based on knowledge of evil powers. Black magic often is practiced by those who worship demons or Satan. Wiccans (who do not believe in Satan) typically use the term to refer to magic designed to harm rather than help people.

Sympathetic magic. Some believe there is a third type of magic called sympathetic magic or natural magic. They claim that this is a type of magic based on “neutral forces” that are neither white nor black. This form of magic is often found in many folk remedies such as in the practice of wrapping a black thread around warts while repeating a charm and then placing the thread under a piece of guttering in the belief that this will make the warts disappear.

Most people who claim to use white magic do so for the good of mankind, believing that they can help others through occult means. Most who practice black magic do so either for personal gain or for evil intents.

Other terms will be defined as we progress through our study.

Our discourse will begin with ESP, or extra-sensory perception. Following that will be a discussion of various fortune-telling techniques including astrology, cartomancy, palmistry, divining with rod and pendulum, mirror mantic, psychometry, and other various methods of seeing into the future. The third section will take up an examination of magic and will look also into the rapidly growing Wiccan movement that is so popular today especially with our youth. In the final section we will investigate various phenomena related to the alleged sightings of ghosts and apparitions. In each section we also will consider what Scripture has to say about these things and will offer suggestions as to whether and to what degree Christians should involve themselves with them. Not everyone may agree with the author’s conclusions, but they are offered in the hope that the Christian will have a better understanding of the paranormal and know better how to deal with the subject when confronted with strange phenomena.

About the author

The author is a devout Christian who has had an interest in the paranormal since his youth. While never claiming any paranormal abilities himself, he has been intrigued by various claims of the paranormal for many years. Initially a firm believer in the paranormal, he later came to disavow all paranormal claims beyond those pertaining to his Christian faith. Having thus been on both sides of the issue throughout his adult life, he now regards all paranormal claims with what he calls a “healthy skepticism.” While personally believing there to be logical explanations for most so-called paranormal events, his research has led him to alccept that there are indeed some things for which we have not yet found adequate explanations, and he recognizes that these unexplained events often cause inner conflict with many Christians. He has read extensively in the area and has formerly taught classes on the subject in which he has examined various paranormal claims and analyzed them from both a scientific and biblical viewpoint with careful attention to what Scripture and the Church have to say about a Christian’s involvement with them. The present book is loosely based on his lectures. The opinions he offers in this book are his own, and he does not claim to speak with the authority of the Church, though he believes the positions he has taken are consistent with Orthodox Christianity.

Copyright © 2006 by Oswin Craton. All rights reserved.

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