Fear of the Paranormal and EVP

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I learned a valuable lesson today–that an area that fascinates me may be frightening to other people. I often go “ghost hunting” for fun although I am neutral on whether such entities exist. It is more a part of my being an overgrown child in some respects–I love going out in the dark, taking photos, recording sounds, wondering if the group with which I am working that night will find anything interesting. One interesting thing that I constantly record on my DVR is electronic voice phenomena (EVP). When no one else in the group records a voice, or only records one or two, my recorder will pick up thirty or forty, most Class Cs (unclear, one cannot make out the words), but some Class Bs and now and then a Class A (clear as a bell). Voices have called my name (more than once), and some have a sense of humor. At Gettysburg National Cemetery, near the burial place of a number of unknown soldiers, I asked, “What is your name?” When I played back the recording, a voice replied “Guess.” At the Lake Lure Inn someone in my group said, “I found you!” On playback, a clear voice replied, “Not yet!” At Cross Creek Cemetery in Fayetteville, NC, I addressed the deceased by the name on the tombstone; a polite Southern female voice replied, “How do you do?” One of the strangest EVP I have recorded is when I asked, “Do you reproduce, do you have sexual intercourse where you are?” A female voice answered, “F..k you! We do!” This was from a private home in Autryville, NC. But the scariest EVP was from a cemetery in Fairview, TN, in Williamson County. I addressed the deceased (a teenager) by name, and a voice replied, “Michael…. Michael…. I killed her.”

Now these voices do not bother me in the least. I do not know what causes them, and I am neutral regarding theories. Perhaps my own mind encodes the DVR through psychokinesis, or some other living person’s mind does. Perhaps there is a ghost of some kind communicating. Perhaps an angelic or demonic entity is speaking. Perhaps there is a field of information from which the recorder “draws.” Or perhaps every EVP, even those that yield meaningful answers to questions, is just a stray radio, television, or communication broadcast that happens to arrive at the “right” time. The right answer is a mystery, and I do not see how this issue can be resolved.

Today I decided to play some of my best EVP to my classes–I thought it would be a fun break before we got into the real business of class. Many students were entertained and fascinated. But others were frightened, which was not my intention at all. (Note to my Asperger’s self: Do not assume that another person will feel the same way as I do about EVP or anything else). But why is the paranormal so frightening?

I think it is because if paranormal experience has its roots in actual reality, the world suddenly becomes much bigger than before. Something, perhaps spiritual, perhaps something in the matter-energy framework, comes through that cannot be explained, is unique, a “surd,” as philosophers like to say. Perhaps there is a supernatural realm populated with real supernatural entities who can communicate with us. Fundamentalist Christians may fear that EVP are evidence of contact with demons. Secularists may fear that there might be something to the religion they despise. Or perhaps there is fear of something appearing in the night or whispering into one’s ear at three a.m. The paranormal, including EVP, can literally turn one’s world view upside down, especially if a person interprets them as voices of the dead. A person lives his life according to his worldview–changing that worldview is almost as painful as attempting to change one’s entire personality–the world is ordered in a different way that before. Atheists fear the paranormal and desperately try to find naturalistic explanations–some atheists would not believe in the paranormal if a putative ghost kicked them in the a.. But however one resolves, for instance, the problems with EVP, a person should be true to the evidence that is present, even if it goes against one’s worldview. But that is too frightening to some people, and that means those who have experienced the paranormal should be sensitive to those fears, as I should have been more sensitive in this morning’s classes.

