Making Space for Ghosts
(or at least for monsters and scary music)
The Lord said: It is the men of sinful actions actuated by their previous misdeeds who become ghosts after death. Please listen to me, I shall tell you in detail (Garuda Purana, Vedas, verse 2.22.)
Classic Scary Music
The Sizable Soul
By S-I-Z-E I mean the stature of [your] soul, the range and depth of [your] love, [your] capacity for relationships. I mean the volume of life you can take into your being and still maintain your integrity and individuality, the intensity and variety of outlook you can entertain in the unity of your being without feeling defensive or insecure. I mean the strength of your spirit to encourage others to become freer in the development of their diversity and uniqueness. I mean the power to sustain more complex and enriching tensions. I mean the magnanimity of concern to provide conditions that enable others to increase in stature."
Enjoying a Variety of Outlooks
without feeling Defensive or Insecure
I asked a chemist friend, influenced by process theology, if she believes in Ghosts and Spirits. She said something to effect: "I believe in both." I thought of the quotation from Bernard Loomer, offered above, and in particular his idea that a sizable soul can entertain a variety of outlooks without being defensive.
Yes, those of us who aspire to sizeable soulhood have, or want to have, have wide minds. We don't want to be overly gullible or naive, but we do want to be open-minded. We don't mind being a little eccentric and believing in the possibility of some things that others dismiss out of hand. Ghosts, for example.
One reason we find it possible to entertain the "possibility of ghosts" is that Whitehead's philosophy, which shapes many of us, so often turns what some consider ontological questions into empirical questions.
Ontology is the philosophical study of existence and typically gets articulated in terms of the kinds of things that can exist in principle. Some ontologies insist that only physical realities, available to sense experience and subject to measurement, can exist.
Whitehead's ontology is different. He thinks it is more plausible to assume that we live in multi-dimensional universe in which, in principle, many different kinds of entities can exist. Ghosts would be one kind of existing reality, sometimes available to sense perception and sometimes not. The question of whether they do exist depends on evidence, not ontology. We Whiteheadians turn ontological questions into empirical questions.
Enjoying a variety of Emotions without being overwhelmed:
Intensity and the thrill of Being Frightened
But even if ghosts do not exist, the idea of ghosts exists, and the idea itself adds intensity to life. Process theologians believe the very aim of life is the enjoyment of harmonious intensity and intense harmony in relation with others.
Intensity is not to be feared; it is to be enjoyed. The idea of ghosts functions in the minds of many as a lure toward intense feeling. Scary music operates in the same way.
In short, sizable souls, then, are not afraid to be afraid. We enjoy what Dr. Bill Tsutsui, an expert on Godzilla, calls the thrill of being frightened. Here's what he says about monsters and it seems true of ghosts and scary music, too.
Why We Need Monsters
by Dr. Bill Tsutsui
First offered as a TED talk at Hendrix College (Feb. 23, 2014)
For article on Tstutsui's talk see Why We Need Monsters
“If there is one thing that Godzilla teaches us…it is how much we all need monsters. We need them for the joy of being frightened, for that thrilling rush of adrenaline that only a creature can bring.
We need them to give us a face, and perhaps a roar, for anxieties and emotions that we cannot see, whether it’s radiation, or fear of a world out of control, or just not knowing what lurks at the end of a dark hallway.
We need them to remind us of horrors, both real and imagined, that we wish to shut our eyes to, but which we cannot and should not forget.
"We need them for the freedom that only the fantastical can grant us. I suspect that one reason we love monsters is because we envy them, because sometimes we want to be bigger and stronger and free from the constraints of polite society. We all have that urge to roar and let loose and take out our aggressions. Monsters, it seems to me, allow us to live vicariously a kind of ultimate, uncontrolled freedom.
