Rebuking the Devil

I have written several times in the past about how religious superstition, when it is taken seriously, causes harm and suffering to real people by dissuading them from seeking the evidence-based treatments they need. But a new story from the March 31 edition of Newsday, Trying to change minds in the Congo, is one of the most horrifying illustrations of this principle I have yet seen.

The African Republic of the Congo, a country of 3.7 million people, has only one clinical psychiatrist. Dr. Alain Mouanga works against heroic odds, in desperately poor and dilapidated conditions, to treat people suffering from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression. The Congolese government provides him buildings – albeit run-down and unsanitary buildings, still damaged from a 10-year-old civil war – to work out of, and pays the salaries for him and his staff. But everything else, including medications, patient meals and even sheets for the patients’ beds, must be paid for by patients’ families or by funds that Dr. Mouanga raises himself from individuals or aid groups.

All this would offer a tremendous challenge for a doctor in any country, and for his tireless, dedicated efforts on behalf of his patients, Dr. Mouanga deserves to be recognized as a true humanist hero and an inspiration to everyone who works to reduce human suffering. But this is not the end of the story. There is one other major obstacle that he must face:

Mouanga knows that if patients don’t believe in him, they will leave, instead seeking help from the hundreds of spiritual leaders, herbalists and other traditional healers who claim to cure the mentally ill in this poor country.

Less than a mile from Mouanga’s hospital clinic is his chief local competitor – a Pentecostal church that claims to heal the mentally ill through faith in God.

…The church’s treatment program is founded in the belief that mental illness is caused by evil spirits and sorcery.

“Evil spirits and demons can’t be seen or interpreted by a microscope,” said Galouo, head of the church’s mental-illness program.

Yes, you guessed it. In this poor, predominantly Christian nation, primitive superstitions are still dominant – including the superstition that mental illness is caused by demonic possession. As the article explains, Dr. Mouanga’s greatest struggle is to convince potential patients that he actually can help them. And many only come to him after “traditional” magical treatments fail:

Very few patients walk through Mouanga’s gate without having visited a traditional healer first. Their treatments range from fasting to more extreme methods such as scarring and burning of the flesh.

But let’s take a closer look at that Pentecostal Christian church that competes with Dr. Mouanga. How do they attempt to treat the mentally ill people who come to them seeking help?

There, patients can be seen chained to their beds nearly 24 hours a day. The men sleep under ratty plastic tarps, which offer little protection from Congo’s tropical rain and sun.

If patients complain or try to leave, they are beaten. “We hit them to discipline them,” said Pastor Pierre-Clotaire Galouo, head of the church’s mental-illness program. “Those who menace us have lost all reason. They no longer understand anything.”

…Less than a mile from Mouanga’s psychiatric ward, patients are limited by the length of their chains at the Assemblées de Dieu de Pentecôte. Men and women are tethered to their beds like bicycles to a lamppost.

Some of the patients clearly chafe at the chains. One young man bore a large gauze bandage around his ankle during a visit in November. Others make them into a joke. A woman coquettishly dangled her ankle for a reporter, showing off her shackles as if they were jewelry.

…The patients stay for as little as a few weeks and as long as several years, waiting for church leaders to announce that God has healed them.

They are unlocked only to wash and to relieve themselves. They are not unlocked to pray.

You read that right, readers. The Assemblées de Dieu de Pentecôte does not rely solely on prayer and exorcism to treat their mentally ill supplicants – that would be bad enough, but no. Instead, their method involves chaining patients to their beds and beating them, doubtless to “drive the demons out”. Sick people are kept in this cruel and degrading imprisonment until the church officials decide that they are permitted to leave. The article does not say if everyone at this church came voluntarily or if some were coerced or abducted by relatives or friends, but it seems very likely, if not inevitable, that some were.

There is one correction to the Newsday article I must make. The article says that Congoloese churches are “seasoned with African beliefs” about demon possession. This errs by calling demon possession an “African” addition, as if this were some superstitious add-on not present in Christianity originally. In fact, the idea of demon possession as the cause of both mental and physical illness is a prominent and obvious theme in the New Testament itself, as shown by verses like this:

“Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils.”

—Mark 16:9

“Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.”

—Matthew 12:22

“And in the synagogue there was a man, which had a spirit of an unclean devil, and cried out with a loud voice, saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God. And Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the devil had thrown him in the midst, he came out of him, and hurt him not.”

—Luke 4:33-35

“And when they were come to the multitude, there came to him a certain man, kneeling down to him, and saying, Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water…. And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.”

—Matthew 17:18

“And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils.”

—Mark 3:14-15

If anything, it is the African churches who are following what the text says. Meanwhile, Western denominations who recognize this for the embarrassing anachronism it is have added these passages to the vast category of Biblical verses that modern churchgoers do their best to quietly sweep under the rug and disregard.

