Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
These stories have existed for years. Tales about powerful, intelligent beings watching us from above, about the physical death not being the true end to a life, about miraculous phenomena that cannot seemingly be explained by science or reason. A millennium of these stories influencing the beliefs and practices of entire cultures has led to the birth of two very similar but separate belief systems, prompting the creation of two of the most popular and influential things in American culture: God and The X-Files. Less specifically, creations based off of the belief in supernatural entities beyond what our science can prove or explain so far. So what makes these stories, and the believers in them, all that different?
Religious beliefs, according to Google Dictionary, are “the belief in and worship of superhuman controlling powers, especially a personal God or gods.” Organized religion is based upon the worship of a supernatural power beyond our grasp that defies the laws of physics as we know them. To its core, religion is the practice of worshipping and having faith in a supernatural power that possibly created and governs the universe. Religious peoples usually try to follow a moral code they believe to be given to them by whichever deity they worship, attend or perform rituals in honor of said deity, and some even dedicate their entire lives to the worship of these divine beings and to the process of educating others about them. Both believers in religion and believers in the paranormal share the belief of supernatural entities among us, however, religious people are more likely to detest the idea of the two being similar at all. This want for separation could be due to religions chalking up some paranormal ideas to being acts of witchcraft or other dark forces, along with believers in the paranormal being seen as foolish or irrational by society for believing strongly in far-fetched ideas based off of flimsy evidence and an affinity for science fiction.
Paranormal beliefs, according to Dictionary.com, are “of or relating to the claimed occurrence of an event or perception without scientific explanation, as psychokinesis, extrasensory perception, or other purportedly supernatural phenomena”. Believers in the paranormal normally do not worship these supernatural entities as believers in religion do, but are likely to want to make contact with them in order to prove their existence or further scientific knowledge in some way. For example, by making contact with intelligent extraterrestrial beings we could change and improve humanity’s technology and understanding of the universe exponentially, altering the course of human development. While some extremist believers in the paranormal do dedicate their lives to the study and attempted discovery of supernatural beings, they do not apply any sort of absolute morality or divine qualities to these beings. It is possible for one to maintain both theistic and paranormal beliefs, as they are not mutually exclusive and can coexist, and most believers in the paranormal are not completely offended by the comparison of their beliefs to the belief in a god or higher power. After all, both support the idea of supernatural occurrences or entities that have affected human history at one point or another.
One major difference between the two concepts is the perception of their beliefs by mainstream society. While religious beliefs are seen as sacred and impolite to attempt to discredit, paranormal beliefs are often perceived as works of fiction and are often disputed by non-believers even though the origins, ideas, and collected evidence of both of these types of theories are quite similar. Paranormal activities and events have been recorded for thousands of years all around the world, with communities worshipping gods while also believing in the existence of other monsters and supernatural beings that are separate from their religions. Evidence of these beings and events are also based off on the lore passed through communities, first-hand accounts, and a lack of a scientific explanation, however, much of society views people who believe in the paranormal with disdain, seeing them as foolish and naive for believing in something that is so theoretical.
The phrase ‘seeing is believing’ should work against both of these concepts, as neither has been truly observed in a scientific manner except by those who claim to have experienced an event that is ‘proof’ (usually a personal account of a strange occurrence that has no hard evidence as to be the work of the supernatural), a perplexing reaction that science will come to explain later in the future, or by stories of these events that have been passed down through generations. However, a large amount of the world’s population views their religion as the absolute truth even though they have never and probably will never experience a ‘miracle’ by or the presence of their chosen deity in their lifetime. Whether this is due to tradition being hard to break, the need for an explanation or purpose to life, or because the idea of an omniscient, all-powerful entity protecting you and granting you access to a better world after death is too enticing to ignore, an astronomical number of people have put their blind-faith into the same thing for centuries, even though much of their evidence is from books and stories from thousands of years ago and neither scientists nor historians so far have been able to prove that these occurrences ever actually happened.
A major similarity and factors in the popularity of these two movements are that they are most likely due to people wanting an explanation for the strangeness of the world that we live in. Both followers of religion and believers in the paranormal just want something to be responsible for the things they do not feel can be explained through science or reason, and it is much easier to view these occurrences as being the work of great, mysterious forces beyond our current understanding. An example of this can be seen in the Salem Witch Trials, as witchcraft has ties to both religious and paranormal beliefs. It was easier for the town of Salem to accuse random members of the community as being ‘witches’ responsible for the strange behavior and ‘bewitchment’ of many young girls than to discover the actual cause of their maniacal outbursts and illnesses, most likely being a type of grain fungus called ergot was known for its hallucinogenic properties. Because the community did not yet have a scientific explanation for these illnesses, townspeople and religious figures alike blamed it on paranormal activity or greater forces such as witches consorting with the Devil.
Another similarity is the belief in life after death. Many religions such as the Christian, Buddhist, and Islamic faiths present this as an afterlife provided to their followers based on how ‘good’ they were during their lifetime, separate from the earthly plane of existence. Meanwhile, most paranormal theories regarding life after death usually involve entities like ghosts or spirits that remain on Earth and can continue to affect things around them. This religious fixation the afterlife may be due to a universal fear of death or to the hope of being rewarded by their gods for their obedience during life, while the fixation within the paranormal community sometimes stems from the excitement of discovering a paranormal entity, the want for an explanation regarding strange occurrences and ghost stories, or a purely scientific curiosity as to whether or not life after death is possible.
The belief in religion has similar origins, ideas, and theories to the belief in the paranormal, although the approaches taken to those beliefs are quite different. While the belief of one is honored as an integral part of almost every society, the belief in the other is still ridiculed and debated today, although it has led to and influenced some of the most popular forms of entertainment making it incredibly well understood by many and also incredibly important to the development of American culture. Genres like fantasy and science-fiction have stemmed from paranormal beliefs and have resulted in works of literature and other inspirations that have helped society, entertainment, and technology development in new and creative ways. Whether or not either of these ideas actually exists in the way that they are believed to, both have had a great effect on different practices and cultures for hundreds of years and will last for hundreds of years to come.