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  • Writer's pictureCourtney Heard

Atheist Life Hacks: If You Can’t Explain It, It Must Be Ghosts, Goblins or The Chupacabra!

Eddie Vedder

Fuck yeah, Eddie!

When I was 15, while I traveled the world with my jetsetting parents, I saved enough money to buy a “boom box” as I called it. I lugged it all over Asia and the South Pacific, and at one point it got lost in the piles of airport luggage in Brisbane, detoured to Papua New Guinea before it met back up with me in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. It was my first ever CD player and my first ever CD I played on it was Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

That year, I was living far away from my home on the wet coast of Canada, in Perth, Australia. I clung desperately to anything that reminded me of home. When the Seattle grunge scene blew up, it certainly reminded me of home, which was a short 2 hour drive from Seattle. I marinated in Nirvana, Alice in Chains, The Screaming Trees. I couldn’t get enough, so when Pearl Jam’s Ten came out, I had to have it. Problem is, my family wasn’t necessarily rich what with a teacher Mom and a social worker Dad who spent all their life savings traveling the world with us, so, I had to earn the dough once again. At 15, in a foreign country, that’s not always easy.

So, when my neighbours asked me to babysit one day, I jumped at the chance. I knew that with one little babysitting job, I could get Eddie Vedder’s sexy-as-fuck voice caressing my cochlea in no time. I told my neighbours, fuck yeah, I’ll babysit. Well, it probably came out more like, “Sure, I would love to!”

They asked that the kids hang out at my house and I agreed. It was a gorgeous, hot, sunny day, which ought to be obvious, as it generally is in Perth, Australia. We played hide and seek in my backyard, rollerbladed out front, walked to the deli down the street and bought ice lollies and kicked the soccer ball up and down our scorching street. When we ran out of things to do, the kids asked if we could go to their house and jump on the trampoline. I didn’t see a problem with it. The parents had indeed mentioned that they locked their house up, but the trampoline was just through a gate to the backyard. We headed over.

I stood in the carport, just next to the open gate to their backyard, and watched the two neighbour kids and my brother jump with delight. I could see up and down the street, into the backyard and the entire front yard from my perspective. All was quiet. Just a beautiful, sunny day on the West Coast of Australia. I leaned against the fence and grinned at the happy kids. I pictured heading to the record store in the next day or two to grab my gritty album that sounded like the wet, grey and green of home. I could feel the vibrations of Eddie’s voice in my head, I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life, I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky, But why, why, why can’t it be, can’t it be mine?, I hummed.

Before I could even get to the next verse, a huge crash exploded from directly behind me. I felt something small, but jagged hit my back and bounce off. The kids froze on the trampoline and the little girl, just six, began to cry. I looked down around my feet. Glass. Everywhere. I couldn’t figure out where it had come from. I had had a perfect view of the street, the carport, the backyard, the driveway. Nothing had come or gone, no stone had been thrown, no cars had driven by, and there had not even been a breeze.

“Behind you!” Andre, the older boy called. The look on his face was one of sheer terror.

I was afraid to turn, but it was my job. I was babysitting. I had no adults around. I had to take care of whatever was happening. I trembled as I turned, and saw that Andre’s bedroom window, which had been directly behind me had smashed violently from the inside. At least, it appeared to be from the inside, being as there was so much glass all the way across the carport.

This was no crack and shatter, this was a violent blown out window. The glass was strewn so far, and the sound had been deafening. I looked for a stone or a ball or something that could have been thrown out the window, and there was nothing.

I quickly ushered the kids off the trampoline and safely around the broken glass. We all headed back next door to my place and told my Mom what had happened. Her advice was to stay at our house until the parents got home.

My brother, the two neighbour kids and I sat and talked about what had happened. I asked them what they saw and they all said, “nothing.” There was no way anything could have gotten close enough to smash that window and get away before I saw it. From my vantage point, I would have seen anything that got close enough to smash that window. The kids and I were totally spooked and it was visible, because my Mom kept asking if we were okay, as we sat, staring listlessly at each other on the couch, on a perfectly gorgeous, sunny day.