Arrogance and Hypocrisy in U.S. Foreign Policy

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President Obama has chosen to lecture Egyptian President Mubarak on the issue of human rights. This is another instance of American arrogance and hypocrisy, as traditional conservatives such as Pat Buchanan and libertarians such as Ron Paul, as well as some on the left, have pointed out. The U.S. has a shameful history of violation of rights and, regarding the American Indians, genocide. The U.S. Army engaged in brutal tactics during the Philippine War in the early twentieth century. In World War II, the U.S. forced thousands of Japanese-American citizens into what de facto were concentration camps–the fact that they were not as brutal as the German camps does not make what the United States did morally right. The U.S. engaged in saturation bombing of Tokyo in March 1945, killing over 100,000 people with the firestorm created from gasoline-laden bombs. The U.S. is the only country to have used nuclear weapons in combat. The U.S. and its allies, violating centuries of just war theory, demanded unconditional surrender of the Axis Powers in World War II. In Vietnam there were multiple instances of abuse by U.S. Army personnel against the Vietnamese people; Lt. Calley’s unit was not the only one to engage in rape or kill civilians. In Iraq and Afghanistan, torture was the official practice of U.S. military intelligence personnel as well as regular army personnel. The U.S. has not eschewed the first use of nuclear weapons in a conflict–not even with President Obama in power. And domestically, neither the FBI nor the ATF have clean human rights records, as FBI surveillance of American citizens and the ATF disasters at Ruby Ridge and Waco show. Now many countries engage in similar behaviors or worse–it may be the case, as blind patriots claim, that the U.S. has a better record on human rights than most other countries. But this does not justify our actions, nor does it justify the arrogance of President Obama in telling Mr. Mubarak how to run his country, especially since democracy in the Middle East tends to lead to radical Islamists coming into power. Perhaps Mr. Obama (and Mrs. Clinton) would prefer the Muslim Brotherhood to gain power in Egypt. If that happens, the powerkeg that is the Near East may explode.

In addition, U.S. policy holds that democracy is the best form of government for all nations. But as Aristotle recognized in his Politics, the best form of government for any state is going to depend on its history and traditions. But the U.S. continues to follow the neo-Puritanism of Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy and try to export “democracy” to the world–at the same time democracy is dying a slow death in the U.S. The rest of the world sees U.S. hypocrisy and hates us for it. The U.S. can do better than this–it can clean up its own house and avoid sticking its nose into every other country’s business. I hope such reform happens–but the secularist Puritan strand in American foreign policy is ingrained that I am pessimistic. We need more Ron Pauls, more Pat Buchanans, more true liberals such as Nat Hentoff, to join together in an effort to both stop U.S. abuses of human rights and also to encourage a “more humble” (as President G. W. Bush said in his pre-911 days) U.S. foreign policy.

Belmont University’s “Inclusiveness”

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Belmont University has decided to add “sexual orientation” to its nondiscrimination policy. I remember the days when Belmont was a fairly conservative Southern Baptist university–it is still a huge rival of my alma mater, David Lipscomb University. But Belmont has cut its ties with the Southern Baptist Convention and no longer considers itself bound by traditional Christian moral teachings.

Someone might argue that a nondiscrimination policy does not imply acceptance of practicing homosexuality. The difficulty with that argument is that a nondiscrimination policy places sexual orientation on the same par as race and sex–just another non-essential difference between human beings when it comes to admissions and hiring. In addition, if the policy is consistently applied to faculty as well as to students,  it would allow practicing homosexuals to teach at an ostensibly Christian university.

Traditional Christians have long desired to send their children to educational institutions that uphold the orthodox Christian faith. State universities, with their general hostility to Christianity, are not an option for these parents and their children. But the options are increasingly being taken away as “Christian” schools hire faculty who often hide their true positions until they receive tenure. The university does not want a lawsuit on its hands, so it keeps those faculty, who hire more faculty in their own image. Over time, the traditional Christian nature of the college or university evaporates and is replaced by a watered down liberal Christianity that puts tolerance above the teaching of the church. Sadly, that is what has happened at Belmont University. I pray that the same process does not take place at Lipscomb, my alma mater, but as it increases in size and influence, it, too may follow the ways of the secular world. It is one thing to be an at institution which from the start is mainline Protestant–one expects a general liberal bias at those schools (although they will hire the occasional traditional Christian!). But for a school traditionally loyal to the historic Christian faith to deny the basic sexual ethics held by the Christian Church from the beginning is a betrayal of its Christian mission. Belmont is a fine university academically, but potential students for whom it is important to attend a traditional Christian college or university should consider other schools.

The Tea Party–Are they Finally Supporting Cutting Defense Spending?

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The Tea Party Movement has energized the Republican party and poured new blood into a party that had become corrupt and bloated with country club Republicans and RINOs. However, like many self-styled “conservatives,” they did not seem interested in cutting defense spending. Yet now there are Tea Party leaders who are saying that defense spending should not be off limits in attempts to bring government spending under control. This is a positive development.

