learning about demons and christians

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On a recent post about demons and exorcism, I learned that the Christian belief in demons is more popular than I had previously imagined. I’d like to thank all the Christians who took time to stop by to give their input on the post. Although not a representative sample of Christianity by any means, they did give a variety of different perspectives that I thought would be useful to summarise.

  • Some of the Christians argued that, regardless of whether we believe in demons or not, we need to be more open-minded about the potential benefits of exorcisms:

When it comes to mental illness, we’re starting to recognize that heavily drugging people up with medications that often have harmful side effects is not always the compassionate thing to do. There’s a woman right now that treated her own schizophrenia by talking to her voices, casting out her demons. She’s not even a Christian. (Insanitybytes)

Obviously some people will jump to a supernatural explanation where none exists, and where there is credulity there are con artists. But to reduce a little understood phenomenon to a common psychological problem can also be jumping to conclusions. If someone fits the profile of a possessed person and nothing else works, why not try? (dpmonahan)

  • Some of the Christians took the opportunity to point out that the exorcisms of today often aren’t following the biblical model:

Jesus in fact did not perform “exorcisms”. Nor did any of the apostles or disciples in the Bible… They simply cast the demons out of the person, under the authority of the Name of Jesus Christ. There were no “rituals” being performed. No incantations or special water sprinkled, and CERTAINLY none of the types of things you read about in that list on the “Where’s the harm?” website, such as drowning, beating, tying people up, etc. (thetruthisstrangerthanfiction)

The rite of “exorcism” is a Roman Catholic invention and itself a satanic lie. (Tiribulus)

  • Some of the Christians claimed to have personal experience of demons that had convinced them of their existence, but were unwilling to give further details:

Because I have encountered them personally, and seen that they are not simply “chemical imbalances in the brain” … “normal neurological activity” does not include speaking in languages that the individual has never learned, or speaking in a completely different voice (even different gendered voice), or reciting large swaths of information that the individual would have no way of personally knowing, etc. When a demon is truly “manifesting” it quite an “abnormal” event… (thetruthisstrangerthanfiction)

Even so, for the longest time, as a doctor and scientist, I thought demons had been entirely replaced by organic disease. Then, I had an experience that changed my mind. (anaivethinker)

  • Few of the Christians (if any?) expressed much concern for the many victims of exorcisms ‘gone wrong’, involving trauma, injury and death to the victims. In my opinion, they seemed more concerned with protecting it as misunderstood and of value:

I have no idea whether or not purported cases of demonic possession are real, and I can’t speak for what may or may not happen in developing countries. You do have to keep in mind however that many Westerners who seek an exorcism have often exhausted medical options and see exorcism as a last resort, so we are not talking about a readily treatable medical condition. (dpmonahan)

I agree that it has the potential to be harmful. But, to conclude that it is always harmful is not warranted. It does not surprise me that people with naturalist prejudice would want to view it as somehow always harmful. But, if one really wanted to demonstrate that it was always harmful, you need credible data, and I have yet to see any. (anaivethinker)

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that anyone who takes science seriously would conduct research into any aspect of invisible evil spirits. Although I’d like to think such a study would knock at least a few of the arguments out of the arena, it’s more probable we would just be faced with more layers of superstitious speculation like this:

If you were a self-aware, malevolent entity with the power and desire to possess people, is it possible that you would act differently during (A) eras in which they hadn’t yet developed magnetic resonance imaging, and (B) eras in which they had developed magnetic resonance imaging? (higharka)

The best I could find is an interview with a man who sat in on over 50 exorcisms but saw no credible evidence of supernatural entities. The interview is with Christianity Today, so please note it is not biased towards my point of view.

I attended more than 50 exorcisms and never once did I walk away convinced that the person being exorcised was really demonized. I always thought that medical, cultural, and psychiatric explanations could have accounted for what was going on. But I could be wrong. And people would always say to me, “But Michael, you should have been here last week.”

The best conclusion I came across online was from Timothy C. Thomason, an associate professor at Northern Arizona University, in Possession, Exorcism and Psychotherapy:

Clearly, it is possible that people who believe themselves to be possessed by a demon may benefit in the short run from an exorcism ritual. The ritual could work as a placebo treatment, resulting in the patient feeling calmer for a while (Cuneo, 2001). But given the unreliability of spiritual healing methods, the lack of a rational foundation for supernatural beliefs, and the potential danger resulting from neglecting appropriate treatment, exorcism cannot be recommended, even for those who believe it is effective.

The best analogy I came across, which highlights the ridiculous nature of believing the supernatural only resides in gaps in our current knowledge, was from tildeb:

A plumber okay with people pretending to help by performing certain commands in the name of Jesus to clear blockages?

An electrician standing aside and going along with a person saying the magical words to fix a short circuit?

Seriously, why are you making a special exemption in medicine that (I sincerely hope) you wouldn’t go along with in any other profession?

As Ark would say, why is no-one faith healing amputees?

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