Saints, Ghosts, and Scooby Doo, by Steve Safran

Britt’s sister (known around these parts as “Zealot Sister”) and I recently made it official– we are Facebook friends. Along with her brother, Patrick, we now form a powerful triumvirate– ready to resurrect Britt’s Middle Child Syndrome at a moment’s notice*. It is an honor to be part of the Stockton coterie. Paige and I have often traded respectful debate on matters religious. She is a faithful Catholic. I am a Jewish something or other. But, true to one of the basic tenets of this blog, we are respectful of each other’s beliefs.

A recent exchange:

PAIGE: What is the debatable topic of the day, Mr. Safran?

(I was out for dinner, but replied with the following:)

STEVE: I’d love to know why people believe in ghosts.

PAIGE: Enjoy your evening. Next time— ghosts versus saints. Are they the same?

Oooh. Love that. She turned it into a question, and Jews love questioning and debating questions rather than insisting upon answers. So let me try:

And let me begin by stipulating something I do not believe: There are saints. I will stipulate there are saints, and they are watching us, listening to our prayers and sometimes answering them in the affirmative. Again, I absolutely do not believe this, and yet, out of respect for Paige’s beliefs– so stipulated.

Ghosts, I believe, fall into a different category. Actually, four categories:

  1. A famous person, haunting a famous place (i.e., Abe Lincoln in the White House).
  1. A dead relative, sticking around to guide you from the beyond. (Booooo! Don’t marry Kevinnnnn!  He’s a jerrrrrrrrk!”)
  1. The run of the mill, sheet-covered ghost, whose only goal in the afterlife is to scare you. You know, a jerk.
  1. The ghost trying to scare people out of the old amusement park so a corrupt realtor can buy the land cheap, only to be unmasked by a group of meddling teens and their anthropomorphic dog.

Of these four, I only buy the last. At least it’s a plausible scenario. People do stupid things for greed. Faking a “haunting” is conceivable and, in fact, the basis for reality TV shows.

I am in the majority– but not by much. A HuffPost/YouGov poll  from 2013 shows that 45 percent of Americans believe in ghosts or that the spirits of dead people can come back in some places and situations (Think: Seances, Ouija boards, to get back at you when you lied upon their souls to get to second base with a girl, etc.).

Further, Pew Research found that 18 percent of Americans assert they have seen or been in the presence of a ghost.

Based upon that data, my reaction was: “Sure, the highly religious people are the ones who must be most likely to believe in ghosts. Ghosts are, after all, the embodiment (as it were) of life after death.”

Not so.

The Pew study says people who go to worship services weekly are less than half as likely (11%) to see ghosts as those who attend services less frequently (23%).

So what’s the big deal? People can believe in ghosts or not, right? Well, let’s look at other things people believe, keeping in mind that 47% believe in ghosts:

A Gallup question in 2009 asked “Do you think racism against blacks is or isn’t widespread?” 49% of whites said it was not widespread.

61% of Americans still believe others beside Lee Harvey Oswald were involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.

38% of Americans do not believe Barack Obama was born in the United States.

These are our phantoms. Racism is demonstrably widespread. There is absolutely no credible evidence that anyone other than Oswald was involved in the Kennedy assassination. (If there were, imagine what the people who knew about it would have earned in book rights, knowing about the first American coup.) And Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Therein lies the danger of believing in ghosts. The ghosts of conspiracy, the phantom lies, and the ghouls in Aunt Mable’s closet are all the same thing: desires to authenticate unreal things. They are the desires to make us think we know something other people do not. They are the desires to make us think there is a power keeping information from us. They become our folk stories and they endure, as superstitions do, no matter the evidence.

So while saints, we have stipulated, are real… ghosts are not. And yet these ghosts are dangerous and damaging and downright scary. And like all un-real things, these ghosts materialize in the darkness when we isolate ourselves from opinions that do not conform to our own. Or even when we fail to stipulate, for the sake of respect and argument and the search for truth, that saints are real.

But Scooby? That dude’s legit. Like me, he’s scared of the havoc the boogie man in the rubber mask can wreak. And he’s palpably relieved when the light of day reveals the charlatan and his fear-mongering ways. And man, can he eat.


Boooo….BOOOO! Booo, Obama! No…nooooo… there is noooo global warming…


*Editors note: No, I’m really happy you guys are all friends now. I’ll just be over here in my little corner… not listening to you craft blonde jokes or anything. Whatever.

26 responses

  1. Apologies for putting a video in the comments without asking – I know some people don’t like that, but if you’ve never seen this video before, you must, it’s only 6 seconds long. Anyone who says they don’t believe in ghosts will change their mind after seeing this, it’s pretty conclusive…

  2. There is not a word of this I don’t love, and Steve is a true blessing.

    You have thrown down a formidable gauntlet, Mr. Safran. It is my turn to stipulate something I don’t believe. Suggestions? I will be taking that question to prayer.

    Zealot Sister


    • Thanks for the props. Okey dokey. Stipulate that there is not a man in the sky listening to you personally, who cares what you eat, for whom you pray, how you dress, with whom you have/don’t have sex, what rules you follow or hears what you or anyone else says to him. (Actually, that’s kind of a long stipulation. Feel free to edit.)

      • Too easy. There isn’t a man in the sky. There is God and He is here…

        The “listening to personally” would be difficult for Believers to stipulate. But it would be brilliant!

