Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Nightmare. Ghosts and Christians.

Is it possible to present an intriguing, convincing and entertaining story about ghosts while staying within an acceptable Christian framework? Can a genre usually associated with fear and horror, dealing with unknowns about life after death, be compatible with a faith that is supposed to have strong, established certainties regarding the “afterlife”?

I had a strong interest in the “ghost story”. I read a lot of them in the past. I also tried adding to the genre by writing my own stories. My interest wasn’t restricted to fictional ghosts, I read a lot of “true life” accounts and I participated on an internet mailing list of a group called “Ghostwatch.
This wasn’t merely for entertainment or academic reasons; I had some personal ghostly experiences: seeing an apparition in my Sydney home (seen by my wife as well) and also seeing shadowy human figures in a motel room two nights in a row.

A successful Christian ghost story would need to maintain the recognised conventions of the genre without compromising biblical theology. One of the major obstacles would be finding a plausible reason for the existence of ghosts. Does biblical truth allow for the continuing presence of the dead on earth? If not, then what kind of apparent force or intelligence is behind a haunting?

Not only do we have to address the major problem mentioned above, there is also the matter of intent. What reason is there behind the story? Traditionally the ghost story has been associated with fear – giving the reader a scare. Is that kind of aim compatible with a Christian outlook? Should the Christian writer intentionally set out with the primary aim of creating fear in the reader?

Robin Parish’s Nightmare did nothing to change my suspicion that the two are incompatible. While most of the book deals adequately with the “ghostly” side of the equation, the “Christian” side fails: presenting a mixture of superstition, and vague pop-theology in place of a biblically supportable view of life after death and the spiritual conflict between good and evil.

College student Maia Peters is the daughter of famous paranormal investigators (ghost hunters). Despite her desire to be free from the effects of her parents’ celebrity status, she is offered significant financial rewards to help wealthy fellow student Jordin Cole to have a genuine paranormal experience. Maia takes Jordin on a tour of several haunted sites around America and they witness an extraordinarily high level of strange events.

Jordin later goes missing and her fiancée Derek suspects Jordin’s paranormal dabbling with Maia is to blame. When the two try to find out what happened to Jordin they stumble across an occult conspiracy which seems to have Maia herself in its sights.

Parish maintains interest in the parts of the book devoted to the investigations, but when it comes to bringing it all together the story flounders. The climax brings in elements of Science fiction that didn’t really work for me personally, and its depiction of the demonic owed more to fantasy fiction than anything gleaned from scripture.

As a ghost story I found Nightmare was adequately entertaining but as a “Christian” influenced ghost story I thought it failed to deliver biblical consistency, a feature which surely MUST be the foundation of anything published with a Christian world view in mind.


Since I mentioned my own ghost experiences some might want to know what I think I saw.

I believe that ghosts are a distraction – or a diversion. They are a deception, offering a false alternative to the truth of the “after life” as revealed through the bible.


  1. My personal belief about ghosts is that they are demonic spirits. Often "ghosts" of some person are associated with some terrible event like murder which would likely involve the presence of demons. The demons take the form of the murdered individual to add to the confusion of people. The term I have heard used is a familiar spirit. A familiar spirit is a demon that has intimate details about a person's life probably due to some activity that person was involved in. I do not believe at all that a ghost is the spirit of a dead human being because that would go against scripture.

    I think it might be interesting to have a truly christian ghost story. I imagine it would be in the style of Frank Perretti, if you are familiar with his work. But like you said, it would be a hard genre to keep in line with scripture.

  2. Hi Godthinker,
    I mostly agree. But I don't think all ghostly appearances are necessarily literal demonic manifestations.

    A lot of the phenomenon relates to the mind and perception. Being led to THINK we've seen a ghost can be just as effective as an actual manifestation of a ghostly figure. Both can lead to acceptance of some kind of disembodied, earthbound survival after death. Thereby presenting an alternative "spiritual "reality" to the one revealed in the bible.

    Demons don't need to literally manifest in some form to achieve this. If they can lead someone to THINK they've witnessed something the result can be the same.

    Essentially, the important thing is what the witness does with their "experience" - many go searching for answers in all the wrong places.

    I'm thinking of writing something more indepth and coherent on this topic on my other blog.

    I see the same kind of thing applies to similar things like UFOs.

  3. I agree and well said!


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