Beliefs in demon possession are a legacy of humanity’s superstitious past, when people ignorantly imagined that any phenomenon they did not understand was caused by supernatural agents. But there is no longer any excuse for holding such beliefs, now that we know so much about the natural origins of the mind. Especially, there is no excuse for using these superstitions as an excuse to degrade and abuse our fellow human beings and treat them like animals, as these despicable Pentecostals are doing. This whole sorry episode just goes to show that when we abandon reason as a means of understanding the world, evils and cruelties visited on our fellow human beings are sure to follow. That is why we as atheists should oppose faith, superstition, and irrationality of all kinds – not just because it is false, but because of the immeasurable harm it has wreaked on the lives of human beings.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Polly

    I hope more articles like this will be produced to shed light on the perils of faith. It’s not benign.

    My recent experience in our modern country (the U.S.) is that doctors and medical technology in general get the shaft by their religious beneficiaries.

    My F-i-L was treated at a top-notch hospital. The procedure was small and quite common to the point of routine. The doctors were knowledgeable and explained evrything about the procedure and even elucidated the workings of the heart.

    After paying lip service to the doctors, who do you think gets all the real credit? That’s right, his Invisible Majesty.

    I get castigated for believing in science over superstition as if science is somehow unworthy of respect. I repeatedly pointed out (to my wife) that the marvels of medical technology have brought previously intractable, often lethal conditions under our control. Life saving procedures are ROUTINE.

    Meanwhile, how many real healings are the result of faith? God gets all the credit but it’s man’s mind at work. Religionists love to belittle man and our knowledge, but what have they ever done that’s even come close to what technology has done to relieve suffering and poverty?
    If anything, faith has only gotten in the way. Even scientists and doctors who are religious are not making breakthroughs as a result of faith, but really in spite of it. After all, if one really is true to their sriptures, why should they seek medical attention instead of “giving glory to God.”

    That’s why even today, psychology and psychiatry are looked upon with suspicion. The mind/soul are supposed to be the ONE realm where God DOES guarantee wellness. Excuses are always made for bodily ailments not being healed, but the MIND is the essence of conscience and free will. Wouldn’t God be primarily concerned that his creatures can love him willingly (and avoid the fires of Hell)?

    Religion uses science when it suits its needs and denigrates science when it exposes the flaws of religion.
    Science is the abused ex-wife of religion. Who do you want to get custody of your society?

  • J

    The Assemblées de Dieu de Pentecôte does not rely solely on prayer and exorcism to treat their mentally ill supplicants – that would be bad enough, but no. Instead, their method involves chaining patients to their beds and beating them, doubtless to “drive the demons out”.

    Well take heart: At least they aren’t using trepanation.

    Hmm, having said that, I’m sure I’ve invoked the Cosmic Law of Irony and, in fact, I bet they are using trepanation.

  • Andrew

    I remember hearing about this very story a few months ago, and it was rather disappointing to know what so many go through for their faith. You’ve presented some additional information that I hadn’t known back then, however. Perhaps if more people were told of the negative effects faith can have, they might reconsider the view that faith is solely beneficial – a view I have commonly encountered.

    To Polly: Recently in my city a reader sent a letter to paper about a surgery he had recently undergone. He proceeded to list all of the people, both of immediate assistance, and indirect assistance (by developing technologies and procedures), that helped him with his condition. He specifically left out any miracles by any deities.

    It was a nice contrast to what I hear from most people, and I hope more people begin to express appreciation for those who actually helped.

  • The Alpha

    “In this poor, predominantly Christian nation, primitive superstitions are still dominant – including the superstition that mental illness is caused by demonic possession.”

    I am dismayed that they tried to pawn off the demon superstition as a relic of their more “primative.” Doesn’t the Catholic Church still believe in demon possessions and exorcisms? Rather than acknowledge that Christianity is harmful, let’s just pawn off its problems to older, more “primitive” superstitions. WTF?!

  • Chris

    In this poor, predominantly Christian nation, primitive superstitions are still dominant

    That’s redundant. Christianity *is* a primitive superstition. You might as well have just said “including the superstition that 2000 years ago a man who was also a god rose from the dead”.

    It’s horrible to see religion standing in the way of real medical treatment that could help people, let alone kidnapping and torturing them. But it’s not surprising, to anyone who has actually looked at the history of religion. That’s what religion is and what it does, and it always has been.

  • Kate

    So horribly sad… let’s not forget the many Christian “homosexual recovery” programs in America today. Whether truly ill or just ill-fitting, Christianity does not like people who do not fall into narrow standards of acceptable behavior.

  • Matt R

    Hello All,

    I am wondering, do the accepted canonical teachings of Jesus include an exhortation to chain and beat demon possessed people. Is this how Jesus allegedly cast out demons?


    Matt R.

  • James Bradbury

    No, I think Jesus said, “Truly, you shall accept the modern explanations for the world’s and individual’s ills and make use of the appropriate treatment supported by peer-reviewed research and clinical trials. Amen.”


