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Does Ghost-Hunting Supply Evidence for the After-Life?

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Russell E. Saltzman - published on 05/14/15

Exorcist author, William Peter Blatty, claims ghosts exist, but is this theologically defensible?

The notion of ghosts and visitations from departed loved ones is problematic for me. I do not think it fits well with the Christian faith, though many would dispute that

The entire supposition that spirits of the dead may appear and do physical mischief is far from my spectrum of reality. How the disincarnate departed possess the capacity for moving things around, rapping on cupboards, and knocking clocks off walls is the stuff of folklore, myth, superstition, and, possibly, wistfulness, if you ask me. (Now, if ghosts were to rap out their messages using, say, Morse code, I would be apt to listen.) 

Angels? Yeah, I think they might appear. I think I spoke with one, well, two of them posing as a young mother with a six-year-old daughter one day. I was feeling bad, having just been fitted with an insulin pump by my endocrinologist and wondering which limb I’d lose first to diabetes. A cyborg-like contraption with a semi-permanent needle under the skin that pumps insulin made all that real in a way that multiple daily injections never had. 

I’d had it two weeks when, right there in Wal-Mart, a young mother approached me and — seeing I had a pump attached to my belt — asked if I’d talk to her daughter who had just gotten one and needed cheering up. The little girl wasn’t happy and I can’t say as I blamed her, but what was I going to say? I wasn’t happy with mine, either.  

But I talked to her, me of brave face and false cheer, and I told her it was the greatest thing since the invention of sunlight. She asked if I believed that, really. And, suddenly, I did. One should never fib to a six-year-old. 

Telling a friend about it later, she said, see, God sent two angels to drag you out of depression. Considering my mood, it likely required two. All that would be fine, apart from the mystery of why God doesn’t send angels to others and aid them with their mood swings. Somebody’s going to tell me he does and if that’s the case, God will have some explaining to do for those longing for relief without respite.

Anyway, it’s a nice thought, yet I don’t believe angels found me, only a worried mother who seized an opportunity for her daughter. Maybe I was her angel? Regardless, asking me to talk to her daughter was one of the nicest things anybody ever did for me.

Which brings me back to ghosts. I don’t much mess with them. Mind you, I’ve seen two — both dogs, both times in daylight (which brings into questions why Ghost Hunters always sneak around in the dark; must be the cool lighting). 

One was my dog, Sparky — best dog a kid could ever want. He liked to sleep under the kitchen table. Turn a corner to the kitchen and you would see him immediately. That’s where he was on several occasions, a post-death flickering that quickly disappeared out of misty existence. 

The other dog slept at the corner of the neighbor’s garage door. It was another instance of turning and seeing the dog in its favorite spot, and then watching it disappear as recognition registered. 

I chalk these instances up to my mind, habituated to the locations, summoning up expected but subconscious images. But as for the human sort, the idea of “lost souls” roaming the earth, it begs the question of just how “lost” a soul might be, and if such exist, doesn’t God already have them located? 

Still less do I regard ghosts as evidence for an afterlife. Yet this is exactly how William Peter Blatty suggests we regard the random rappings, knocks, and other strange goings-on he and his wife experienced after the unexpected death of their nineteen-year old son, Peter. The strangeness Blatty describes in Finding Peter: A True Story of the Hand of Providence and Evidence of Life After Death is affirmation, he says, that his son lives on. He wrote the book, previously reviewed at Aleteia, “For those who have lost a loved one to that liar and fraud named Death.”

Blatty, a screenwriter and the author of The Exorcist, has a right to grieve in any fashion he likes, whatever aids him. He has a right to speak about it to anyone who will listen. He will find many, including teachers of the Church, who will agree. I am glad he finds both comfort and resolve, even a strengthened Catholic faith, in believing his son lives and he has evidence of it. And I definitely agree that death is a liar and a fraud.

But I know this not because I am bemused by rappings, shadowed photographs, or loud footsteps on empty stairs. I know this because the gospels tell us Christ died to conquer sin, defeat death, and crush every devilish thing that separates us from life with Him. And the only reason we know this is because His followers declared He was not a ghost or disembodied spirit, but was raised glorified, and the only word they had for it was “resurrected.” The promised life with Christ is found there.

A former Lutheran pastor becoming Roman Catholic, Russell E. Saltzman is a web columnist for First Things magazine living in Kansas City, Missouri. He can be reached at russell.e.saltzman@gmail.com

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