By Ash Pryce
As many of our my regular readers know I spent a time working for Ghost Tours. I knew full well that many of the stories key elements were fabrications – some were “true” in as much as people genuinely believed they had experienced something and that became part of our tales. Even if I knew full well what the rational explanation was, it at least made me feel better in relating a story that was at least based on someones actual experience. Other stories were purely for entertainment- only we didn’t tell people that unless they asked.
I think Ghost Tours are great fun, and the one I worked for is one of the best. And refreshingly they are also one company that will happily say “For entertainment purposes” if asked. But still, I did hundreds of tours with thousands of people and I know that I will have been responsible for upholding people’s beliefs and for encouraging belief in the supernatural. I would never tell someone not to go on a ghost tour, but they should take it with a handful of salt.
It was working for the ghost tours that made me a skeptic. Without them I may well still be a believer in ghosts and ghouls. Without the ghost tour experience I would not have founded Edinburgh Skeptics. Keir Liddle may have eventually got round to it, or maybe not and there would be not Edinburgh Skeptics or Skeptics on the Fringe. Interesting then that it was a ghost tour that helped give rise to one of the largest sceptical events in the calendar.
One thing I have found since becoming a skeptic is the assumption that we are joyless, that we wish to suck the life and soul out of people, we are almost (some would say) arrogant in our assertion that there is no afterlife, no ghosts. We are seen as if we almost enjoy not believing. Although I feel somewhat unburdened by a belief in the supernatural and I find the naturalistic explanations far more interesting I want to address the non skeptics.
Sometimes I wish I still believed.
That isn’t an admission that I am wrong, nor that I think it would be the best thing for me. I don’t for more than a fleeting moment wish I believed. But sometimes I do. As a skeptic people ask me how I deal with death. I suppose I deal with it the same way many others do- I miss the person, I mourn for them and I try my best to carry on. But I will admit there is a sadness that I will never get to see them again. I miss my Nan so much. I still shed tears over her loss nearly a decade later.
One of the hardest things I had to come to terms with when I became a skeptic was that my Nan was truly gone. When she died I still held out a belief in an afterlife. Not necessarily a religious one, I was pretty much a confirmed atheist, but I still believed in ghosts. I still believed in something. And that did give me comfort. The idea that I would see her again was a good thought. But now I don’t believe that I do sometimes envy people that believe it.
We as skeptics do not want to upset people by taking away their beliefs. For many of us we hold people’s beliefs as their own and as something that is none of our business. But then there are those whose beliefs can be damaging, that do impact on us.
I know one person who tried to kill themselves as they believed in an afterlife and that they would be with their loved one again. I wonder how many suicides would be averted if a belief in an afterlife wasn’t so common? Saying it is okay for people to believe what they like is one thing, but there are demonstrable occurrences where belief in an afterlife has been catastrophic. I don’t for one moment believe that religion, specifically Islam, was directly responsible for there being a terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre on 9/11 – it was political ideologies at play. I am certain in my conviction that an attack of some sort would have occurred- but I also am convinced that without a belief in an afterlife those suicide attacks would not have occurred. There would have been an attack, there would have been a death toll, but nothing so extreme.
Belief in an afterlife, in ghosts, is comforting for many, a way of escaping the pain of this life for others, and a motivation for causing fear and terror for others. It is a way of making money for some, for exploiting and for taking advantage. Those mediums who intentionally deceive are guilty of this, of exploitation.
Do I wish I still believed in ghosts? In an afterlife? Sometimes. But then I look at how damaging those beliefs can be and am grateful for my scepticism. As a skeptic I don’t want to take away your comfort – but there are other ways you can be comforted. I know remember people fondly and am much more happier in my fond remembrances than I ever was as a believer. As a believer I was always looking forward to seeing them again, instead of appreciated what they did for me and how important they were as part of my life.