        • Whoa Britt, surely you’re not giving up on God being involved in our personal lives that easily, are you? C’mon you can put up more of an argument than that – don’t let a single point go unargued. You may have noticed that my namesake was once called Saul. (and no, I have no delusions of grandeur – I am firmly and personally anchored right here in 2014 with my own unique thoughts and existence)

        • I find that people call others “closed minded” when they disagree. I respect you have an opinion. As I don’t believe in these things, I have no great insight and my opinion would be of little value. Many would choose to belittle those who believe in another’s faith; I am forthright in saying I don’t believe it. If that’s “closed minded,” so be it. I’m also closed minded to above mentioned conspiracy theories. The very act of writing on this blog and debating here shows that Britt, I and others bring a good humor to open-minded discussion.

            • Yikes! REDdog, I wonder if something gets lost here in the writing. What was it in Steve’s response that elicited annoyance? Steve honestly doesn’t believe in higher powers or saints or ghosts or spirits or demons. He’s made this plain. What’s an alternate way to engage a person who is trying to discuss things you DON’T believe in? This is the crucial question. Crucial! It’s a bit of an obsession with me and Stevie, here… to be able to “talk” about these things with mutual respect and (Amercian-style) humor. I want you IN on this discussion, Dog.

              Meanwhile, I’m still grappling with Steve’s charge. I don’t know if I can stipulate– to pretend for even a hypothetical second– that no one is listening to me when I pray. It’s scarier than any ghost.

              • Britt, it might have been the dismissiveness or maybe it was the mocking nature of his reply, I dunno, no biggie to me, I just bowed out…he’s a teensy bit insecure methinks. Fair enough if there’s no one out there but I’m with you the someone is listening thing.

                • This is where I think the writing fails us. Knowing Steve quite well, he would just never, never (NEVER) mock. It’s not in his nature. And I don’t know why it’s so important to me that you know this… but it is. And Steve is the best sort of self-deprecating, but not insecure. Nope. Not when I’m around (… this should be said Sweeney Todd-like). Plus, by his own admission, he “googles well.”

                  Scariest thing in the world, right? But Steve wrote an entire essay stipulating that Saints are real. I’m not sure you or I could do the opposite.

  3. I try to make a habit of not saying that things I haven’t seen don’t exist. Nor do I say that things I haven’t seen do exist. It’s bad habit of humanity that has caused undo animus over the millenia and has definitely slowed himan development. Given that there is no penalty for not having an opinion – that’s where I stand on many subjects, and it makes life much simpler and enemies fewer..

    • But surely there are plenty of things you have not seen that don’t exist: unicorns, the tooth fairy, dragons, a good Coldplay album… If someone has decided to be your enemy simply because you have decided that, based upon your reasoning, you believe things do not exist, then they lose out on the debate. Which is where all the fun truly lies.

      • I actually used “see” to cover all sensory and non-sensory awareness. So, I believe very, very much in God, because I have had personal experiences backed up by observations that indicate clearly to me that a higher power exists.

        My reasoning does not say, in any way, that things do not exist – it leaves that open. That being said I have over 50 years of experience in this world so if someone says, I just saw a unicorn – then I am likely to say that is improbable however not impossible. You would deny the existence of unicorns because none have ever been documented, I would not. I am being neither facetious nor argumentative in this comment. There are lots of horse shaped animals that have two horns and lots of other species that have one horn (like a narwhale), There is no logical reason why a one horned horse shaped animal could not exist. And it may have before humans existed, in which case if DNA is recovered it may be possible to reproduce it. Or ,using recombinant DNA, it may be possible to create a one horned horse. Or it is a possiblity that animal development has occurred in a parrallel manner on other planets (there is some evidence that the Earth may be the shipyard from which all present living creatures emerged, but is not where the plans came from). And we would be megalomaniacs to think with the number of habitable planets out there we are on the only one that developed life. And we are in a relatively new part of the universe, so some other planets may be literally billions of years ahead of us in life development – which means it is possible that advanced intelligent life has evolved else where and they may visit with one horned horses (unicorn).

        I can go on like this forever and show perfectly reasonable reaosns why things may exist that we have never seen or could comprehend. I believe mostly in evolution, however I believe it is guided – and I can give lots of examples of that. Some religions say that the Earth has ony existed for 6,000 years – that is possible. (I believe it has existed for 4.5 billion) It is possible because of relativity – the rate at which time advances is very relative – and that has been proven. It is possible that the rate of change of time as the universe expands also changes. Which is to say if you could put a video camera 500,000 years in the past and a viewing screen in the present – you may very well see that time is not consistent – you would likely see a different number of sunsets and sunrises on the screen than you are experiencing in the present. Relativity makes that clear. That being said, it is certainly possible that someone experiencing the subjectve passing of time may observe 4.5 billion years and someone standing in today’s time looking back (“objective”) may see 4.5 billion sunrises that occurred in 6,000 current years.

        So, my logic does not imply that anything can not happen or exist, as you mistakenly said. Rather it says that I cannot say it exists or happened unless I am aware of it in some manner. I could make similar argumens for tooth fairies and all other myths as well. Which does not imply that I think it probable that they exist – just that I can’t say they don’t.

  4. Pingback: A Jerk, Unaware… by Steve Safran | Blooms and Bubbles

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