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Kingdom of Priests

The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; Lilith also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest (Isaiah 34:14).

Somehow it happened that my earlier comment about a secular age like ours being a Dark Age, an Age of Counter-Enlightenment, provoked a dispute among readers about space aliens. One atheist reader said there’s nothing positive about believing in them — or by extension, in God — if such (for the most part) unseen beings do not in fact exist. Another reader asked, in effect, But what if they do exist?

Apropos of that, I was cheered by a post on a website I heartily commend to you, GetReligion.org, about the persistence of a belief in ghosts even in secularized England.
Why cheered? Several month ago I wrote a piece for the L.A. Times reflecting on the amulet for protection against Lilith that our mohel (ritual circumciser) left with me after our twin boys were born. Lilith is a demon touched upon in the book of Isaiah but about whom the Talmud and later, mystical sources elaborate a great deal.

I’m a big fan of the late-night radio program Coast to Coast AM with George Noory, which deals with all sorts of phenomena of the supernatural side of existence. (I was delighted recently to discover that the terrific writer and blogger Ron Rosenbaum is also a fan, if somewhat disgruntled of late.) Talk of ghosts, aliens, and the rest, however flaky, always gives me a lift because it means that belief in what William James called the “reality of the unseen” has not yet been stamped by this Dark Age of secular ascendancy.
Excerpt from my Lilith essay:

Another possibility is that the human need to believe in the unseen world itself points to, while not proving, the reality of hidden dimensions. It could be that materialism — the philosophical assumption that reality is nothing but physical stuff — is a prejudice rather than a fact. Perhaps an unseen reality does exist, revealed in flashes that can be confusing or misleading, to which we sometimes give flaky designations. Like “Bigfoot.” 

Religions used to confidently navigate this twilight realm. Some faiths still do, quietly. When Louisiana’s Catholic governor, Bobby Jindal, was being considered as a running mate for John McCain, the fact that Jindal once participated in an exorcism became a briefly sensational media story. As for the rabbi who presided over our twins’ bris, the evangelistic branch of Judaism to which he belongs, Chabad, stands out as bucking the trend elsewhere in Judaism toward a pallid rationalism. 

The same trend is mirrored in other faiths, especially the shrinking mainline Protestant denominations. It may be that such pallidness helps explain why Americans turn to florid paranormal beliefs, as opposed to traditional supernatural ideas. Indeed, U.S. polling data from Gallup, reported by Baylor University researchers, shows that belief in the occult is more common among non- or infrequent churchgoers or those belonging to a liberal Protestant denomination than it is among frequent churchgoers and conservative evangelicals.

Religious leaders representing respectable faiths, intimidated by secular prejudice, may wish to take note as they scan the empty pews. The human hunger for a vigorous, unapologetic interface with the unknown can’t be entirely repressed. As Sigmund Freud knew, the repressed has a way of returning.

I absolutely love a ghost story if anyone cares to share a personal story along these lines.

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