An article in the Washington Post On Faith section in response to their question: Polls routinely show that 75 percent of Americans hold some form of belief in the paranormal such as astrology, telepathy and ghosts. All religions contain beliefs in the supernatural. Is there a link? What's the difference?
In general, it's fair to say that the popular belief in the paranormal falls outside the official picture of reality. The official picture is grounded in science, rationalism, and materialism. It takes a definition of "natural," after all, before "supernatural" can exist. God was natural in the medieval world, and thus miracles, healings, apparitions of the Virgin Mary, stigmatics, and so on, were considered natural. At the moment, it doesn't matter how many people believe in the supernatural. Until the official picture changes, astrology is bogus, astronomy is legitimate. Ghosts are bogus, apparitions of the Virgin Mary are -- well, that's the rub. Religious people are allowed to cling to a different model of reality, tolerated by the official gatekeepers but not believed in. This gives rise to the curious phenomenon of religious scientists, who manage to hold on to two totally conflicting worldviews at the same time.
Any of us can hold conflicting viewpoints at the same time -- it's called compartmentalization. If the various compartments are tight enough and separated by thick walls, a whole range of phenomena can be believed in without making them consistent. I can imagine a cell biologist who is Catholic, has seen a UFO, reads the astrology column in the newspaper, and hopes to go to Heaven when he dies. It would be far better, however, to promote a consistent worldview, one that allows the walls to come down so that official reality might open up to unofficial reality. And vice versa, since popular belief in certain kinds of totally unproven folk cures, for example, can do harm, just as the official insistence on pharmaceuticals and surgery does its own brand of harm at times.
The only consistent worldview that I've ever discovered places all phenomena, natural and supernatural, on the ground of consciousness. The noted Australian neurologist Sir John Eccles pointed out a truth that materialists, including both scientists and ordinary people, don't remotely grasp. There is no sight or sound 'out there' in the world, Eccles declared, no touch or taste, no beauty or ugliness, no sensation of light or objects. All these things are created in subjectivity, which is to say, they exist only in consciousness. The fact that your hand seems solid is an illusion. A neutrino passes through the entire Earth without encountering an obstacle. Every atom in your hand is 99.9999% empty space. Measured in proportion, the distance between the electrons and nucleus of an atom is greater than the distance between the Earth and the sun. At the next level of reality, atoms disappear into energy waves and then into pure potential, the ghostly state of so-called virtual reality. Only perception makes a hand solid. and perceptions are interlinked to create the world you and I inhabit, so that color, light, sound, smell, solidity, etc. all fit together.
In my view, paranormal events are neither fringe nor unreal. They are simply things not yet admitted into consciousness by our official belief system. Reality has this curious habit of keeping certain things under wraps until the human mind is willing to look at them, and then all at once they appear, changing the world when they do. Germs and gravity were once waiting in the wings but now stand center stage. In ancient India, astrology was center stage and now has retreated again, for the coming and going of phenomena works both ways.
Even so, consciousness never retreats. In the darkest ages, people know that they are aware, and from that basic premise they create a personal reality, and when enough individuals agree, then collective reality comes about. Trying to base common reality sheerly on material objects has been wildly successful in the West, but that means little about ultimate reality, which transcends individuals and groups. In the ultimate reality there is only pure consciousness, which can be conceived of as the modeling clay or box of paints that Nature provides, adding the simple instruction: Use as you please.