Making paranormal less normal

Conference seeks to counter culture’s calm on the occult
The Dallas Morning News, Feb. 15, 2003
By KRISTEN HOLLAND / The Dallas Morning News

Anybody who checks the TV listings regularly knows it’s not hard to find a show with spiritual or supernatural themes. Film fans often find similar fare in the movie listings.

Stations ranging from Fox to Nickelodeon air shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and the perennial Nick at Nite favorite Bewitched. And feature-length films like Signs and The Lord of the Rings have become blockbusters.

With so many choices, evangelical minister and author Mark Matlock said it’s no wonder that 66 percent of all teenagers say they’ve experimented with at least one occult or paranormal activity. Those activities can include calling or seeing a psychic, playing a game with witchcraft elements, and getting a fortune told, he said.

And, according to national surveys, that media saturation is part of the reason why one in four teenagers say they’ve tried at least three occult or paranormal activities.

“We see that we have a very spiritually oriented, but confused society,” said Mr. Matlock, founder of Irving-based WisdomWorks Ministries.

Mr. Matlock, 33, recently partnered with Barna Research Group, which studies trends in religious belief, to examine teenagers’ understanding of the spiritual or supernatural world. He’s trying to find out what makes “students that really have it all together” unique.

The survey, conducted by phone last March, included 612 teenagers and had a 97 percent participation rate.

Mr. Matlock will incorporate some of the findings into student conferences later this month in Mesquite and Fort Worth.

He said that one of the more surprising findings was that students in great numbers tend to believe in heaven and not hell, angels but not demons, God but not Satan, and so on. According to the study, one-third of students nationwide don’t believe that Satan is real.

“There’s a lot more wishful thinking there than any basis in truthful doctrine,” Mr. Matlock said.

Another unexpected finding was that more than one-third of teens couldn’t say where their understanding of the supernatural comes from. Parents are traditionally the primary source of information, but less than 20 percent of respondents said that family or parents have the “greatest influence on their views about the supernatural world.”

The confusion may be due in part to the explosion and availability of resources such as television talk shows, radio programs, and movies dealing with the supernatural. In fact, roughly nine out of 10 students said that “they had seen a movie or a television program that dealt with the supernatural” within three weeks of participating in the survey.

Although students experimenting with psychic and occult-related activities isn’t breaking news, Mr. Matlock said the ideas are gaining ground in mainstream society.

“What we see is that spirituality, whether pagan of Judeo-Christian, is easier to talk about in open form than it ever has been before,” he said.

Mr. Matlock said that teenagers need to understand what the Bible teaches about God and Satan, and that not everything they see, hear or experience is the truth.

“Just because you experience something with your senses … that doesn’t necessarily mean that what I think happened or what people say happened is the gospel truth,” he said.

DETAILS: “Invisible Reality,” for junior and senior high school students, will be Feb. 21-22 at the Mesquite Convention Center, 1818 Rodeo Drive, Mesquite, and Feb. 28-March 1 at the Will Rogers Coliseum, 3401 W. Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth. The Skit Guys drama group and praise and worship band Timber will be part of the events. Cost is $40 for either event. Call 877-947-3660 or visit

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