Is There A Nice Way To Say I Don’t Believe In Ghosts?

Once upon a time, I had the world’s weirdest fight with a friend. She was telling me a story about a ghost she’d seen, and – yada yada yada – she asked me if I had ever seen a ghost. “No, I don’t believe in them,” I replied. Which I imagined was less rude than straight up saying, “No, because ghosts don’t exist.”

Granted, we were a bit drunk and it was past two in the morning, but my friend still flipped out at me, yelling, “Are you calling me a fucking liar?”

To be fair, I guess in some sense I was doing exactly that. But it felt strange to be called out on it so directly.

But really, I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in psychic powers. I don’t believe in mediums, in tarot cards, in horoscopes, in faith healing, in homeopathy, in magic spells, in crystals, in Mercury in retrograde. I don’t believe in magic in a young girl’s heart. I don’t believe in God.

Oddly, I’ve gotten less shit in my life for the last one than all the previous ones.

I think the thing with that is that people can accept you not believing in God because it’s not like they feel like they have any actual proof either — it’s all faith. Which is fine. Technically, I have “faith” that God doesn’t exist. I can’t necessarily prove that God doesn’t exist beyond any doubt, just as believers can’t prove that he/she does. We’re at a stand-off.

But when you’re talking to people who believe they have personally seen ghosts, who believe they have psychic powers, well, if you tell them you don’t believe in that, it’s like you’re saying they’re either a liar or they’re delusional. And that just feels unnecessarily cruel and unkind.

Even if I don’t say anything to the effect of “I don’t believe in that” – which I often try to avoid unless specifically questioned – people often know me well enough to know that I don’t. If not, I worry about what my face is doing, and how I can react to this kind of story without having to actually feign belief. Is the smile and nod enough?

I mean, with something like that it’s not like you can say, “Oh, it’s cool if you believe in ghosts/crystals/energy healing, I just don’t.” Because they’re not asking you to believe in ghosts or in magic powers directly, they’re not asking you to believe in a religion, they’re asking you to believe them. They are asking you to believe that they are not lying, and that they are not delusional when they tell you what they feel they have personally experienced.

And the truth is, I don’t. I’m sorry, but I don’t. I don’t believe you saw your dead grandmother, I don’t believe your house is haunted, and I don’t believe you have magic powers of any kind.

It would be easier if I were less sure. If I was, say, “open-minded” to these things and willing to be convinced. But, as brash as this sounds, I’m just not. I’ve certainly read up enough on all this stuff, and I certainly tried to believe in it when I was a teenager, but I feel informed enough on this to have made my decision, and someone’s personal anecdote is not going to convince me. Even if I really like them!

I’ve always felt like my skepticism would be easier to take if I believed in at least some kind of woo. Mostly because I think people want to be able to say, “Well, at least you believe in something.” Even if it were just like, pop psychology woo and I was like, “Oh yeah, I am such an INFJ” or bad science woo like “water makes ugly crystals if you yell at it!” or whatever. I feel like it would make people more comfortable. Like “Hey! We’re all in this together, believing things that are probably not real! And you can’t think I’m stupid or delusional because you also believe in something that probably isn’t real!” I think, on some level, it’s a comfort thing.

A lot of atheists and skeptics — at least the famous ones — tend toward abrasiveness. But that’s just not who I am. Sure, I will get furious over things where I feel people are being taken advantage of — faith healers, psychics who go after families with missing children, con artists, really anything involving an exchange of money — or where people are being mean or bigoted, or where school curriculum is being messed with because people don’t believe in evolution or something. Those things matter to me, and would matter to me no matter what else I believed in. But I have no interest in debating the existence of God or ghosts or whatever, and I would also just prefer it if you didn’t try to convince me that I am “such a Gemini” because I have no way to respond to that, and I think horoscopes are ridiculous.

To quote every infomercial ever, “There’s gotta be a better way!” How can I say that I don’t believe in ghosts without feeling like I’m being a jerk?