Ghosts don’t exist. Done. You don’t even have to read the rest of this. The movies like Paranormal Activity or the lesser-known Normal Activity (three hours of people doing laundry and washing dishes) with the eerie high string music are horribly inaccurate. All ghosts are crooked real estate developers trying to clear-cut an endangered forest. Source: Scooby-Doo.     

C’mon, ghosts aren’t exactly the centerpieces of modern water-cooler conversation they used to be, which is strange because if I were one, I definitely wouldn’t be hiding in the closet. I’d do loads of crazy ghost stuff, trying my best to make my way into every conversation I could.

“Hey Frank. How you doing today?”

“Well actually Joe, I haven’t been so great lately. Kids are doing well in school; wife’s happy, sure. But our house ghost has been rattling the shutters at one o’clock in the morning and writing in messages in blood in the living room. I’ll tell ya; it’s getting to be a real pain to clean up.”

Despite this, everyone has at least one paranormal tale to pull out on a dark, windy night whilst camping in backwater Oklahoma. These can range from things they made up to stories their aunt told them when they were four to events that they profess happened to their person.  

Demon stories and movies are the worst. Ghosts are usually rambunctious, doing things like a mischievous dog would do—tearing open all of the cereal boxes and scattering Lucky Charms around the kitchen, running through screen doors, shitting on the carpet. But demons, they’ll make you do things.  

And the problem is that people in the stories and movies don’t really ask to be possessed, except for a few Satan worshipers whose brains are so scrambled it doesn’t make much difference. And I suppose there’s always the occasional Wiccan who took too much LSD, or the sports fanatic who bet his soul on a Cubs game, or some poor schluck who got a receipt for $6.66 at Wal-Mart.

But as far as everyone else goes, most likely they were well-meaning, ordinary individuals until some wandering spirit decided to take residence. The poor chap was probably saving up enough money to start his own sheep sheering business so he could put his three kids through college, and now he has to spend his days wandering around in the desert, smearing himself with feces, and throwing stones at passersby on the road to Damascus.

Of course, we don’t really know their past. We always come in on the middle of the story when things are at their worst, when the possessed has burned a giant pentagram in the living room carpet and their head has swiveled a full ninety degrees. It’s at this point that their family members have decided to call the psychiatrist, the pastor, or a documentary crewit really depends how much money your relatives want to squeeze out of the whole thing.

Even after the exorcism, life wouldn’t be the same. Friends would be tough to come by, dating is out of the question, family members would be wary. Despite the fact that the possession generally wasn’t your fault, most people would be afraid to engage someone who had an experience with “the other side.”

It’s this element of fear that is most interesting as regards the supernatural. We don’t like thinking about what may be out there; we profess non-belief because these are things we can’t control, because cold, unnatural, alien beings that yearn for the chance to poison our very souls are terrifying—not to mention that most of us have enough problems in the material world already.

So no, I don’t believe in ghosts, and I’d rather not believe in demons—partly because I’ve never seen either of them, partly because if I retain a healthy skepticism, I don’t have to be afraid of the dark. That’s why I assume everyone is lying. Because it’s easier and more comforting—like ordering a Domino’s pizza instead of cooking.

Belief, then, can be intimately related to fear, and unfortunately this has consequences far beyond the realm of oogely-boogelys under your bed. The process of introspection starts at the intersection of “what do I believe?” and “what do I fear?” and goes really deep, really fast after that. It’s only a matter of time before you hit childhood insecurities, cultural beliefs, religion, and, of course, the meaning of life.

For example: Do we believe that hard work can get everyone what they want in life because we fear that much of our success actually involves good timing and societal advantages? Did you do well in school because you are smart or because you have parents who encouraged learning and teachers who cared? Do we believe in a benevolent afterlife because we can’t face the fact that we’ll never see our parents or friends after death? Do I cling to God and morality because behind those things there lies a black, incessant void of despair and pointlessness that existentialism can barely put a Hello-Kitty band-aid on? How did this get so depressing? We were just talking about Scooby-Doo a few paragraphs ago.

It’s all right. Take a deep breath… and exhale slowly. Remember at the beginning? Ghosts don’t exist. People possessed by demons are sick in the head. Supernatural stories are all made up. And always remember that Dominos makes a really tasty deep-dish sausage pizza.

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