Archive for the ‘Demonic Possession’ Tag

Possession, Physical Illness, Mental Illness, and Exorcism   Leave a comment

Above:  Christ Exorcising Demons

Image in the Public Domain

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The Roman Catholic Church has the proper attitude toward demonic possession.  That attitude is that demonic possession is real, but that not everything that looks like demonic possession is that.  This is why mental and psychological examinations precede exorcisms, and not every request for an exorcism results in one.  Sometimes, the problem is a matter for doctors and/or therapists, not exorcists and their assistants.  Someone may actually have a mental illness, for example.  

I have heard hints and stories of possessions.  I have heard them from people I know to be credible, lucid, grounded in reality, and not given to flights of fantastical thinking.  I am content to take their word for it when they have described what they witnessed.

I used to be in a relationship with a woman who suffered from mental illness.  I knew from my culture and education that her problems were treatable via medications.  Unfortunately, she did not always take her pills.  At the end, her figurative demons overpowered her, and she died violently.  Having been so close for a about decade to one afflicted with mental illness, I understand how someone whose education and culture do not contain the category of mental illness may misidentify it as demonic possession.

Other conditions, such as epilepsy, have allegedly been symptoms of demonic possession, in the Bible, folk belief, and historical documents.

A partial list of Biblical citations that include references to exorcism or possession follows:

  1. 1 Samuel 16:14-16; 18:10; 19:9;
  2. Tobit 6:7, 16-17; 8:3;
  3. Matthew 8:16; 10:1; 12:28
  4. Mark 1:25; 5:8; 6:7; 9:25, 38; 16:17;
  5. Acts 16:18; 19:13-14.

Sometimes I read one of these passages or another one that belongs on this list and quickly arrive at a non-demonic or non-ghostly explanation for the problem.  Someone may have been under too much stress, for example.  (In some cultures, ghostly possession is the understanding of what my culture calls too much stress.)   Or perhaps I just read a description of an epileptic seizure.  Maybe I read a description of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or multiple personalities disorder.  In Biblical times, of course, people ascribed these afflictions to possession, so the texts they wrote did, too.  

When I read such a text, I seek to understand what was really going on in that text.  I apply the cultural, medical, and psychiatric categories I have learned.  Doing so does not always yield a clear answer to my question, though.  I affirm that that the demonic exists.  I reject the label “supernatural” for it, for I reject that label, period.  That which we humans usually call “supernatural” is merely natural, but not in the same way as ponds, rocks, and kittens.  That which we mere mortals often label supernatural is part of God’s created order.  It is, therefore, natural.  That which is angelic or demonic is natural.  And I do not always know, when reading certain Biblical texts, what kind of natural phenomenon of which I read.  My categories are not those of the ancient authors of canonical books.  

However, sorting out what caused the predicament in a given Biblical story may not necessarily be the main point anyway.  If I read a story of Jesus exorcising/healing (whatever) someone, the main point may be that Christ restored him or her to health, wholeness, and his or her family and community.  Or the main point may be that the Kingdom of God was present in the activities of Jesus.  

So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 31, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF CHARLES FREDERICK MACKENZIE, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF NYASALAND, AND MARTYR, 1862

THE FEAST OF ANTHONY BÉNÉZET, FRENCH-AMERICAN QUAKER ABOLITIONIST

THE FEAST OF LANZA DEL VASTO, FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE ARK

THE FEAST OF MENNO SIMONS, MENNONITE LEADER

THE FEAST OF MARY EVELYN “MEV” PULEO, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PHOTOJOURNALIST AND ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

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