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The Anatomy of Beliefs
The Anatomy of Beliefs
This is the final sequel of The Top Fifteen Ghost Movies of the Last 100 Years series. When I started researching the theme of how ghost and ghost stories are portrayed in movies, I did not know what to think about people's views on the issue. In particular, I was unsure of North Americans views on the matter. I have since concluded that ghost is a topic that we in the west are fascinated by but we are scared to acknowledge that we are ignorant about it. Maybe in our logical, religious and scientifically advanced minds, we believe that this is a primitive and illogical idea to think about. Perhaps we remain ignorant about the topic because it stirs up much anxiety and fear in us or it challenges our beliefs. Whatever our reactions to the notion of ghosts or supernatural entities, it seems that we are all curious.
Evidence of our curiosity is the vast number of us who pay to see these movies on the big screen. For instance, The Sixth Sense, 1999 grossed over 670 million dollars worldwide; Ghost, 1990 made 505 million dollars revenue worldwide; Ghost Busters I & II made a combined income of 506 million dollars worldwide (Wikipedia). Ghost is a fascinating topic, one of intrigue and fear. It would appear that movies on the lighter side of the genre, such as comedy or romance, as the ones listed above, are definitely more popular than the psychological thrillers (exception to this is Sixth Sense). This observation led me to assume that even though we are fascinated by the topic of ghosts or para-normal occurrences, we do not want to be scared out of our wits. So the psychological contents of ghost films may stir up our very deep fears and perhaps our beliefs or disbeliefs, making us uncomfortable.
What do I mean? For those of us who were raised with Christian beliefs, we know about angels and demons. As Christians we are taught that we should be aware of the work of the devil and avoid it. Many of us view ghosts and the belief in ghost as the work of the devil. We are taught that the devil comes in diverse form, some of which is as demons disguised as ghosts who would seek to hurt us or take us away from God's kingdom.
What does the Bible say about ghosts? It depends on who you ask: Some Christians refer to St John 11:11-14 and 1 Thessalonians 1:15-16 sighting these scriptures as confirmation that the Bible refer to the dead as 'those who have fallen asleep'. They argue that the Bible says that the dead is asleep and knows nothing and can do no harm. Others say that the dead is in purgatory waiting the judgement day. The latter believers argue that we can pray for the souls of the dead, so that they'll find peace. Some television shows, for example, Ghost Whisperer is based on the premise that it is possible to direct a lost soul into the light, hence allowing it to find rest.
What are my personal beliefs and how were they formed? I was raised with christian beliefs and from very early in life I was made aware that there are good and bad spirits in the world. I was told that if you led an honest life; acknowledged and accepted Jesus as your personal saviour and followed His examples, and then you will go to heaven when you die. That means your spirit will go back to God, not to the devil. If on the other hand, you did not acknowledge Jesus and you led a dishonourable life of crime, lies etc, you will go to hell. Hell is where the devil resides. I was also told that ghosts are the spirits of dead individuals who did not lead an honourable life and that they did not go to heaven, hence their spirit remain on earth awaiting the final judgement. Some of these spirits, depending on how they lived their lives, may or may not harm the living. So if they were hateful when they were alive, then they'll seek to harm the living even in the spirit form. If on the other hand, they were pacifists when they were alive then in death they will not harm the living. This had led me to believe that there are good and bad spirits. The bad spirits will seek to harm and the good ones can protect or just wander about without harming anyone. I also believe that everyone has a guardian angel.
What is a guardian angel? Are defined as spiritual beings assigned to assist people on earth. It is argued that everyone has a guardian angel. The role of a guardian angel is to offer assistance to us with life's challenges, such as helping us to escape major catastrophes. For instance, we have heard stories of a mother lifting a car off her child in an accident. Some argue that this super strength is as a result of adrenalin, others may say that she had a guardian angel that helped. Many children who are fearful of ghosts or monsters are told that they have a guardian angel that can protect them. This has offered much assurance to them whenever they feel fear.
