If anything is unsubstantiated fantasy, it’s the Holy Spirit. It – I know Christians prefer ‘he’, but the pronoun used in the Greek of the New Testament is more often neutral – it began life as the comforting, fuzzy feeling the early believers got when they remembered their recently deceased leader. The same feeling that convinced them he was alive again in a sort of not-really-alive but as-good-as kind of way:
“He’s, like, alive-in-our-hearts and, hoo boy, what a buzz there is when a few of us get together and share that vibe at the same time. Far out, man. Hey, let’s put it in the story that this is exactly what he said it would be like when he was still alive!” (Matthew 18.20, sort of)
High on this feeling some believers started imagining they were actually in the dead leader’s presence and – miracle of miracles – could see him and commune with him (1 Corinthians 15.5-8). Such an experience, they felt, could only be from God and must, in some inexplicable way, actually be a part of God (1 Corinthians 2.10). And so the Holy Spirit – the capital letter version – was born. Spiritual highs had taken on independent existence as an aspect of God.
Except, of course, they didn’t. They remained feelings, amplified in and by a communal setting. And that’s what they are today. Which is how, when a Christian tells you the Holy Spirit prompts him or her to say or do certain things, the result is always in line with the teaching of his or her particular church or sect. So, for example, the interpretation of the scriptures to which the Holy Spirit leads a group of believers is fully in keeping with that of their denomination, church and pastor. Dissent is actively discouraged and those with different views are apostate, deceived by the devil and not led by the Spirit at all. Maybe, they’re told, they were never really Christians in the first place, which is remarkable, when the dissenters’ experience of the Spirit is every bit as real as the rest of the community’s. Experiencing one’s own thoughts and feelings usually is.
It never seems to occur to Christians how odd it is that this supposed aspect of God, the Spirit, leads different groups of believers down different, often contradictory, paths. How could it do that if it was truly of God? Why would it do that? It’s erratic, idiosyncratic methods are clear evidence of the human origin of its ‘working’. The Holy Spirit’s prompting is, as it was in the beginning, a communal feeling given ’embodiment’ by corporate consent. It even works effectively when believers are separated from each other, social pressure producing conformity.
Experiencing the Holy Spirit is not unlike the way those involved in a séance or in a ‘haunted’ house convince each other there is a presence in the room. These ‘ghosts’ are socially constructed too, from shared feelings and often not a little ‘guidance’ from those who claim to know better. The Holy Spirit is ‘realised’ in the same way, most clearly among a ‘worshipful’ group of Christians whipped up into a state of euphoria attributed to the work of the Spirit.
But the Holy Spirit is without independent existence in both origin and manifestation. It is human make-believe through and through. Any Christians who think otherwise are invited to provide evidence of the Spirit’s independent existence, separate from human emotions and imagination.