Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Church and Skeletons, Ghosts, Spirits, and Demons

From our childhood the Bible and the Church have taught us that there exists the probability of surreal encounters: for example, witches that can raise the dead by spirit power (1 Sam 28:7-15); visions about disassociated bones reconnecting and being revivified (Ezek 37:1-10); evil spirits inhabiting our bodies (Mark 5:6-13); ghosts (phantasm) perhaps walk among us (Mark 6:49-50), and much more.  Of course, a modern worldview excludes such possibilities.  Nevertheless revivified skeletons, ghosts, spirits, and demons are still a part of the modern landscape, but not as the Bible or the Church would always have them.

Virtually all of us, if we have lived for any length of time, have a skeleton or two in our respective closets.  I define a skeleton as something from our past that we have buried but it still lurks in an out-of-the way corner of our conscious mind being involuntarily recalled at odd moments.  That skeleton, if it were rattled about in public, might cause us embarrassment perhaps, but no real harm, except for a slight tarnishing to our egos and reputations.

            Then there are our personal ghosts, the demons we have suppressed deep within our subconscious; they cast shadows over our conscious mind and debilitate our emotional and physical health.  These ghosts are psychological—that is, they exist only in our minds, but they are nevertheless very real in the sense that they are mental remainders of experiences so powerfully frightening or painful that we deny them, and consequently bury them so deep in our subconscious they are soon forgotten by our conscious minds.  But they remain with us.  From deep within our subconscious they continually chaff against our consciousness, bringing to the surface feelings of inferiority, depression, excessive negative behaviors, and even more serious personality disorders.  We would do well to pay attention to the warning signs that some of us may well be inhabited by "ghosts and demons of the past," and should seek the help of an "exorcist," someone specifically trained in the medical art of therapy.  To exorcize them we need the help of a skilled therapist.  The run-of-the mill counselor, spiritual advisor, or religious life coach is ill-equipped for this task.

            Then there are the metaphysical spirits, ghosts, and demons.  By definition metaphysical ghosts and demons are not part of the physical world—that is they do not exist or occupy common space and time like you and I do.  They belong to an imagined spirit world totally apart from the physical cosmos of which we are a part.  Nevertheless they are very real as ideations of the mind.  They and many other such ideations are remainders left over from humanity's superstitious primitive childhood—in our naïve past the natural world was not an "it" but a "thou." Rocks, trees, bushes, mountains, etc., were endowed with mana (a general supernatural force concentrated in objects or persons), and the physical world was populated by spirit beings both helpful and harmful to humans.  One learned to placate them by spells, charms, and sacrifices.  All religions to some degree have perpetuated belief in such spirits, but in the modern Western world Christianity with its use of the Bible must accept the larger share of the blame for perpetuating such primitive superstitions.

            But if they are imaginary what possible harm would it do to believe in metaphysical spirits, ghosts, and demons?  I suppose none, unless one equates physical illness, disease, or accidents, etcetera to these metaphysical ideations of the mind, and ignores medical science by resorting to prayer and/or charms as a first line of defense against them.  Tragically even in the modern world people have died as the result of misguided attempts to exorcise possessing demons and spirits.

            The use of the Bible as an authoritative religious text without proper disclaimers is not only irresponsible but borders on the criminal by endangering the mental health and welfare of the public.

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University


Anonymous said...

In the last 125 years or so, the western world changed from believing in the power of religion to change lives to believing psychoanalysis could do so. It would be interesting to know which has had the highest rate of success. No matter how skilled the religious advisor or professional therapist, both require that the person desiring "exorcism" have faith that the method chosen will work.


Anonymous said...

I like what you say about ideations of the mind: if all perception (i.e. whether of physical objects or of ghosts) happens in the mind, a vision is only less real in the sense that others don't see it too.

Charles Hedrick said...

Hi Marcia,
I would think accurate figures would be hard to come by. What little I understand of psychosomatic "cures" suggests to me that there might well be cures by practitioners in both camps. I guess the big difference is that the traditional religious practitioner attributes the "cure" to divine intervention and the medical practitioner attributes the cure to the patient for mental and emotional problems (we have to find our own way out of morass of ill health with the help of the therapist), and I guess that could be true even for some physical illnesses as well. But I will say this: human kind has made progress since the advent of modern scientific thinking in the Enlightenment of the 18th century, particularly as is indicated by the fact that religious practitioners are now adopting the training and techniques of the medical practitioners.

Charles Hedrick said...

Thanks for your comment. This is very difficult stuff for me to wrap my mind around. First, I am not sure that anything, even ideations in the mind, can be "less real." A "thing is real or not even if it is only an ideation of the mind. Visions are a special problem. I think that visions are not a "thing out there," but they are also ideations of the mind. You may or may not see something (i.e., perhaps you only think you see it). If there is something out there over against you, your brain informs you based on your prior experience what it is you think you are seeing, but of course your senses may have deceived you and there is really nothing there over against you at all. For a "vision" the question becomes was there an impression on the retina of the eyes. If we could validate that, it would tell us that there was actually something out there to be seen, but it would not tell us that it was what you thought it was. Like I said visions are a special problem. And what do you say about groups of people who have the same vision? And how does "mass hysteria" play into the group vision?