Last night (and I use that phrase loosely, since I made darn sure the sun wasn’t down yet) I watched The Woman in Black. I’m not sure why I did it. Maybe because I pretty much have to see all new costume dramas, or I wanted to see Daniel Radcliffe in another period piece (remember pre-Potter when he was in David Copperfield with Maggie Smith… yeah… memories). But I knew one thing: it was going to scare me, and scare me good.
And it did.
That set my little INTJ brain to analyzing. Why did it scare me? I don’t believe in ghosts, at least not in the traditional sense. But I do believe in demons, so each time a malevolent ghost appears in literature or film, my faith translates that to “demonic presence,” and that to me is far more frightening than some dead person wandering around with a bone to pick with the living. But I’m not most people. So why do ghosts scare everyone? Universally, almost without exception, ghosts are frightening. That’s why ghost movies get made – to scare the living hell out of the audience. It works. Tickets sell, screams fill the theater, and we all kind of hate to glance into the dark corners of our room after that.
I spend some of my time on Tumblr. I looked up The Woman in Black in the keyword search. I found pages and pages of posts that generally agreed on a consensus of “I couldn’t sleep for a week,” or “I had to wait until the sun came up to finish watching this film.” Most of them aren’t Christians. (At least, given the sheer amount of f-words, I hope not.) Yet all of them were scared by the film.
I love British apologist C.S. Lewis. He had a brilliant mind. (He was also an INTJ, just saying.) His theory of thought was that the presence or absence of something in humanity is meaningful. Under that philosophy, the very existence of our fear of ghosts implies that it is wired into us to believe in the existence of life after death – in a spiritual world; that God placed in us a deeper Knowing of such things, and that indirectly, it proves they exist.
Think about it. Under the theory of evolution, we evolve to survive. At what point did we decide to become irrationally afraid of something that – according to evolution – does not exist? When and why did we become afraid of the dark? Why does being alone in a dark, old house at night, particularly a large one, give us the creeps? When did becoming fearful of dead people become important to our survival? Yet, every civilization throughout history has been afraid of ghosts.
Rationally, most of us know that the Woman in Black does not exist… yet for a split second (me) or a few hours (most people), we are temporarily afraid that she might come and get us. Why would ghost stories, and midnight walks through the cemetery, and other such things scare us if some part of us did not believe it was true? If internally, we did not actually fear that there are supernatural forces, and some of them intend us harm? Is it, as Lewis would suggest, the mere presence of such fears that acknowledges the existence of such things?
Fear is not always rational, but it has to work on multiple levels to succeed; some small part of it needs to be possible for us to be afraid of it. So what does that say about ghosts?