A new study has been released in the U.K. on the growing belief in ghosts. More than half of those taking part (52%) said they believed in the supernatural, up markedly from similar studies in 2005 and 2009 (both hovered around 40%).
Even more revealing? One in five claimed to have had some kind of paranormal experience.
The supernatural has become big business in the U.K. in recent years, with the popularity of television shows like Most Haunted, and the spread of so-called “ghost walks” around supposedly haunted parts of city centers. English Heritage and the National Trust have both started to identify which of their properties are said to be occupied by ghosts in order to attract more visitors.
It’s a similar story in the United States.
Beyond the rage of the Twilight series of books and movies, NBC is getting ready to unveil a $2 million per episode Downtown Abbey-ish series on Dracula. Fox’s main show for the fall is an updated take on Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horsemen. And in case you weren’t paying attention, the second installment of the Insidious series claimed the top spot last weekend at the box office.
It seems our interest in the paranormal knows few bounds.
Dave Wood, chairman of the group conducting the recent study, offers a telling explanation: “It could be that in a society which has seen economic uncertainty and is dominated by information and technology, more people are seeking refuge in the paranormal, whereas in the past they might have sought that in religion.”
I hope every pastor and church leader who is reading this will re-read that last paragraph.
The word “occult” just means that which is hidden, or secret, beyond the range of ordinary human knowledge or below the surface of normal life. Used in that sense, it’s almost a neutral term. But it has come to be used as a reference to those practices which link up, intentionally or not, with the hidden, or secret, world of Satan and his demons.
And that is not neutral.
Then it involves engaging the forces of darkness, connecting with Satan and his fellow demons. When someone does that, they willfully open the door of their life to their presence and activity.
And nothing could be more dangerous.
So what are the marks of something “occultic” in this way? There are three primary characteristics:
The first characteristic is the disclosure or communication of information unavailable to humans through normal means. This would involve things like horoscopes, fortune-telling, psychic hotlines, and tarot cards.
The second mark of things “occultic” has to do with the placing of persons in contact with supernatural powers, paranormal energies, or demonic forces. This would entail the attempt to summon up a spirit, or a deceased relative through a séance, or channeling a spirit, or procuring the services of someone claiming to be a medium.
The third mark of the world of the occult is any attempt to gain and master power in order to manipulate or influence other people into certain actions. This would include all forms of witchcraft and the casting of spells.
The irony of the rise in the belief in ghosts is that there is no such thing as ghosts. Biblically, whatever manifestations one might encounter are not the dead, but the demonic.
But the demons are only too happy for the ruse.
So while our culture embraces the Ghostbusters, our job is to give them a different answer to the question, “Who you gonna call?”
James Emery White
“Who you gonna call? Belief in ghosts is rising,” Jasper Copping, The Telegraph, September 15, 2013, read online.
“On the Horizon: NBC's 'Dracula',” Alexandra Cheney, The Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2013, read online.
“New spin on 'headless' tale,” Fox News, September 13, 2013, read online.
“'Insidious' sequel scares up success at the box-office,” Associated Press/Fox News, September 15, 2013, read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log-on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.