Jun 1, 2014

Paranormal Skepticism in 21st Century America

While doing research for a writing class the other day, I came across a number of websites addressing belief in America. Quite a bit has changed since the introduction and recent surge of paranormal reality shows on media outlets such as the SyFy and Discovery networks. Here are a few statistics I uncovered from skepticblog.com's 2009 survey:

  • 82% believe in God
  • 76% believe in miracles
  • 75% believe in Heaven
  • 72% believe in angels
  • 71% believe in survival
    of the soul after death
  • 42% believe in ghosts
  • 20% believe in reincarnation
Skepticism is an interesting phenomenon, and there are varying degrees of skepticism. All of us are a little skeptical, and well we should be. We've all heard the warning that anything seeming too good to be true is probably just that. Still, many of us still want to believe in the prospect of that what is rare and amazing and also happens to be true and real. But no one wants to be duped, and there is no shortage of people out there who are banking on the more gullible among us. We are wise to be on guard.

Some people, and I have to count myself among them, believe in many things paranormal if large numbers of people across spans of distance and time have reported the same or similar phenomena. The assumption is that, after a certain point, coincidence, delusions, and hoaxing fail to explain all of the unexplained. Then, there are those who take their skepticism to the next level. They are the ones who don't believe in much unless and until they've experienced it with their own senses. They don't necessarily discount things that are out of the norm, they just reserve judgment. They are the ones who readily embrace the extraordinary when they have what they regard as proof. Then, there are what I regard as the 'true' skeptics. They are the ones who have a serious interest in separating fact from fiction, to the point of carrying out research and thorough investigation. If there are alternative explanations or ways to debunk others' claims, these are the skeptics who like nothing more than making those discoveries. Their documentaries, reality shows, and websites abound.

At the far end of the spectrum from those who'll believe almost anything they hear from anyone are those who'll believe almost nothing at anytime from anyone. These are what I regard as the disingenuous skeptics. They also tend to be the most vocal of skeptics. They relish any and all opportunities to scoff at others' beliefs and generally regard claim of anything paranormal as utter foolishness or flat out lies. And if something is pure foolishness and lies, it is not worthy of their serious consideration. They will firmly assert that there is no evidence when the truth is that there's plenty they choose to ignore.

One of the things I find most fascinating about the disingenuous skeptic is that they'll turn on their own in a heartbeat. Every once in a while, a diehard skeptic will experience the unexpected. They will come face to face with something so bizarre, and yet so real, that it flips their entire belief system and their perception of the universe upside down. These are the infidels. They are the ones who write books detailing their conversion, and they are also the ones who invite the harshest expressions of contempt from their former allies. Fortunately for those who experience the most astonishing realities, they typically gain a sense of peace and confidence that makes them oblivious to angry, irrelevant noise.

So, where do you fit on the spectrum?  Or do you think my entire scheme is faulty?

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