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I Ain’t Afraid of No Truth} ?> Erin Gilbert is a woman with a problem; she’s afraid of the truth.
As a young girl, the Ghostbusters heroine had an extraordinary experience that left her with a strong conviction about the true nature of reality. Even though she was mocked by kids at school, she held to her belief. Everything in the world told her she was wrong, but she found another true believer in her friend Abby Yates. Together they wrote a book promoting their ideas and set off toward a future of investigating the paranormal.
Except their plans fell apart.
Erin went off to college to get educated and lost herself in the process. She gained the world, but lost touch with that special truth which had sustained her for so many years. As Ghostbusters opens, she’s on the cusp of becoming a tenured professor at Columbia University and is terrified of anything that might interfere with her goal.
In other words, she’s all grown up.
As a geek and a Catholic, I identify with Erin’s dilemma.
My obsession with Star Wars started when I was thirteen, the year A New Hope released. Although the film (and its two sequels) filled theaters to capacity, being a committed Star Wars fan left me on the fringes of high school society. Maybe it’s not quite on par with Erin’s belief in the supernatural, but nobody was interested in hearing about how the film made a huge difference in my life. I had to choose between sharing my excitement or fitting in.
More often than I care to remember, I kept my enthusiasm to myself. Star Wars became a secret passion until I met other similarly-obsessed fans and we formed a community around our shared fixation.
As a committed Catholic, I find myself in a similar dilemma. My geekiness extends into theology, history, and doctrine. Although people are more polite to me than they were in high school, I still find myself at the periphery in many circles. And I still often lack the courage to be honest about my convictions. Fear keeps me from speaking and from being myself. Words written by Thomas Merton (an American Catholic writer) remind me to be bold; he says, “How can I be sincere if I am constantly changing my mind to conform with the shadow of what others expect of me?”
Erin is confronted by her conflict when a man shows up in her lecture hall demanding that she help him deal with an unwelcome ghost. After all, he insists, she wrote the book Ghosts from Our Past, which makes her an expert. Horrified, Erin discovers that her name is linked with the book all over the internet. If the tenure committee should happen to do a Google search, her dreams of professional success are over.
She has buried the convictions of her youth under a deep layer of academics and over-intellectualization. Her friend, Abby, has taken the opposite route—embracing the strangeness of it all and exploring the world of the paranormal. She’s working in a forgotten lab in a fifth-rate school with none of the success that Erin craves, but in search of the truth.
This truth literally hits Erin in the face when she meets a ghost person-to-ectoplasm. A video of her excited reaction goes viral and ends her ambitions for tenure and her employment. Still unable to admit to the full truth, Erin leaves the building with a box of possessions insisting that she’ll be back. The truth may have given her a kick in the seat of the pants, but she doesn’t allow it to set her free.
Having nowhere else to go, Erin joins forces with Abby and Jillian Holtzmann, an engineer who is fully committed to researching the paranormal. Holtzmann doesn’t question the reality of the paranormal. She accepts that it exists and spends her time doing something about it.
Holtzmann’s enthusiasm gives her a delightful detachment. She’s not worried about what people think. Her commitment manifests as a sort of humility. Because she’s not outwardly focused, she can put all of her energy into whatever project she’s working on at the moment.
I envy her. She’s strange—and the other characters know that she’s strange—but their opinion doesn’t deter her from pursuing and promoting the truth. I want that kind of inner freedom. It’s too easy for me to “go along to get along.”
Am I afraid of the truth? Maybe. At the very least, I’m afraid of what action acknowledging the truth will require of me and how other people might react. Truth calls for action; action requires courage and humility.
Merton said, “In humility is the greatest freedom. As long as you have to defend the imaginary self that you think is important, you lose your peace of heart. As soon as you compare that shadow with the shadows of other people, you lose all joy, because you have begun to trade in unrealities and there is no joy in things that do not exist.”
Erin eventually learns to stop caring about what people think. When she recognizes an apocalyptic threat to New York, she makes a scene in a restaurant just to get the mayor’s attention. She doesn’t give up even as she’s being dragged out bodily by the mayor’s security detail.
Embracing the truth—and being willing to proclaim it and follow it—was vital for Erin’s eventual triumph over the forces of darkness. While I’m often afraid my passions and beliefs will make me an outcast, fighting off that fear so I can be myself is worth it. Standing up for what I know is true makes life worth living.