The same data (or alleged data) are approached very differently by parapsychology and religion, and in this chapter we shall focus mainly on the Christian religion, though with occasional glances elsewhere. A parapsychological approach tries to establish the facts of the matter and to see whether a satisfactory theoretical superstructure may be built on them. Religious statements tend to begin as metaphysical assertions based on revelation, however much they may subsequently be shown to be consistent with reason and with the data of the observed world. Parapsychology cannot answer metaphysical questions about the existence of God or what, if there is a God, his (or her, or its) purposes are in creating and peopling the universe. Some religious believers hold that the phenomena of parapsychology make it more likely than not that the universe has non-human, invisible inhabitants (angels, spirits, or demons); but, as a former Dean of St Paul's remarked, 'No one who understands what he is about would suppose that…God could be the conclusion of an investigation by scientific methods… The most which we can expect from psychical research is some significant addition to the data' (Matthews 1940, p. 6). Admittedly, light may be shed on particular questions about Divine activity by devising suitable tests (for instance, see Benor 1993 and Dossey 1993, 1996, 1997 on the effectiveness of prayer). Many religions, however, are unhappy with that kind of approach, believing that it is tantamount to trying to put God to the test, which is an impiety.
The foundation documents of many of the world's religions make many claims of paranormal happenings, but most religious personages around whom such accounts gather have discouraged too great an interest in the phenomena (referred to in Eastern religions as siddhis) regarding them as a distraction from genuine spirituality. For this reason, many contemporary holy men are not helpful towards parapsychological researchers.