The military became bloated during the 1950s as a result of the Cold War. Instead of combating Communism, which would have eventually collapsed under its own inefficiency in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, the Cold War created a vast “military-industrial complex,” to use President Eisenhower‘s words from his 1961 Farewell Address. Not only does a bloated military suck up government spending, it encourages the United States to be involved in unnecessary wars that feed the defense industries with fat profits. Vietnam, the U. S.’s involvement in Bosnia, and Iraq are good examples; some response to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan was necessary, but an approach using smaller special forces units and CIA agents, which was the original CIA plan, probably would have worked better than sending over 100,000 American troops. The more the military-industrial complex is fed by war, the more money it demands, and the more money defense-related companies with government contract make.

In addition, a large standing army is a threat to freedom–deep cuts in defense spending could reduce the military’s size and limit the potential threat to both the sovereignty of the states and to individual Americans. Concentrations of power in large organizations, whether those organizations be big government or big business, is dangerous to freedom–and the combination of big defense industries, big government, and a large standing army, is particularly dangerous. More than just “cutting the fat” out of the defense budget is required to bring defense spending under control–and I wonder if any Tea Party leaders want the deep cuts necessary. Hopefully the fact that some Tea Party leaders are at least open to cutting defense spending will lead to a broader discussion of the need for deeper cuts to control the power of the military-industrial complex.

The Boundary Between Mental Illness and Evil

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Was Jared Lee Loughner, who allegedly murdered six people in Tuscon and wounded 13 others, including Congressman Gabrielle Giffords, insane or evil or both? Leonard Pitts and other columnists and bloggers have openly wondered whether “evil” is a more appropriate description of Mr. Loughner than “insane.” Psychiatry and psychology tend to medicalize deviances in human behavior, sometimes to the point that they tone down the role of human responsibility. For example, classifying alcoholism as a disease alleviates the moral responsibility a person may have for engaging in the heavy drinking that made him dependent on alcohol.  Classifying mass murderers as “psychopaths” may be accurate as a descriptive label for their condition (no empathy, no conscience), but such classification does not address the issue of whether psychopaths are evil. There are several bad arguments that someone who medicalizes terrible human actions may use. For example:

1. If person x has a mental illness, and that mental illness contributes to x’s destructive behavior, then x is not morally responsible for x’s actions.

2. Person x has a mental illness.

3. That mental illness contributes to x’s destructive behavior.

4. Therefore, x is not morally responsible for x’s actions.

The weakness of this argument is premise 1. Just because a person is mentally ill, and that mental illness causally contributes to his behavior, does not imply that the person is not morally responsible for his actions. The reason is that the mental illness may be a necessary but not sufficient condition for x’s destructive behavior. X’s evil moral character may still play a causal role as well. Or x’s evil moral character may have causally contributed to his mental illness.

Another bad argument goes as follows:

1. Deviations from normal brain structure are correlated with psychopathy and other personality disorders.

2. If deviations from normal brain structure are correlated with psychopathy and other personality disorders, then the individual with such deviations is not morally responsible for his actions.

3. Psychopathic [mass murderer, swindler–take you pick of crime) individual x has deviations from normal brain structure.

4. Therefore psychopathic individual x is not responsible for actions that are due to his psychopathy.

One problem with this argument is that correlation is not causation. Even if a causal relation could be established, this does not answer the question of which direction the causation goes (the “chicken-egg problem”). Do the deviations from normal brain structure cause psychopathy or does psychopathic behavior cause deviations from normal brain structure? Unless one accepts reductive or eliminative materialism, then one cannot automatically claim that a twisted mind and behavior are caused by an abnormal brain. To make such a claim would be to beg the question on the complex metaphysical issues surrounding the mind-body problem.

I do not know where the exact boundary between evil and mental illness. A rough answer that seems reasonable to me is that if a person’s mind is utterly divorced from reality, then he is not as responsible for his actions as someone who has a firm or even partial grip on reality. Where should that line be drawn? This is the difficulty. It seems to me that psychopaths are evil people. Borderline personality disorder is (and I’m not trying to be “facile”) is a borderline case–but if a person suffering from borderline personality disorder destroys another person’s life, emotional health, and/or reputation due to manipulation and lies, then the person seems as much evil as having a medical disorder. The refusal of many borderlines to get help or take responsibility for their actions are basic elements of an evil character. Munchausen’s Syndrome and Munchausen’s by Proxy fall in the same category–the drive for attention is twisted to the point of doing evil and manipulative actions. I know that many professional psychologists and psychiatrists would disagree. But they do not know everything any more than I as a philosopher know everything. I know there is a level of mental illness that totally removes a person’s moral responsibility for heinous actions.  But since evil is by nature a distortion of the personality, there may be some individuals who are considered to be mentally ill but who are actually evil, or some individuals who suffer from mental illness and have an evil character.  Human beings are a mixture of good and evil, and that battle, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn said, is fought in every human heart.

