Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Alien abductee counseling services

You've probably noticed the targeted ads that show up on blogs and social networking sites, that are selected by keyword-recognition software.  In fact, a while back I posted on this phenomenon, particularly on the tendency of the software to pick up on words like "Astrology..." while conveniently missing critical words like "... is bullshit," and thereby plastering ads for horoscopes all over a blog that ridicules the practice as pseudoscientific nonsense.

This software is getting increasingly sophisticated, keeping track of the number of times that keywords are used, what the past history of the site was, and so on.  Which is why the ad that showed up on Skeptophilia yesterday is so screamingly funny.

Recent posts have been about (1) alien abductions, (2) religious fanatics, (3) demonic possession, (4) psychotherapeutic techniques based in wishful thinking, and (5) sites that sound like they are serious but whose content makes you think they must be a prank.  What would be the ideal ad to target for my blog, if you took keywords from not just one, but all five of those?

Yes, here we have it, folks:  an ad for PAAPSI, which is an evangelical Christian ministry founded to counsel people who have been abducted by aliens or are being pursued by demons, and whose website made me keep looking in vain for a little message that said, "Site sponsored by The Onion."

PAAPSI stands for "Paranormal and Alien Problem Solvers International."  They were originally called AACOA, "Alien Abduction Crisis Centers of America."  Their mission statement says:
We recognize that alien abduction is real, and while some question whether it is the action of actual physical manifestations of demonic or angelic beings, or some sort of mind manipulation by demonic forces the equation in this matter is that it is evil and Satanic.  We recognize that in these Last Days there is a great battle for the souls and spirits of all of mankind...  Even while the enemy is inundating our minds with images of aliens, flying saucers and a host of other paranormal things, the Holy Spirit is telling people that their abductions have been the workings of not supposed space brothers, but of insidious beings that are really the fallen angels and demons known of by so many past generations...  We have freely been given the gift of deliverance from aliens and demons and paranormal bondage, and now we offer that gift to you.
PAAPSI was founded by three evangelical Christians, Joe Jordan, Dave Ruffino, and Jim Wilhelmsen, after they met at the Ancient of Days Conference in Roswell, New Mexico.  They offer their counseling services to anyone who has been abducted by aliens, hoping to gain them "freedom from oppression" by the evil aliens.  Ruffino seems to believe that even fiction about aliens is evil; he relates growing up with a father who was a devotee of science fiction, and how the kids in the family were forbidden to speak when Star Trek was on.

"That gives you an idea of the spirits that my dad unknowingly invited into our house," Ruffino says, in all apparent seriousness.

He then goes on to describe how he became involved with using drugs, and had visions of the evil aliens trying to steal his soul, but then found religion and gave up Star Trek and cocaine all in one fell swoop, and now wants to help other folks to do the same.

My general reaction is that he might have wanted to give up the drugs before crafting his worldview.

While all of this seems pretty far out there, the scary thing is, I know that there are a lot of people out there who think like this.  I remember being cautioned by one of my high school teachers about reading horror fiction, because reading that stuff is a "stepping stone for powers that are trying to influence you."  I was tempted to remind her what the definition of the word "fiction" was, but I thought that might be imprudent at best, so for once I held my tongue. 

Now, I know that there are cases where obsession with violent books and movies has been correlated with a person becoming violent in real life; but that's a far cry from claiming that watching Star Trek will open your soul to demonic possession.  (I have to admit, however, that some of the scenes where Captain Kirk gets his shirt ripped off have resulted in my having persistent nightmares, so maybe there's something to this after all.)

I think what bothers me most about all of this is how convinced people like this are that their worldview is unequivocally correct.  Those of us who disbelieve in Satan and demons and the whole shebang are ourselves being deluded by Satan -- that's why we disbelieve.  If we demand proof -- what, besides your own anecdotal reports of demonic and angelic visions, do you have as evidence that all this is true? -- we're quoted passages from the bible, and told that we only doubt because mankind's nature is inherently sinful.  With that kind of evidence-free circular reasoning, there's no possibility of arguing.  Their criteria for what constitutes a reasonable proposition is so drastically different than mine that there doesn't even seem to be any point in discussion.

So, anyhow, there you have it; the result of targeted-ad software taking my last months' posts, and putting them in a blender.  Perusing the PAAPSI website in preparation for writing this post left me feeling more than a little dazed, probably because of the repeated facepalms I kept doing while reading it.  But that's okay; what are a few thousand valuable brain cells as compared to the importance of bringing this kind of thing to the attention of my readers?  If it weren't for me, you wouldn't be aware that watching Star Trek is providing a gateway for Satan into your soul, and I just couldn't have forgiven myself if I'd chosen not to post this, and then you'd become possessed after watching "The Trouble with Tribbles."

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