Friday, February 24, 2006

Britain's psychic challenge

UK's channel 5 has recently been running a reality psychic game show of this name, whittling 5,000 self professed psychics down to a final three. The finale was last Sunday.

it's been an interesting series. Firstly worth noting that 5,000 Britons want to enter and believe they are psychics is something in itself.

the programmes have had a panel of skeptics who at each turn have often pointed to the weakness of the supposed powers of the contestants. Very often this has related to the vagueness of information offered and the way this may often be almost a fishing technique looking for affirmations that may help the psychic go in a certain direction. All of this would be familiar to those who have observed stage magicians like Derren Brown deliberately fake psychic phenomena. I don't think any of the psychics in the show were deliberately doing this but I suspect it is sometimes learnt behavior not consciously adopted, after all it works!

however sometimes the skeptics are clearly stumped, the eventually winner did this twice when she was able to find a hidden person in a wilderness faster than a professional search team with sniffer dogs, indeed on both occasions simply going straight to where the person was guided apparently by instinct. Even more unnervingly they used her, 'Rosanna Arquette Medium style', to help with an unsolved murder case, she seemed to almost become the victim and then proceeded to walk the police around areas they knew where key to the murder with running commentary of the events. She finished by supply a description of the murderer that we were not allowed to hear (as was true of some other bits of information, so as not to jeopardize the case) but we were told was accurate to one of the original suspects.

similarly we also have just had series exploring alternative/complimentary medicine under scientific conditions by a an initially skeptical doctor who became convinced at least that some do work in scientifically measurable ways.

all this is part of growing trend to treat the supernatural, the alternative and the psychic seriously in the British media, part I think of an increasing openness to it here.

how should Christians respond? Increasingly I think the tide is running out for the sort of mid 20th century liberalism that sort to demythologize faith and dismiss the miraculous as fanciful stories to be reduced to their meaning devoid of any supernatural content. The other tradition has tended to be to dismiss all such things as occult or demonic witchcraft. Yet what seems to be emerging is a middle space in which it looks as if scientific explanation may be given to some such phenomena, in which it might be true to say they cease to be supernatural at all. I think Christians are increasingly going to have to be open minded to such phenomena.

in the end I also want to question the attitude that thinks primarily of protection of the faithful, that seeks always to weed out the wrong the risky and the dangerous. I am not sure God and those who claim to be in God through Christ need defending from the 'supernatural'. Rather I would like to see people who actually seem to believe that God is bigger than this and that perfect love really does drive out fear. All of this is think should not be viewed as a worrying trend but as a wonderful opportunity.

what kind of Christians can take such an opportunity? I suspect it will be those who are equally open to the mystical, the miraculous and the unexplained in their own faith tradition, and not scared to walk alongside those exploring such in any and every tradition. The problem is that none of the current tribes of the church fit this bill. The liberals are open to questions but often closed to the miraculous, the Catholics bearers of the mystical but often not the uncoventional, the evangelicals keen to engage with the faith of others but closed to the mystical and the unexplained within in their own faith, the charismatics seeking to manifest the miraculous but usually demonising it in others. Time perhaps for some new expressions of faith that transcend all our traditions, holding together the insights of all and rejecting the fears of all. And I see this emerging in places,

indeed I suspect that many of the debates that divide Christians today are not really between the different tribes or churchmanships but between those seeking to be faithful in the age in which we are, an age of psychic challenge, and those who are still living in an age that is no more.