Dr. Gosnell’s Alleged Actions and Abortion

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The story at http://abclocal.go.com/wpvi/story?section=news%2Flocal&id=7906881 is horrifying, but it illustrates the inconsistency of U. S. law on abortion. Dr. Gosnell’s alleged actions were no different in any morally relevant way from doctors who legally perform late-term abortions on viable fetuses. Such late term abortions are legal for “health” reasons, which include both physical and mental health considerations. De facto, any woman can find a doctor to sign off that she cannot mentally deal with bearing a child, and abortion is legal up to the ninth month. Thus have court rulings since Roe v. Wade limited the power of the states to regulate abortion.

Why does the law permit a late term fetus to be killed inside the mother’s womb, but when the fetus is outside the mother’s womb the doctor is charged with murder? Does being inside the mother’s body somehow entail a different ontological status for the fetus than the baby outside the womb? Or is it more likely that a “fetus” is a living human person and that whether inside or outside the womb, killing that person is murder. The sheer hypocrisy of American law is revealed by this inconsistency. The sheer evil of the most rabid abortion advocates is shown by their support of abortion up to the ninth month of pregnancy. To me, this issue is a no-brainer–human life is a continuum from conception to death, and there is no non-arbitrary point apart from conception to identify the origin of the living human person. Abortion at any stage of pregnancy is outright murder, murder of the most vulnerable human persons who cannot defend themselves. Americans are seeing more and more that this is the case, but the dictatorial federal courts insist on forcing liberal abortion laws on the states. Thank God the Supreme Court allowed a ban on “partial-birth abortion,” but even if an abortion is not “partial-birth,” it is still murder. It is sad that the United States, which has much good in it, is capable of making such evil laws–laws that are inconsistent with other laws concerning murder. And make no mistake–abortion is an evil act.  If Dr. Gosnell is guilty of what he is accused, he will have done acts acknowledged by any reasonable person to be evil. Why not extend such outrage to oppose murdering human persons while they remain in the womb? Consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, but inconsistency is the mark of a fool–and one can be culpable for pushing beliefs that support the murder of the unborn.

The Artist as Rebel

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My previous post concerned the hostility of many literary artists to traditional Christianity. But since the Renaissance, the artist has been envisioned, at least in the West, as a rebel against the standards of his age.  Walt Whitman, Paul Gauguin, Jackson Pollock, Frida Kahlo, Robert Mapplethorpe, Alan Ginsburg, the artist has been associated with rebellion against cultural norms, whether those norms be traditional sexuality or the capitalist economy. Three of the most literary philosophers, Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, and Jean-Paul Sartre, were also rebels against societal norms opposed to conformity. Even traditionally religious artists, such as W. H. Auden, Allen Tate, and Graham Greene, violated societal norms in their personal lives. Why? There seems to be no necessary connection between being a rebel and being an artist. J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings, was a conservative Roman Catholic whose lifestyle was so traditional that biographers are unable to “dig up any dirt” on him. Why are artists such as Tolkien the exception rather than the rule?

The answer may have to do with the modern concept of the artist. In the Middle Ages and even into the early Renaissance, art was not deemed to be primarily self-expression, but service to God. In such a setting, artists would be less likely to rebel since they are servants–to God, to the church that commissioned them, to the patron who commissioned them. But since the Renaissance, art has become individualized, utterly private, the the artist is sometimes tortured in revealing his very being to the world through his art. Such individualism tends to rebellion against the norm.

When sheer individuality without limits is admired, the artist seeks for uniqueness, to have his own one-and-only voice, birthed into the world. And individuality without limits is a seedbed for rebellion. In addition, the baring of one’s unique self to the world causes psychological difficulties that can increase the sense of isolation, of “being against the crowd.” The fact that too many people “against the crowd” are the crowd seems to have escaped the minds of many contemporary artists. It is quite interesting hearing artists speak about politics or religion; they often sound as if they are parroting one another. Thus, the drive toward limitless individuality leads ultimately to limitless conformity among artists and among their works. A boring conformity is the result, damaging the very art the artist wishes to champion. These days it is the traditionalists in art, such as Tom Wolfe in fiction, who are the real rebels against blind conformity–they are the true avant garde.

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