Are Paranormal Beliefs Similar to Religious Beliefs?

Religion vs. The Paranormal

Is there a real connection between religion and belief in the paranormal? Some, particularly adherents of various religious faiths, will often argue that the two very different types of beliefs. Those who stand outside of religion, however, will notice some very important similarities which bear closer consideration.

Certainly there is no exact correspondence between religious and paranormal beliefs — there are people who are very religious but who don’t believe in things like Bigfoot or UFOs and there are people who believe in many paranormal events but who are not part of any religious tradition. One might be inclined to argue, then, that one does not have anything to do with the other.

Those who are adherents of religious traditions may often be particularly eager to disavow any similarity because paranormal beliefs are often portrayed as less rational and credible than religious beliefs. Even worse, conservative and fundamentalist believers often regard paranormal claims as having quite a lot to do with the actions of evil forces in the universe — not the sort of thing they would want to be associated with, quite understandably.

Nevertheless, religious beliefs and paranormal beliefs do share a number of important things in common. For one thing, both the paranormal and traditional religions are non-materialistic in nature. They do not conceive of the world as a place controlled by sequences of cause and effect between matter and energy. Instead, they presume the added presence of immaterial forces which influence or control the course of our lives.

Furthermore, there is also the appearance of a desire to provide meaning and coherence to otherwise random and chaotic events. If we are suddenly aware of a distant event we shouldn’t know about, it might be attributed to clairvoyance, psychic powers, spirits, angels, or God. There seems to be a genuine continuum between what we tend to call “paranormal” and the ideas in many religious faiths.

The relationship between paranormal beliefs and religion may be even closer than that between superstitions and religious beliefs. Whereas superstitions are often isolated ideas, paranormal beliefs are commonly part of an integrated beliefs system about the very nature and substance of the universe. These belief systems are very similar to religion — they can provide meaning to our lives as well as the events in our lives, they can provide social structure, and they can provide comfort in difficult times.

Paranormal belief systems do, however, lack some of the critical characteristics of religions. They don’t typically involve ritual acts, it’s unusual for them to differentiate between the sacred and the profane, and it is rare for people to base a moral code upon those beliefs. Although this means that paranormal beliefs are not the same as religion, the strong similarities do suggest that they stem from some of the same needs and desires as religious beliefs.