Weird Stuff Introduction
Version 1.0, 3-20-05
I would spend all my time in the normal world of everyday experience, but it’s too boring. Sometimes I need a bit of strangeness injected into my life. Hence, this section. “Weird Stuff.” If anyone can think of a better name for it, please let me know.
I’ve never had a paranormal experience, and I hope to keep it that way. I just like reading and hearing about it. Books and the Internet help with the first of those, and the radio helps with the second. As a child I would often end up in the paranormal section of the library, inspecting the picture of the Brown Lady or walking out happily with the Loch Ness Monster tucked under my arm. In my early teen years I listened to Bob Larson, a controversial Christian radio talk show host who dealt with these kinds of weird things. Occasionally he even talked to demons on the air when someone called in who was possessed, if you can believe that. I got my first doses of conspiracy mania from Marlin Maddoux on his radio show Point of View.
In high school I dropped everything for apologetics, but in college a friend brought me back by periodically alerting me to current events in paranormalia, such as the Hale-Bopp controversy. Then I discovered Art Bell while driving home after my late night job one summer. Art Bell hosted (and still does on the weekends) the popular paranormal radio talk show Coast to Coast AM. This was also the summer I discovered Politics and Religion, a talk show about the end times and associated conspiracies. Since then I’ve wandered through all kinds of weird territory, mostly on the web, picking up bizarrities here and there. I also took a class at Wheaton called Psychology and Contemporary Mysticism, which dealt with a lot of these topics from a scientific and Christian perspective. Needless to say, I was fascinated. It was one of my favorite classes ever, and it has greatly influenced my thinking on the subject.
I explore these strange stories and ideas partly for entertainment, partly to exercise my critical thinking skills, and partly to ponder the implications, if any of it is true. These purposes take different forms depending on the topic.
My views on the paranormal are somewhat complicated. I’m alternately skeptical and credulous. I do think that weird things go on in the world; I’m unwilling to discount everything I hear. But I am trying to learn to be more careful in my reasoning. My general rule of thumb is that paranormal believers conclude too much from the evidence, and skeptics don’t take enough of the evidence into account.
This subject is also a theological obstacle course. The aspects of paranormality that I do accept I struggle to fit into my Christian world view. I don’t completely buy the explanation that all unusual experiences are demonic. But in any case, I compare the paranormal to science fiction or fantasy. Even if it’s not real, sometimes it’s fun to consider the possibilities.
Any realm of science you can think of has a fringe element. The nice name for this is “alternative science.” A couple of different things go on in this arena. One is the formation of alternate theories to explain established scientific data, like the “reciprocal system of theory,” an explanation of subatomic physics. Another is the investigation of anomalous phenomena or technologies, like antigravity and free energy machines.
The nice thing about alternative science is that it purports to be science. Thus, you can subject it to scientific evaluation. On the other hand, I don’t know how much of this scientific evaluation actually goes on, since most scientists seem to think they have better things to do than addressing fringe claims. Whether the alternative researchers are right or wrong, this seems like a fruitful field of study for understanding the nature and culture of science.
Alternative science also tends to be very hopeful. The knowledge and technologies many of these researchers are pursuing would have a profound and positive impact on human society. If they’re on the right track, I say more power to them.
The conspiracy theories I’m especially interested in are the global kind. I don’t really care how the CIA is involved with drugs or who shot Kennedy. The future world dictators are the ones that pique my interest (more of my fascination with the fundamental). These theories usually involve organizations like the UN and the Trilateral Commission and groups like the international bankers.
I’m ambivalent toward conspiracy theories. I tend to discount them out of hand, but I’m not sure whether I like them even as entertainment. It’s intriguing to think about the idea of secret decisions being made by high-powered men to alter world events. But conspiracy theories are pretty nasty things, when you think about it. These aren’t fictional characters the theorists are accusing; they’re real people. If the theory isn’t true, it’s tantamount to slander. When the conspiracy is fictional, however, I love it. The X-Files is one of my favorite shows, and I liked Nowhere Man, too, the few episodes I saw. I should probably read some Robert Ludlum novels.
Hoaxes and urban legends
Hoaxes are an especially good critical thinking builder because they represent falsehoods that have already been discredited. There’s a lot to be learned from both hoaxers and the people who discredit them, as well as from the people who get sucked in.
The topic of urban legends is pretty straightforward and uncontroversial. But urban legends do tend to be unusual, which is why they get circulated. Whenever I get e-mails about suspicious sounding stories, I always go straight to the Internet and see if it’s been recognized as an urban legend. Usually they’ve been debunked, but a few urban legends are true.
Of course, there is a more serious side to all this. Some people are terrorized by their strange experiences, and some are slaves to paranoia. And from a Christian standpoint, spiritual deception in this domain is rampant. But to be honest, while I sympathize with the plight of such people, I think that freeing them is someone else’s ministry. I don’t have the spiritual or psychological fortitude for it. My service is to inform. … (Now watch me eat my words!)