Friday, April 3, 2015

First Contact – Part 29 – Supernatural

I grew up believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. As all children do at some age, I eventually began to question these characters’ existence. So, you can imagine how much of a relief it was for me, at the tender age of 16, to finally prove that they were all indeed real. That is, if the figments of people’s imaginations can be considered real. But seriously, I can still remember riding in the backseat of our car when I was maybe five or six years old. I saw two or three Santas along the way on street corners. I wondered how all those Santas could be the real Santa. Mom had explained that most of them were just Santa’s helpers, but that’s not what they claimed to be. I also began questioning how Santa could slide down a chimney or squeeze through a keyhole. In other words, the rational part of my brain was beginning to kick in and question the fanciful tales I had been told. Interestingly, my son Andrew began questioning Santa’s existence when he was four. Kathy and I had determined that we would not intentionally lie to him about Santa, so if he ever asked directly, we would tell him the truth. I can still remember tucking him into bed one evening near Christmas and the conversation going like this.

Andrew: “Does Santa Claus really exist?”
Me: “What do you think?”
Andrew: “I don’t think he’s real.”
Me: “Do you want to know the truth?”
Andrew: “Yes.”
Me: “You’re right. He is not real.”
Andrew (after thinking a bit): “I think I’m going to believe in him anyway.”
Me: “That’s fine. Just don’t tell your friends. Their parents may not want them to know.”
Andrew: “I won’t.”

Andrew proceeded to pretend Santa was real. He’d go sit on his lap at the mall and leave cookies and milk out on Christmas Eve. The next morning, he’d ask Kathy and me who had eaten them. One or both of us would fess up. Kathy and I never perceived that Andrew enjoyed Christmas any less with his truthful knowledge than his friends with false knowledge.

Another part of my supernatural upbringing was that my mom was apparently a psychic. She told me that it began when she was a young girl. She was in the kitchen at home working on a meal when a voice in her head said, “The barn is on fire.” She didn’t think too much of it, but a few minutes later one of her brothers came running into the house yelling, “The barn is on fire.” From that point forward, The Voice would talk to her on occasion. The one I remember best is when she first met my new friend’s mother. The Voice told her that she and her husband were going to get a divorce. Well, it was several years later, but indeed the divorce did come to pass. When I was older, that same friend was going to the car races with his dad, and they invited me. I asked Mom if I could go. She was very hesitant about it. She finally told me that The Voice had told her something bad was going to happen. I didn’t care about The Voice, so kept pleading with her. She finally relented. My friend and I loaded into the back of his dad’s truck and left for the races. We had a great time and arrived home safely. Hey, even Jeane Dixon got it wrong occasionally.

My mom also used to tell me about spooky things she saw as a child. They were kind of like ghost stories, but supposedly true. She used to see lights bouncing around in the sky. Since this was before the days of UFO stories, she didn’t think too much about it. She would just marvel at them. One evening as she and her family were walking home from church they all saw a ball of fire approaching them from the east. As it passed overhead, her dad threw his hat at it. It continued on over the woods to the west and disappeared. She never knew what it was. But the most bizarre story she told me was about the time she had to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. At that time, potty time was not an easy time. There was no toilet in the house. They didn’t even have an outhouse. She had to go out to the field and squat. ‘Nough said. Anyway, when she went out the front door she noticed a three-story building with all the windows lit up directly across the road. That would be fine if there had been an actual building there, but there wasn’t. It was just woods. And they didn’t even have electricity in the area at that time. She said she sat on the front porch for a while watching it. She finally did her business and went back to bed. I still don’t know what to think about all those stories Mom told me, especially since I have never experienced anything similar. Well, mostly. I have experienced a couple of bizarre incidents.

Incident #1: Many years ago I went with a female coworker to a new restaurant in town for lunch. It was fixed up with a lot of decorations, TVs on the walls, and a side room with arcade games. While waiting for our food, I began watching an old B&W movie that had just started. The title of the movie was a woman’s name that I cannot remember, so let’s just say it was Amelia. Well, at the point that Amelia makes her first appearance in the movie, she is asked who she is. She responds, “Amelia.” Well, just at the time she said her name, an employee of the restaurant came over the intercom to call out the name of the customer whose order was ready to pick up. You guessed it, the name was Amelia. Kind of bizarre, don’t you think? Anyway, after my friend and I finished eating, we were just sitting there relaxing when I heard a deep male voice behind me say, “Better get back to work.” I quickly turned and looked all around, but there was no one anywhere near me. Just when I thought I might be hearing things, my coworker said, “Yeah, you’re right.” I asked her who she was talking to. She said, “Didn’t you just say we needed to get back to work?” I responded that I had not, but I had heard someone else saying it. To this day I still don’t know whose voice that was or where it came from. Upon telling my mother, she of course believed it was a supernatural warning that we really needed to get back to work or something bad was going to happen.