Here is a personal experience that may or may not be an instance of a guardian angel. It happened about twelve years ago on the Saturday before Christmas. I had just returned from a children's holiday party at my workplace. I quickly dropped my daughter off at a relative and headed east out of the city. Usually the drive to my part time job takes about forty minutes. On the day in question, I only had twenty seven minutes to get to work. Fortunately the highway was very light at 3:33pm as I head out. I was driving at about 120 to 140 kilometres per hour (75-85 miles/hour). I was making good time. I was about to exit the highway when a yellow Corvette merged suddenly in front of my 1988 Mazda 232. I applied the brakes to prevent running into the back of the corvette. That's when all hell broke loose. I lost control of the car and it swerved erratically to the left. I thought quickly that if I hit the guard rail, the car will flip over or I may end up in the path of oncoming traffic, so I had to change the course of the car. I turned the staring wheel to the right and the car headed for the grassy embankment. Fortunately there was no other vehicle eastbound at that time. As my car hit the grassy embankment, I suddenly realized that it was heading for a brick wall. I braced myself to hit the wall. Suddenly the gear automatically shifted to park and the car came to a sudden stopped about two metres (2 .2 yards) from the brick wall.
It is needless to say that the outcome of this event could have been different. I am still puzzled as to how the gear shifted to park and the car stopped so close to the wall. I am also puzzled why there were no traffic on the 401, one of the busiest highways in North America that time of the day. I do not understand what happened. All I know is that there was some divine intervention. You can call it God or a guardian angel or a miracle. I am grateful that it ended the way it did. I was able to continue on my way to work that afternoon. I was shaken up and of course I got to work about fifteen minutes late. I have since try to give adequate time to travel or just accept that I will be late. As the saying goes 'It's better late than never...'
What Influenced our Beliefs or Disbeliefs? Many of our beliefs and disbeliefs are based on the beliefs or disbeliefs of our parents and other family members. Our socialization, gained through the perceptions of family, peers, education background and other social groups that we are affiliated, do cement our beliefs and hence our response to certain ideas. As adults we can forge our own belief system, but our upbringing has hardwired most of our beliefs.
Point in case, I grew up in a culture that much emphasis was placed on Christian values. There was also much emphasis placed on the afterlife. As a child my earliest memories of funerals were haunting and full of fear and dread. Apart from the way in which the dead was buried, there were many myths and rumours surrounding anyone who died in the community. It was highly unlikely that a person died of natural causes. There was always some other explanations as to the reason for their death. Usually the reason is that they were killed by a spirit or ghost that was sent by someone who had a vendetta against this person.
Scientific explanation had no place in the death of most of the individuals in many rural communities. If a person was very ill, it was more likely that they would seek the advice of a local bush doctor rather than medical advice. Those were the days when access to doctors was very limited. The closest medical doctor lived about several hours away. Transportation was also limited. In some communities, there was only one car. So the locals would seek remedy for their malaises from the local bush doctor or Obeah men or seerer. These people would sell potions of herbal plants to rid the sick person of their illnesses. They would sometimes sell the sick person useless articles that were used to ward off evil. Some of these articles could be a ring, necklace or bangle that is claimed to be imbued with powers to protect whoever wears them. Some would claim to offer holy water or oil to be used on the ill person to ward off evil. Others would offer special cloth that was prayed over, by a priest or priestess and is usually attached to clothing as a form of protection and healing.
The bush doctors and seers were accepted as people who use their knowledge of herbal treatment as well as psychic ability to bring about healing. The obeah men, on the other hand, were frowned upon because of their dealings with the occult. They are said to utilize demons in the form of witchcraft . They are said to deceive the ill person, often charging exorbitant amounts of money for false promises of remedies. The obeah men usually announced that the illness was cast or 'set' on the person by another person as a mean of a vendetta or because of jealousy. Articles of protection were therefore offered to the sick person at a high cost. The bush doctor was usually very knowledgeable of herbs and their healing properties. They usually offer natural treatment for many malaises. The seer was a person who used perceived psychic ability to work with the sick in order to find remedy for their illness, usually psychological in nature, much like a psychotheraphy.
Did these things work? It depends on who you ask. Some people swear by these remedies, others believe that they are ways for some people to prey on the vulnerabilities of others. Some people argue that the psychological benefits of these remedies far outweigh the actual benefits. They argue that 'belief kills and beliefs cure.' The placebo effect; as those who believed that they will be cured by these remedies may indeed feel better. The power of the mind to heal itself.
What Does all this mean? Our beliefs are formed from all our interactions with our environment and our life experiences. We can accept these beliefs and blindly take them as our beliefs or we can challenge them and form new ones. Whatever we do, we will be influenced somewhat by the beliefs system that was a part of our early socialization. Who are we to judge that one system is better than the other? Unless you walk a mile in one's shoes, you cannot judge how well they fit.