Patrick Swayse, star of the movie “Ghost”, Casper the Friendly Ghost in the kids’ cartoon, and, of course, the Third Person of the ubiquitous Blessed Trinity, are the good guys in the annals of famous ghosts. There are some other good ghosts, here and there in literature and movies, but most of them are seen as nasty types ready to harm or at least scare the bejessus out of us. We take haunted houses at carnivals as fun for children, and we know that even serious ghost yarns in print and on the screen are pure fiction. However Netflix has produced a movie called “Ghost Wars” that has the distinction of being almost credible (“special effects” exist to simulate reality). It has enough blood, gore and guts to qualify as a medium-level horror film, and a story-line that keeps us coming back for more, at least in the first episodes as we wonder how it all will finish (although, as so often in series like this, after a while we may not care one way or the other).
No one in his or her right mind really believes in ghosts. But religious believers claim that our “soul”, our “spirit”, lives on after death. Some spiritualists even claim to be able to communicate with the dead, and mediums make a mint cashing in on clients’ credulity. We all have friends or acquaintances who claim to have had a NDE (“Near-Death Experience”), and to have found themselves transformed temporarily into phantoms, disembodied spirits, ghosts. Nothing and no one can shake their subsequent conviction, and they provide a spooky touch to the chit-chat shared at cocktail parties.
People who believe in an after-life usually dismiss ghost-stories as infantile nonsense. Yet their religious faith is not fundamentally different from believing in poltergeists, good and evil spirits, Heaven and Hell and the ritual of exorcism. They are in fact … deadly serious about getting loved ones’ souls out of Purgatory and counting on a merciful God to allow them not only to “rest in peace” but to enjoy the spiritual delights of the Beatific Vision until the General Resurrection when their bodies – though turned into dust in graves or ash through cremation, dispersed in the air or on the waves – are “reunited” with their “souls”. It is hard to imagine a more ludicrous example of religious wishful thinking. But although many other beliefs are more or less summarily discarded in cynical modern times, belief in life after death has a remarkable resilience and staying power.
One of “Ghost Wars” ‘ central characters is a Catholic priest. No one, believer or atheist, not even the priest, has any doubt about the reality and malevolent power of the ghosts set on killing everyone in their community. Gruesome events are portrayed as really happening, not just imagined. We are, after all, in the realm of fiction, if not science-fiction, where anything, no matter how unbelievable, can happen. Fortunately, in real life, few people confuse such movies with reality. Unfortunately, too many still buy the bit about personal immortality and pie in the sky when we croak.