Religion’s talent for easing our anxiety about death may have had the perverse effect of increasing the likelihood that we’ll be on edge about ghosts, spirits and other supernatural beings. This, however, may depend upon how religious you actually are.
All of the available evidence suggests that those who describe themselves as believers – but who don’t attend church regularly – are twice as likely to believe in ghosts than those at the two extremes of religious belief: nonbelievers and there e deeply devout.
With most religions populated by a cadre of prophets, gods, spirits, angels and miracles, the tenets of religious faith might shape what you see. They could determine whether a visitor from the spirit world is a welcome or unwelcome guest, while also influencing whom you think you’re meeting.
For example, in Medieval Catholic Europe, ghosts were assumed to be the tormented souls of people suffering for their sins in purgatory. While most Protestant sects today are largely silent about the existence of ghosts, Catholic theology remains amenable to the existence of ghosts. Catholics typically believe that God may permit dead individuals to visit their counterparts on Earth, but the church has traditionally condemned occult activities such as seances and Ouija boards.
In some religions, such as Voodoo, spirits and ghosts play a central role. Religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism support a belief in ghosts, but ghosts play only a minor role in the religion itself. For Hindus, ghosts are the souls of individuals who suffered a violent death or of people who were not accorded the appropriate and required death rituals. Buddhist ghosts are reincarnated individuals who may be sorting out bad karma.
Muslims don’t believe that dead people can return as ghosts, so if a Muslim thinks he’s encountered a ghost, it’s thought to be the work of Jinn – beings that contain a mix of spiritual and physical properties, whose intentions can be malevolent or benevolent depending upon the situation. There are several other religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, that also believe ghostly apparitions are demons in disguise rather than the souls of deceased people.
Jews typically discourage occult activities designed to contact the dead, and there seems to be less consensus within Judaism as to the status of ghosts. However, Jewish oral traditions include stories of evil ghosts (Dybbuks) and kindly, helpful ghosts (Ibburs) who try to insert themselves in human affairs.
It appears people across eras, religions and cultures have always been curious about a spiritual world that exists behind the curtain of death. Together, it speaks to how thoughts, fears and visions of death are integral to human life.
Peace and Love, Jim
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