God and the Occult

Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Volume I: Greece and Rome (Westminster: Newman, 1959) 271.

The subjective belief in God’s existence is derived by Aristotle from the soul’s experience of ecstasies and prophecies in e.g. the state of sleep, and from the sight of the starry heavens, though such recognition of occult phenomena is really foreign to Aristotle’s later development.

This quote stood out to me because the “occult” and the paranormal have often assured me of God’s existence, or at least the existence of the supernatural. I get a cozy feeling whenever I listen to Coast-to-Coast, with all of its talk about aliens and psychics and haunted houses. I turn it off, however, when it starts talking about demon possession, since that’s something I prefer not to think about, and definitely not experience.

When I was in high school, I had a friend who liked sci fi movies. He was a nominal Catholic who didn’t go to mass that much, and I asked him if he believed in God. He replied, “There has to be a God–there are so many unexplainable things out there!” I’ve come to like his answer more and more over the years, since it finds a basis for piety in the phenomena that baffle us: psychics, aliens, ghosts, people having deja-vu, out-of-body experiences, etc.

Then there are times when fear of supernatural evil draws me closer to God, as I run to him for comfort, reassurance, peace, and strength. When I was young, Garner Ted Armstrong told us stories about how he cast out demons, even from himself (if I’m not mistaken). Whether or not that was true, I’ve heard that the movie, The Exorcist, was based on a real-life event.

That kind of evil scares me, so I try to think about positive things when I watch something about it on TV, hear about it on the radio, or read about it. You know how the Ray Walston character on The Stand said, “If Mother Abigail’s God is real, then the evil guy must be real too!” I tend to have the opposite reaction: If evil spirits are real, then I hope God is also–so he can protect me!

But can religion protect me? That little girl on The Exorcist was religious, for she had a cross near her! At the same time, she also used a Ouija board, and that may have opened her up to bad spirits. That’s where I appreciate the Bible’s injunction for us to stay away from the occult!

I’ve said in this post that the paranormal draws me closer to God. It does and it doesn’t. I talked about this a while back in my post, Ghosts and the Afterlife (see also BryanL’s comments). I wonder how to reconcile the existence of ghosts with biblical ideas about what happens to the dead (e.g., they go to Sheol, or Hades, or heaven, or they don’t know anything, etc.). Can things ever occur outside of this paradigm, as true as it may generally be? Or should we assume that every ghost is actually a demon?

For some reason, I like mystery, or I want to believe that God is behind the unexplainable. Part of me sees the Bible’s description of reality as too narrow and rigid. Yet, I’d be hesitant to visit the “occult” or “New Age” sections of bookstores, since I wouldn’t want to open myself up to something evil!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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