Finally, the neighbours came to our door to collect their kids. I explained what had happened and a look of concern washed over their faces. We all headed next door to check it out.

They unlocked their front door and we headed to Andre’s room, where we discovered not a shred of glass was inside. The window had been broken from the inside out, and after a thorough check of the house, none of us could figure out how. The idea that perhaps pressure had built up inside the house and broke the window crossed our minds, but we found two other windows open with screens on them and both their front and back doors had pretty hefty gaps underneath. Andre’s pet rat was sitting underneath the window, unharmed, and his cage untouched. We simply could not figure out what caused the window to shatter.

For years after that, it became a sort of ghostly legend amongst my family and friends. We couldn’t explain what happened. It had to be supernatural, right?

As I got older, I began to grow out of this explanation. I found myself, every time the story was brought up, thinking how it could be explained. I knew there was an explanation, deep down inside, but it just seemed to be easier to say, nah, homies, ghosts did it.

Cut to last year. I know this woman. I’ve known her, in a roundabout way, for many years. She used to be an agnostic. Now, she’s a born again evangelical Christian. When she saw I that my new project was, she promptly wrote me and asked if we could open a dialogue about religion. At first, I tried to veer the conversation elsewhere, as she was connected to friends I value, and I didn’t want to cause any trouble between them and I or her and them or what-have-you. I couldn’t get her attention to stray away from the questions of the supernatural. I explained why I don’t believe in God, or Jesus, as politely as I could, and she, of course, responded by explaining that if I just opened my heart to God, he would reveal himself as he did to her.


God revealing himself to some a-holes.

I had to know what this meant. I have heard so many people say this, that God revealed himself to them and for the life of me, I could not picture what that meant in the physical world. So, I asked her. How did God reveal himself to you?

The answers I got were vague and imprecise. She said she had experienced many things in recent years that she could not explain. She was telling me that God revealing himself to her was more or less how she referred to mysterious things happening in her life for which she had no explanation.

It brought me right back to that afternoon in Australia, standing there in the scorching sun with shards of glass pooled around my feet. I remember saying those exact same things. “There is no explanation,” and “I can’t explain it."

And then it hit me: why the fuck should I be able to explain it? Doesn’t that mean, more or less, that when someone says they can’t explain it and therefore God or ghosts, that they expect they should be able to explain anything and everything they ever see or experience? Why should I be able to explain everything? There’s no one on Earth who can explain everything, and yet somehow, I expect myself to have the knowledge and wisdom to be able to, and if I can’t, it’s either God or ghosts? That’s absurd!

When my acquaintance said that she had experienced things she could not explain, I asked, “so, you reproduced the phenomena and had scientists study it in controlled settings and still no explanation?”

“No. It only happened once, and I couldn’t explain it.”

“What gives you the authority, knowledge and wisdom to think you should be able to explain it? What are your scientific credentials?”

Radio silence.

It became clear to me, just a year ago, that saying you can’t explain something, doesn’t mean there is no explanation. All it means, is that you, and anyone else who witnessed it, didn’t have the knowledge or expertise to be able to explain what happened.

I’ve often struggled with things that I, myself, have experienced throughout life that I have no ability to explain. I have been an atheist my entire life, but those moments were the closest I ever came to believing. I told the stories myself as ghost stories and they truly haunted me until that one day, last year, when a friend of a friend told me she had experienced things she couldn’t explain and it simply dawned on me. So what? Can you explain the Vasiliev theory in physics? I mean, I’m sure a handful of you can, but most of us can’t. Does that mean God? Does that mean ghosts? No. It means that the person declaring themselves unable to explain something simply does not have the skill, knowledge or wisdom to explain it yet. Or, that the phenomenon has not been explored enough to find an explanation.

I still don’t know what smashed that window. I won’t ever know. I do know, however, that it was not ghosts. The one thing I have no trouble explaining is that if you come at me with your evangelical bullshit, all it’s gonna do, is make me more of an atheist than I ever was before.

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