October 31, 2012

Selling the Supernatural

ghostsWhile complaining about the abundance of entertainment-oriented television shows masquerading as educational that present the supernatural as if it was based in fact, I received a much needed reminder from my readers. The supernatural sells. This is why there is so much of it on TV, and until the audience tires of it, it is here to stay. Shows on the paranormal are big year-round, but especially as we approach Halloween. They will soon be replaced by even less interesting drivel about angels and Jesus.

Don't get me wrong - it doesn't bother me that this stuff is on TV. I do not have to expend much effort at all to avoid it. What does bother me is that the very same channels that hold themselves out as having some educational value seem to be the ones pushing it so hard. They lend an undeserved credibility to the subject matter. At least, they used to before they sold their credibility.

Bigfoot, alien abductions, monsters, ghosts, angels, and so on. It is amazing how popular this stuff is today! There wasn't nearly as much of this sort of thing on the air when I was a child; however, I did usually watch it when it was on. I remember thinking that investigating these sort of paranormal phenomena was what scientists did. Fortunately, I would eventually learn that what real scientists did was far more interesting than this stuff. I'd like to think everybody was this lucky, but I know better. There are plenty of adults today who take this stuff quite seriously.

Implications for Religion

Does the popularity of shows on the paranormal have any implications when it comes to religion? Is their presence and popularity good for religion or evidence that religion is beginning to fade away? I've heard both arguments.

Some argue that these shows are good for religion because they undermine critical thinking and glorify got feelings and personal experience. They can almost be thought of as gateway drugs to religion because they promote belief in things without evidence and undermine skepticism. Others insist that the popularity of shows like this reflects dissatisfaction with religion. They argue that if religion was meeting people's needs, shows like this would not be so popular.

I'm not sure who is right here, but I tend to agree with those who suggest that interest in the paranormal is good for religion. Many of these shows not only leave the viewer with the impression that this stuff is real, but they effectively undermine skepticism. I would guess that the average regular viewer of such programming might have less positive attitudes toward science, critical thinking, and skepticism than the average non-viewer. If that is correct, it seems like a problem.

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