Hot-Road Water Ghosts

Dark_FigureSometimes, for fun, I share some of my ghost experiences with people.

Here are some I have shared on this blog:

After I share these stories, people will often incredulously ask me, “How can you have these experiences and not believe in ghosts?”

To which I sometimes reply:

During summers, I have driven down long, hot roads and have occasionally seen large puddles of water span the road ahead of me. But when I get to the puddle, they mysteriously disappear. Have you ever had an eerie, supernatural experience like this?

You see, I don’t believe these common hallucinations are actually supernatural at all, but I won’t deny that I have indeed had these unusual experiences.

Mind you, if someone could prove to me that I have really seen ghosts, I’d be fascinated and change my opinion. But the reason I don’t believe in the ghosts I have experienced, is because of my intense distrust of my (and your) human brain. :-)

Question to readers: Have you had any weird experiences you don’t believe in?


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“Lived Religion”


Patients are notorious from not telling their doctors that they take herbs, do scent therapy, take homeopathy or have a chiropractor. Not to mention, that they usually hide the religious rituals they go through for healing: laying on of hand prayers, burning candles or praying to saints. Heck, your best friends may be doing things that would surprise you. People are private about their unorthodox practices.

People are generally more comfortable with inconsistent beliefs and practices than their medical or religious professionals would want them to be. “Lived Religion” is a term used to describe the actual “religion” held by real people.  Lived religion contains these heterodoxical practices and beliefs.

The Lived Religion of a given person may actually have very little orthodox belief within it. It may  be very dissimilar to the religion they confess.  It may instead emphasize community, rituals and holidays or just be a cultural identity.

Many Christians go to fortune tellers, carry luck charms, listen to horoscopes. Besides doing things outside their orthodox religion, they may also hold heretical views: believe in reincarnation, believe in universal salvation and much more.

So when we discuss the meaning of the word “religion”, we must remember that believers are not limited by the religion they may confess — their lived religion is bigger than orthodox beliefs.

Question to Reader: Share some unorthodoxy in your life — medical, religious or otherwise. Remember, if you are religion-free, you still have the potential for unorthodoxy within your “lived religion”.

Some data:

  • Superstition: Gallop 1996: 25% of Americans call themselves “superstitious: 27% knock on wood, 13% avoid black cats, 12% won’t walk under ladder, 11% afraid of breaking a mirror
  • Heterodoxy:  Gallop 2005: 25% believe astrology,  21% believe they can communicate mentally with a dead person 21% believe in witches. 57% buy lottery tickets.


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The Edge of Heaven: movie

Edge of HeavenThe Edge of Heaven Edge of Heaven Words(2007) is a superb German-Turkish film (two languages I love). Instead of a review, I will let the two graphics I made speak for themselves or your can read wiki.

Sinn” the largest word in my word mix, is one of my favorite German words (given that English is my native tongue). It comes out in one of the film’s many good lines:

Mother: Lotte, you can’t keep wasting your life.
Lotte: Mama, for the first time, my life has meaning/sinn 
[translated 'purpose']

Wait, many theists tell us we can’t have meaning without God and that at best, we will always be on the edge of heaven.  Hmmmmm.  Maybe the later is true in a sense even the theist can’t grasp — at least not without a few beers to help. :-)

I do not like the official English title, and almost did not watch the film for that silly reason — funny, eh?  It sounded sappy.  So, in case you are as superficial as me (judging a film by its title), I have made others translations to perhaps help. Tell me your favorite title:

Official German Title: Auf der anderen Seite

  • On the Other Side
  • From Another Perspective
  • On the Other Hand

Official Turkish Title: Yaşamın Kıyısında

  • Life on the Edge
  • Life on the Coast

See other films I “review” here.



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Djinn & Muslim Mental Illness

I made the above poster after being inspired by this short, interesting post in entitled Supernatural ‘Jinn’ seen as Cause of Mental Illness Among Muslims which begins:

It may be common for psychiatric patients who are Muslim to attribute their hallucinations or other symptoms to “jinn,” the invisible, devilish creatures in Islamic mythology, researchers in the Netherlands have found.



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Mazin & Wadjda: a friend and a film

Mazin's Tree

Mazin_and_SabioThe above photograph is the family tree of my good friend Mazin. Mazin and I have known each other for 30 years.  We first met in Taiwan and later in Japan, China and England — where he lives now. My daughter and I visited him and his wonderful family in England this summer. And here, on a walk through a park, we took a picture of ourselves.

When I first saw Mazin on this trip, I greeted him with the standard Arab greeting, to which my daughter responded by whispering to me in astonishment, “Dad, you kissed Mazin!”

“Mazin is a dear friend, honey, and that his how Arab friends greet each other” I replied. She nodded.

wadjdaMazin is an Iraqi Arab whose father married an Welsh woman. Mazin was raise in Iraq until he was thirteen and then spent the next 8 years in England and then 5 years in China, where we met. During our summer stay with Mazin, he proudly showed me his family tree. It was wonderful as he used the tree to guide me through many of his family stories.

Today, back in the USA, my daughter and I watched the fantastic Saudi film Wadjda (2012). I was amazed such a film could be made in Saudi Arabia — it subtly criticizes much about Saudi culture. Watching this and other foreign films reminds me of couchsurfing where I get to step into other lives and cultures which I may not otherwise see. I get to taste experiences far different from my own.

The picture below is from the film.  Here you see Wadjda looking at her father’s family tree as her mother tells her “You aren’t included, it only includes men’s names.” Later in the movie, Wadjda tapes her name to the tree, only to have it removed by someone else later. Saudi Arab culture has its very dark site.

