11 Aug How You Rank The Invisible & Why It Matters
In the middle of the political food fight we call the National Election, the article hit me squarely between the eyes. Even though it involved the Dems and the Republicans, it was decidedly non-political. But more than that, it said something very revealing about us. The E Pluribus Unum “us.” You and me.
So, here it is: On July 20th, Gizmodo profiled a study done by E-Poll Market Research among “Ds” and “Rs” asking about their favorite TV shows. Among the Dems, the series “Supernatural,” featuring demons, the Devil and a variety of spectral beings, ranked 3rd. Among Republicans, that same show ranked 1st. See: http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-supernatural-tv-series-may-be-the-only-thing-preven-1783988239. Another supernatural-themed series, “The Walking Dead,” was ranked in the top 10 among both Ds and Rs. The Republicans polled also put “Grimm” in the top 10, a program chocked-full of supernatural elements. An argument could be made that the Democrats had their own version with their preference for “Doctor Who” on the BBC, substituting science-fiction-time-travel for supernatural bogeymen. The point here is the notion of other dimensions, and why we are drawn to such genres, particularly in our entertainment choices.
Okay, I understand the counter-argument about pop culture and entertainment. I took a year-long undergraduate class on The Philosophy of Art decades ago, just to hear the professor announce at the end of the course that, all things being equal, “You can’t argue personal taste in art or entertainment.” Maybe so, but our penchant for stories about unseen realities in our midst certainly says something about who we are. So, let’s dig a little deeper.
In 2015 the Pew Research Center conducted a study about religiosity in America. It created a stir because it revealed a several-point decline in the traditional metrics of religiosity (i.e. formal religious “affiliation”), yet at the same time, also marking a steady interest in spirituality, and arguably, even a slight increase in the interest in that subject. So, while we may be less formalistic in our theological affiliations, we are equally (and perhaps even more) interested in spiritual matters.
Expanding on that, I’ve observed recently a floodtide of television programs and movies with supernatural themes, too numerous to mention. Take that cultural up-tick as one metric. If you doubt it, check some of my postings that detail that over the last several months of my Facebook page – Craig Parshall Author. As a second metric, there’s the Pew finding of persistent spirituality despite the increasing numbers of persons who declare themselves being “unaffiliated” with official religious denominations. In fact, I laughed out loud when I read the fine print in that study, and discovered a respectable number of persons who declared themselves as “atheists” yet who nevertheless described themselves as “spiritual.” Figure that one out. (I discovered an answer, by the way. But you’ll have to wait until the end of this piece to read it).
Third, there’s the March 2016 findings of the folks at LifeWayResearch. At first blush, it looks to refute where I am going on this, but we need to look closer. LifeWay determined, in a poll of a statistically sufficient number of Americans, that 6 out of 10 of us would rather discuss politics than religion., though we’re clearly interested in both. There are two reasons for that difference. In our culture’s increasingly politically correct climate of opinion, the cardinal sin is to be viewed as absolutist about politically incorrect topics; so, better to be seen as firm about the transient political issues this election cycle than absolutist about big transcendent issues like right/wrong, God/the Devil/ Sin/redemption. Also, politics is viewed as something that promises the pragmatic and the practical; i.e. whether my taxes will go up, whether my loved ones will be protected from terrorists, and whether my everyday life will become easier or harder. Spiritual interest, though inherently imbedded in us, is often viewed (wrongly I fear) as impractical and other-worldly, and not as capable of easy conversation for some.
So, we have to live in the real world, and that means seeking practical answers to everyday problems. So, who really cares about the possibility of an invisible world? Answer: we do, and the data I’ve cited shows that. The real question is this: is there a practical point to those spiritual or supernatural yearnings that we exhibit, even if reflected merely in our television viewing or novel reading? I think there is.
Here, I think, is an answer to the question why even some atheists and so many others have ranked “spiritual” things as important, even against all odds, and even despite the changing “religious affiliation” landscape. Consider for a moment the Old Testament text of Ecclesiastes 3:11 – “ … He (God) has also set eternity in their heart …” That suggests that we have been created as spiritual beings, longing for a connection to something we have not yet seen, and for a home where we have not yet discovered, and for a relationship into which we have not yet fully and perfectly entered. And all of that by design, not by accident.
Bringing this home, the other question is: by what standard can we reliably measure and rank the things that ought to be important to us? There are an increasing number of us who are trying to figure this all out on an ad hoc basis. I can appreciate that. I went through that myself. But if we want a reliable standard, then I think there’s a need for irrefutable first principals that will guide our everyday decisions, whether they are intimately personal, or broadly religious. I am continually impressed, as an example, when I study the number of times that Jesus was described in the New Testament as having encountered and vanquished demonic forces, and with great factual detail. Given the huge amount of accurate historical detail that the New Testament records contain in numerous other areas, what they say to us about the spiritual and supernatural world is worth a look.
All of that is one reason (but not the only reason) I decided to write my 12th novel, The Occupied. I figured it was high time to address the supernatural world, something that I had stumbled into myself many years ago, but that is another story altogether. If we are spiritual beings, then from that premise comes this first-order question: given our spiritual identity as humans, where should we go from there? That’s our next move.