And we need monsters because they allow us to dream. Creatures like Godzilla liberate our imagination; they trample on the intellectual strictures of rationality and science; they stomp on the rules of etiquette and our everyday expectations of the way things should be. Monsters free up our minds; let our creativity run wild; and allow our instincts to take over, at least for a moment, from the rigid structures of intellect.
Monsters in other words let us truly live and let us understand what it is to be human. We should not become too cynical, too wise, too mature, too sophisticated for monsters. They are companions we all can use in navigating the complexities and uncertainties of life and a world in constant flux.
And if they are terrifying in humanity, they remind us of our deeply human needs, desires, and vulnerabilities – those commonalities that transcend place and time and culture. In an age of polarization, division, and accelerated fragmentation, when we spend so much time imagining that all we hate and dread is on Fox News or on MSNBC, in the mosque or in the cathedral, in the one percent or among the other ninety-nine, we would do well to go back to looking for monsters under the bed, or beneath the bridge, or in the darkness, or on that big silver screen.”
Back to Ghosts
But back to ghosts. The fact that Fat Souls believe in the possibility of ghosts makes us creatively conservative, or, to say the same thing, constructively postmodern. The majority of people who have lived on earth -- Asian, African, Latin American, North American, Oceanic -- have believed, and still believe, in ghosts. That is, they believe that there is a continuing journey after death and that some people can and do reappear after they have died. Fat Souls want to conserve the possibility that they were right. Those who are more "modern" don't get to believe in ghosts except one day a year, on Halloween, and then only after they wink.
Those of us who aspire to sizable soulhood don't wink with such conviction, because we trust that there is wisdom in pre-modern ways of thinking. We are, or want to be, constructively postmodern. We think that even the early followers of Jesus were constructively postmodern, and we appreciate that.
When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear. (Matthew 14:26)
Keep the Options Open
For my part, I do not know if ghosts are real. What I do know is that the very idea that they "might be real" creates great resistance in modern academics who are committed to the view (1) that only physical objects are truly real and (2) that the souls of people who have died cannot reappear on earth in apparitions.
According to David Ray Griffin in Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality: A Postmodern Exploration these two assumptions make no sense philosophically; and those who are attached to them are overly committed to an outdated, mechanistic worldview. A more organic perspective allows for the possibility of ghosts and then asks: "Is there evidence?"
After all, so I believe, we live in a multidimensional universe and the mind is not precisely identical with the body (brain included). It is possible that there is a continuing journey after for all of us after death, amid which we have further experiences; and it is possible that some of us return to the terrestrial plane for one reason or another: a refusal to move on, a desire for revenge, the need to comfort loved ones, some unfinished business. At the very least, we might choose to re-present ourselves to loved ones in dreams.
My suggestion, then, is that we be open to evidence for and against ghosts. Griffin's book shows that there is a good deal of evidence for truthful apparitions, telepathy, psychokinesis, and out of body experiences..
On Halloweens past and future, I must say: "I don't know if ghosts exist, but I am glad the idea exists; and I know we need monsters and scary music. Somewhere, somehow, I hear the call of the divine in the mysterious."
One of the holiest words in the Fat Soul vocabulary may be Maybe. It's a word that allows minds to stay open: to entertain a variety of outlooks without being defensive.
This wideness of mind is a kind of faith in its own right: a faith that the universe is truly much larger, and perhaps more enchanted, than any mind can quite contain. For some people God speaks to them through the thrill of being frightened - safely frightened -- in scary music and a good horror movie. The fear itself opens the mind, just a bit, to something wider and perhaps even more beautiful: the mystery of Holy Maybe. Whitehead calls it the primordial nature of God: a reservoir of possibilities entertained by God.
Even in entertaining the idea of ghosts, without hiding and with a slight bit of pleasure, we participate in the divine life of pure potentiality. Ghosts may or may not be actual, but they are real in God's imagination, and they can be real in ours, too. Wide minds partake a deeper wideness that is filled with wonder, and so process theologians believe, unlimited mercy for all things: hungry ghosts included.