It is a slow news day when Bigfoot makes the front page of the New Jersey Star-Ledger (without a body being found, of course). Not even halfway through the article the word “supernatural” shows up. This illustrates once again my contention that paranormal and religion often share mental space. A few months back I posted on the recent book Paranormal America by Christopher D. Bader, F. Carson Mencken and Joseph O. Baker. The authors, sociologists by trade, expressed a revealing connection between religious belief and willingness to accept the paranormal. One exception stood out, however; professionals who engage the hunt for sasquatch often toe the line of science and disparage the popularizing notion that their quarry is supernatural. There’s no doubt that Bigfoot has a growing clientele. Whether mythic or biological, there can be little doubt that the big guy’s here to stay.
Appearing in the newspaper as a bit of New Jerseyana, the local tradition about Big Red Eye—the north Jersey version of Bigfoot—suggests instant comparison with the Jersey Devil, a tactic the paper takes. Similar to responses presented when religious behavior turns criminal, adding a light touch helps to ease the tensions. Both religion and the paranormal thrive in the realm of belief. As I waited all morning in the garage for car repairs yesterday, the incessantly chatty morning talk-show hosts were going on about some quote that the Tea Party had been compared to terrorists. One of the gambolers stated, in rather self-righteous tones, “they are entitled to their beliefs-the constitution protects our right to believe what we want,” or something to that affect. Belief is a very powerful motivator. Even those who thrive on science alone secretly imbibe.
The physical reality of a phenomenon is not the sole indication of its significance. People are meaning-seeking creatures. Our concepts of what life means range from nihilistic, to simple, to complex. Even those who claim life has no meaning arrived at that place after the search. The significance of the unseen, the unknown, is that it provides an Ebenezer for meaning. Does Bigfoot exist in New Jersey? I can’t say. If so, it would still not rank as the strangest thing I’ve seen here. Nevertheless, among the fervent critics and uncritical adherents a common bond exists. Belief can’t be measured in any laboratory (yet) but only the most naïve would assert that it doesn’t exist.