I have heard many atheists make random comments like, "You can't be an atheist and believe in ghosts" or "If you believe in ghosts then you are just an idiot." Of course, it is reminiscent of my religious fundamentalist days where I was told I couldn't be a lot of things and still be a Christian. (Example: You can't be Pro-Choice and a Christian) As much as I would like to completely dismiss all ghost stories as simply over-imaginative fantasies of the easily deceived, I have my own ghostly encounter rattling around in my brain.
Many years ago I used to work for a dinner theater. The theater had once been a nineteenth century train station that was converted in the 80's into a theater. It was a cool old building with big windows in the foyer, dark hardwood floors, a well-stocked bar, and large commercial kitchen. I spent many nights in there, building sets and preparing for shows, usually accompanied by my sound engineer, Terri. One thing of particular note was that the more noise we made hammering and whatnot, noises in the rest of the building would get louder. We always chalked it up to being an older building and echoes.
One night, Terri and I were working late, putting the finishing touches on two rolling platforms. The noises out in the foyer were so loud that we thought maybe one of our bosses was still puttering around out there. We both got up separately to check at different points in the evening, but there was no on there either time. At the end of the evening we both started locking up the building. The door in the kitchen had a tendency to not want to latch properly. It was a recurring problem.
The diagram above is the kitchen layout. We were working on the door on the left that led to a loading dock. The door no matter how hard we slammed it or pulled was simply not latching. It had been a good night and despite the frustration, Terri and I were laughing and joking. Then we both heard a crash. Turning, we watched dishes (represented by the blue boxes) slide off the shelf, and instead of dropping to the floor, they took a sharp turn and flew into the wall above the sink (represented by the green rectangle). We watched about five dishes take a 90 degree turn while in the air before we both took off out of the door. I don't even remember touching the ground until I was a good 100 feet from the building, screaming the entire time. Terri was right behind me screaming a garbled version of, "Fuuuucckkkk."
Hyperventilating, we both stared at each other. Had we really just seen what we had seen? Shakily, Terri pulled out her cigarettes and lit one. We compared stories. Yes, we had just watched dishes fly through the air. "Maybe there was someone in there with us?" she said, searching for a cause. "They were invisible then," was my reply. We threw around ideas while our nerves calmed. Maybe the dishes were actually on the other wall and it was an optical illusion? Perhaps our banging with the door knocked them loose? It didn't explain the 90 degree turn, but we were looking for something logical. We were terrified to go back inside. We called our boss who lived five minutes away, but he thought we were nuts and angrily told us to just close it up.
Together, Terri and I now stood on the loading dock. To say we were scared to go back in would be an understatement. We opened the door a crack and Terri yelled inside, "We've got mace." "What good is that going to do?" I asked. Terri shrugged. And no we didn't have mace. At this point I offered to pray. I should mention that Terri was a pretty adamant atheist, but she quickly accepted my offer to pray. So we prayed. Then I shouted through the door, "Whoever or whatever you are. We are coming in. We just have to lock up and clean the mess you made and then we will leave you in peace and quiet." Then we ventured inside. What we found were about ten broken plates, some on the floor in front of the sink and some in the sink. For the record, the dishes stored over the sink were coffee cups. We checked, because we were really hoping it had been an optical illusion and the plates had fallen from above the sink. So we cleaned up as quickly as we could and got out of there.
From that time onward, neither Terri nor I ever went anywhere in the theater alone. If I needed to run upstairs to grab something, I would let Terri know and she would inform me that she could help in 5 minutes and then we did it together. Our boss thought we were crazy, until he heard footsteps in the stairwell and turned, thinking it was me behind him. There was no one there of course, but the footsteps kept going. The woman who ran our ticket booth and reservation rolled her eyes at us because hello, she had been hearing weird sounds and voices for years.
Now, the logical part of me really wants to explain this incident away. I want to say it was an optical illusion or my imagination. I do think there is something to the multiverse hypothesis and so I wonder if ghosts may be places where those parallels have worn thin. We aren't seeing the dead, but rather possible variances of our own universe that can occasionally affect our own. It's obviously a stretch, but so is saying that nothing happened and there is no possible way it could be a ghost. Because I most definitely experienced something. It was unexpected and until that moment, I did not have the slightest belief in ghosts, even as a Christian. So, when other atheists say that there is no supernatural world at all, I just can't jump on that bandwagon. I want to, but I just can't.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.