Incident #2: On March 30, 1981, as I was driving home from work, I heard a report on the radio that President Ronald Reagan, Press Secretary James Brady, and others had been attacked and shot by a crazed gunman. The report went on to say that James Brady, as a result of a gunshot wound to his head, was dead. I began praying that Brady would somehow not be dead. I knew this was a rather brazen prayer given that I was in fact praying for nothing less than a resurrection. Later I heard reports that Brady was in fact not dead. The earlier reports had been incorrect. Even so, the report of Brady still being alive gave me pause.

Other family members have reported seemingly supernatural events, also. Back in the late 1970’s, soon after my grandmother died, several of my relatives were at my grandfather’s house. An uncle was sitting in a chair directly opposite a wall where a whatnot hung. On a shelf of the whatnot was a small porcelain cup that had belonged to my grandmother. Suddenly my uncle saw the cup slide off the shelf and begin floating in the air toward him. Flabbergasted, all he could do was stare. When the cup got within a few feet of him, it quit moving towards him and the handle turned upward as if someone was holding it. Slowly it descended straight to the floor whereupon the cup appeared to have been released and then rolled over until the handle contacted the floor. He later described it to me as something straight from the TV show “Bewitched.” A second uncle, who was standing nearby but facing the opposite direction, caught a glimpse of the cup as it hit the floor. Thinking a young niece was responsible, he called out for her to stop throwing things. She was not even in the room at the time. A cousin was in the dining room at the time and reported that he also caught a glimpse, through a doorway, of the cup as it was moving though the air. When the second uncle asked the first uncle how the cup got on the floor, he was speechless. After asking a few more times, he was finally able to answer that it had just floated over there. Several of the family members got together and tried to determine what had caused the cup to come off the shelf, cross the room, and settle on the floor. During the course of their investigation, they set the cup back on the shelf and pushed it off my hand. The cup sailed quickly through the air and hit the floor with such force as to break it into many pieces. A third uncle, when later told about this incident, said that he would give a hundred dollars to have seen that cup floating through the air. The uncle that saw the whole event responded that he would give a hundred dollars to not have seen it. Interestingly, the uncle who saw the cup floating through the air had been a skeptic of all the supernatural stories he had heard from other people. However, after this event, he told me he would never doubt other people’s stories ever again.

In addition to the paranormal stories, I will mention my religious upbringing. My dad never went to church as I was growing up. My mom attended some, but was dependent on having her cousin pick her up since she didn’t drive. I attended the Baptist church they went to when I was younger. Despite the lack of regular church attendance of parents, I was reared believing the Bible was the Word of God and worthy of being read and adhered to. Even so, as an older teenager, the rational part of my brain related to religion began to develop, so I rejected the Bible. I basically told people that I believed in God, just not the God of the Bible. There just didn’t seem to be enough evidence to support the veracity of the Bible’s supernatural stories. Yet, when I was 25 years old, I accepted Christ as my savior and was baptized into the church. By the age of 28, however, I was once again questioning the truthfulness of the Bible and eventually deconverted from Christianity. It wasn’t that I wanted to deconvert. I just couldn’t bring myself to believe something that I deep down knew did not have sufficient evidence to back it up. I eventually documented all my thoughts on this matter in a book entitled God Is: Exploring the Nature of the Biblical God.

To this day I am still skeptical of all supernatural or paranormal stories just as was my uncle before he saw the cup floating through the air. But I readily admit that should I ever see something totally unexplainable, I may change my mind. But it seems that usually when supernatural claims are put to the test scientifically, natural explanations are always forthcoming. One person who has been diligent about exposing people with supposed psychic, paranormal, or supernatural abilities is magician James Randi (aka The Amazing Randi). For many years now he has had a challenge in which if a person can demonstrate his supernatural powers under controlled conditions he will receive a substantial cash prize. Everyone who has taken this challenge has failed. Randi documents many exposés in Flim-Flam!: Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions as well as other books.

Please keep in mind that if you have had what you consider to be a supernatural experience, I am not telling you it was not real. What I am saying is that our brain can sometimes trick us into believing something that wasn’t real. Also, sometimes what we consider to be supernatural is really a rare natural phenomenon. But then again it could be a for real supernatural experience. Still, most people can only judge the truthfulness of a claim based on their own personal experience. If someone tells me they just bought a new computer, I have no immediate basis for disbelieving him as this is an easily observed activity. However, if a friend tells me he just bought a dog that can speak German, French, and English, I do have an immediate basis for disbelieving him since no such thing has ever been reported in the history of man. As Carl Sagan said in his book Cosmos, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

If you have any stories of your personal encounters with the supernatural, I would love to hear them. Just leave them in the comment section.

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