When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing – they believe in anything — G.K. Chesterton.
Belief, of any sort, is part of the human psyche. Without faith in God, that belief may lie in science, so that one wonders of the mysteries of the universe whether or not they will be solved in one’s life time. Or that belief may lie in the realm of gods, pixies, warlocks, aliens, or the Easter Bunny. When a person stops believing, it is not that a person believes in anything, it is that they become distracted and thereby believe in lesser things. They believe in little green men and do not believe in little red devils. They believe in flying saucers and do not believe in flying angels. They believe in goddesses and goblins and do not believe in the glories of God.
Recently, there has been a surge of TV shows that promote such distractions whose main premise is aimed at the supernatural, particularly ghosts. On my last count that are no fewer than 6 shows of this sort: A Haunting, Ghost Adventures, Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters International, Ghost Labs, and Paranormal State.
Ghost Hunters , the first really successful ghost hunting show that resulted in several copycat series mentioned above, is one of the highest rated TV shows for adults ages 25-54. The show’s premise is simple. The investigating team arrives at a location; the team then gets the scoop on the place they will be investigating; they set up their investigating equipment, turn out the lights (because apparently ghosts only come out at night), and then they begin investigating.
Through the course of the investigation, the investigators attempt to make contact with any ghosts that may reside in the location that they are investigating. Contact is made and verified if it can be captured on film or audio by means of various kinds of specialized equipment: thermal imaging cameras, electromagnetic field detectors, infrared thermometers, and audio recorders. Using this equipment the hunters hope to increase their chances of encountering a ghost. But why? Out of all the things in the world that a person can do in the world, why hunt ghosts? Furthermore, why have Americans become so infatuated with ghosts, goblins, and gods?
First, this formulation – with all the trappings of a "scientific investigation," allows a person to believe in an unseen world and still seem "scientific" in the process. Second, it makes the people doing the hunting seem open-minded, willing to entertain any possibility. These two qualities are greatly treasured in America. But too a discerning eye it demonstrates that Americans have become greatly infatuated with with ghosts, goblins, and gods because America has become comfortable with second best and imitations. That is to say, America has settled for distractions.
There is certainly nothing wrong with an occasional distraction, but it becomes problematic when people prefer distractions over the real thing that the distraction is trying to imitate. For instance, with the wide spread increase of pornography online, porn has become a frequent distraction from the spiritual and physical union of marriage. Reality TV is preferred to reality because many Americans have become bored with themselves and lost the sense of ineffable mysteries that surround them: they themselves are boring. The movie based on the book is preferred to the book itself and even a book about a book is preferred to the book itself. Ghost hunting is one more acceptable distraction that causes a person to look apprehensively from side to side, making it difficult to look up to heavenly things.
If ghosts are real then ghost hunting reveals from what the ghost hunters and those engrossed with watching the hunters are distracting themselves. Though the ghost hunters might say that they are merely looking for scientific proofs of ghosts, this answer is a red herring to both themselves and those who watch. It is a red herring because ghost hunting operates on the principle that there is a spirit wold, and that the physical world and the spirit world can interact with each other. Despite themselves, the ghost hunters demonstrate a bit of hope: a hope for the life after this one.
However, no matter how much hope a person has in finding ghosts or proving an after life, it is clear that what ghost hunters are really looking for is the place where heaven and earth meet and angels and men ascend and descend the ladder of heaven. This is what the hunters desire. This is the unknown prime mystery that the ghost hunters seek, but sadly they settle for second best: a wispy immaterial spirit stranded on earth for who knows what reason.
To put it another way, ghost hunters are seeking a mysterious sacramental life en-kindled by the Holy Spirit, a life in which the spiritual impacts and changes the physical through what appears to be ordinary matter: water, oil, bread, wine, hands, and incense. But they settle for a mysterious unsacramental life of "spirits." Hunting ghosts, as well-intentioned as the hunters might be, is a misuse of their infinite desire for the mysterious mind of God. It is settling for an unguaranteed second best imitation and an encounter with a spiritual being in which the success of the hunting is purely dependent upon the whims and will of the ghosts, with little knowledge of the intent of the ghost or what a ghost is: is the ghost good, bad, evil, apathetic, demonic, angelic?
In the sacramental life, there is certainty that when a person prays, God hears and answers; when a person celebrates a sacrament, God is encountered; when the Mass is said, angels and saints are there; when two or more are gathered in Christ’s name, His mystical Body is present; and when the insence rises like an evening oblation, God is here.
The sad face of ghost hunting is that the hunters settle for the departed, disembodied, mumbling of words caught on a audio recording machine instead of embracing the body of Christ and hearing the living word and voice of God proclaimed clearly for all. The hunters settle for moving objects instead of the moving of hearts. The hunters settle for looking for shadow people instead looking up at the angels and saints.
Whether or not ghosts exists is another issue. What is certain is that the human heart longs for something greater than the mere hunting of spirits. The human heart desires the mysterious revelation of God, the Holy Spirit, and a sacramental life.
Let’s make it our resolve never to settle for second best when it comes to the spiritual life.