Wadjda_family_treeThough very Arab in wonderful ways, Mazin is not a typical Arab by any stretch. In fact, you will note on his family tree that he has pictures of women members taped on. He proudly bragged about the women in his family as he told me stories.  And Mazin has a fantastic relationship with his incredibly talented and beautiful Swiss wife, Pia.

But having met Mazin, and seen his family tree, I felt more involved in the film about Wadjda because I now knew the family tree tradition personally.

Wadjda is a great film — slow, with subtitles, but you’ll learn about Saudi Arabia in ways books and articles can’t teach you. Though I had to continually explain parts of the film to my daughter, she thoroughly enjoyed it. If you are more interested in the film, google around for proper reviews.


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Mixed Message: Pope Prays


  • Pope Prays for Sewol Ferry Victims at Open-Air Mass in Daejeon
    (Bloomberg Business Week)
  • Pope prays for Korea ferry disaster victims

Three hundred Koreans tragically died when the MV Sewol sank in April this year. And yesterday, the head of the Catholic church, Pope Francis, prayed in front of a large crow saying:

“We especially entrust to the holy mother all those who lost their lives and those who’re still suffering from this national disaster.”

Even as a child, I realized that when the pastor prayed in front of the congregation, he was usually just lecturing us on something and not really talking to God.  I even thought it was rude that he pretended such things and wondered why God did not punish him. But back then, I didn’t really understand how religion worked.

So which of these things did Korean believers think yesterday when the Pope prayed:

  • He is waking up Mary in heaven to take special care of our dead loved ones?
  • He is asking Yahweh (God the Father) to wake up the Virgin Mary to help our dead?
  • If our dear Father didn’t pray, our dead people would never had been cared for by the “Holy Mother”.  They would never gotten special help.
  • He loves us. It is so good to be Catholic.
  • Someone is sharing our sorrows using religious symbols. We feel better now.

My thought: they probably had a confused mix of all these thoughts or feelings. That is how this sort of religion works.  Mind you, I don’t think the Pope did anything wrong in all this.  I am sure it was very helpful in many ways. And I am also sure his prayer reinforced some silly notions that had negative implications too.  We are complex creatures, eh?



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False generalizations about “religion”

Generalization_FailureReligions around the world nurture conflict and are used as tools for great suffering and nonsense. But religion can also be used in wonderful ways.  So to generalize about religions as “good” or “bad” is a mistake.  Further, it is a mistake to speak about spiritual and religious traditions as if there existed some coherent, unified, uncontested, unchanging or pristine version of that tradition. Sure, speaking of such an idealized form may be a useful heuristic tool but it is loaded with mistaken notions which become obvious after only the least bit of inspection or dialogue between people who disagree. This error is common with both religion prescriptionists and anti-religion atheists.

Why is this a mistake? Above in my diagram I tried to capture six main factors that make such generalizations sloppy at best.  Below are the explanations:

  1. Times: Historical Varieties of Religion: Religions change over time. So instead of overgeneralizing, we have to specify exactly what time period we are talking about.  But for the reasons given below, that is usually not enough.
  2. Places: Religion Changes by Locality : Catholic Christianity in South America, Italy and the USA vary widely. Even though they may identify a the same sect of Christianity, they have very important differences. Sure, someone may think they share some “essentially” common elements to allow generalizations — but those who hold these faiths may disagree with the lack of importances you put on their differences.
  3. “Beliefs”: Multivalent “Belief” & Many-Selves: The notion of “belief” is complex. Both the beliefist religionists and the hyper-rational atheists imagine a much more solid thing called belief. We all hold beliefs that contradict each other. We even hold incorrect beliefs, which we nonetheless, use in healthy ways when understood in the web-of-beliefs in which they complexly exist. See my posts on Many Selves and Beliefism.
  4. Sects: Wide Multitude of Religious Sub-Sects: From Snake-handling Fundamentalists in West Virginia to Mormons in Idaho to Episcopals in Massachusetts the flavors of Christianity vary widely.  Their beliefs, practices and exuberance vary a great deal.
  5. Lived Religions: Variety of Individuals: When a person talks about their “religion” what they are talking about often has little to do with the doctrines their religious professionals would want them to confess. Instead, they are discussing their “lived religion” which includes identity, social relations, tradition, good luck religion, imagined moral framework, holidays and rituals or comfort medicine. And when you ask the individual, they may not only be uniformed of the very religion they identify with, but even hold heretical views or practices (often unbeknownst to themselves). Heck most religious folks don’t even believe a lot of what they confess.
  6. Nebulous Meanings: Vague Definitions of “Religion”: Even among scholars, there is not agreement on definitions of “religion”.  It is used in multiple ways by speakers. And when people use it in a general way, they are imagining some very specific form and practice of religion which their generalization overshoots. See my post on Defining Religion.

You may feel you have sufficient objections to any one of the above bullets and thus feel justified in your essentializing, reifying and objectifing some spiritual or religious tradition in a general way, but you need to consider all the bullets and their interactions. Propagandists and prescriptionists are not interested in this complexity — usually because they feel it cripples their mission, but this blog is about complexity and clear thinking, not convenient rhetoric.


To begin, when speaking of any Christianity, use adjectives to specify which subset you are talking about. But even then, realize that you can not list enough adjectives to be careful enough. So, be careful in your generalizations and try to reflect on why you are generalizing, essentializing and reifying such an abstract notion.

Vehement, anti-religion atheists are committed to disparaging the word “religion” and so all the subtlety above is mere distraction from their mission. They will not give in an inch — nothing will stop their unscientific gross over-generalizations. Though the above information is common sense among most anthropologists and sociologist who would never generalize about religion. These atheists ironically care not for a scientific approach when it conflicts with their evangelical efforts.



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