  • James Bradbury

    So horribly sad… let’s not forget the many Christian “homosexual recovery” programs in America today.

    How about we set up “Christian Recovery” programs – for people whose minds have been afflicted with a delusional distortion of reality?

  • Matt R


    That must be from the Gospel of James or one of those other apocryphal gospels! :)

    In all seriousness, my point is that it is not accurate to link chaining and beating people to the practice of Christianity as recorded in the Gospels and Epistles. In no place does Jesus or any Apostle suggest that chaining and beating people is the appropriate way to handle the issue of demon possession.

    Regarding “Christian Recovery” programs, I am interested in your proposed curriculum, I may audit a few sessions. :)



  • Matt R

    No pun intended on the “link” and “chain” words. Purely incidental.

  • Ebonmuse

    It’s true that the gospels never claim that this kind of abuse is the way to treat mental illness. On the other hand, they do claim explicitly that mental illness is often caused by demonic possession, and that superstitious attitude is at the root of the Congo’s problems. If people were not taught to believe these failed supernatural explanations, they would very likely be more willing to accept and seek out evidence-based medicine when they were in need of help.

  • Matt R


    Here is a brief list of healing and demonic activity as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, for which I have a special affinity.

    Matthew 4:24, 8:26, 10:1, 10:8, 21:4 all make distinctions between demon possession and physical illness.

    Matthew 8:14, 8:28, 9:22,9:26-28, 12:15, 14:14,14:36, 15:28, 15:30, 19:2 all recount instances where Jesus healed and there is no mention of demon possession.

    Matthew 17:18, Matthew 12:22 are verses that indicate that a specific malady was caused by driving out a demon.

    Matthew 8:28 refers to two very violent men who were possessed by a demon.

    Studying the Bible will reveal that there is no reason to link *all* illnesses and disorders automatically to demonic activities. There are two mentions of Christians in the New Testament (Timothy and Epaphroditus) who are ill and the illnesses are not attributed to demonic activity. The Apostle Paul even recommend that Timothy take some medicinal wine for his condition.

    So, what we have in the Congo, I suspect, is a matter of unquestioning people behaving irresponsibly with a dim understanding of the natural world and also the teachings of the Bible. You are right that if they could be made to believe that there are no demons (a daunting task indeed considering demonic activity has been a part of african beliefs for longer than the christians have been there)that they would not seek to drive the demons out. It is also true that if they were educated on the appropriate behaviors of a Christian (if a Christian is what they want to be) and followed this education, the problem will also be solved.

    I also will point out that there are many Christian counselors and mental health providers who use evidence-based practice in healing.


  • Ebonmuse

    Many Christians do use evidence-based medicine, fortunately. And they do so because they have learned to ignore the verses in the Bible which attribute various types of illness to demons, a claim that was not supported by evidence then and is not supported by evidence now. The New Testament authors do not say that every instance of illness is caused by demons, but neither do they discount it as an explanation in many instances. Do you agree with me that such claims are in error and that there has never been good reason to attribute any instance of mental or physical illness to demonic assault?

  • John Lloyd

    Because much of psychiatry is given to efforts to exorcise deamons, I approached this article with extra-alert antennae. It’s important to note—as you’ve done again here, James—how religion deters people from employing scientifically based treatments, but things are hardly better if the treatments they use are kissing cousins of religion.

    Mouanga and his staff of two Congolese psychologists try to offer the most up-to-date care, using a combination of prescription drugs and talk therapy to treat patients….

    Many “talk therapies” are predicated on the idea that people with emotional and behavioral disorders have deeply seated and secret desires and drives with which the person must come to grips. Think Freud. In contrast, there are people who actually teach individuals with depression to employ cognitive-behavioral self-management strategies, yet call their methods “talk therapy,” so it’s not appropriate for me to lump them all together.

    Sadly, in her article Katie Thomas doesn’t explain what sorts of talk therapy Dr. Mouanga and colleagues employ. Here’s hoping it’s not of the psychodynamic (or similar) type, as that’s just trading one sort exorcism for another.

  • Matt R


    nd they do so because they have learned to ignore the verses in the Bible which attribute various types of illness to demons, a claim that was not supported by evidence then and is not supported by evidence now.

    I think that the reason we see Christians going to see medical practitioners of various sorts is because they treat their beliefs in God rationally, as they should.

    Do you agree with me that such claims are in error and that there has never been good reason to attribute any instance of mental or physical illness to demonic assault?

    I think those who witnessed Jesus speaking with and casting out demons would have had good reason to attribute the disorders to demonic assault. I have never had any personal experience with the phenomenon and cannot vouch for its reality firsthand. I am not, however, prepared to discount its possibility now. This is, of course, because I have found following Jesus to be so wonderful that I am willing to be a little more lenient on some matters than you may be.

    I certainly cannot hold you in contempt for your position. I find the concepts of miracles and demons and Satan very difficult to deal with at times.



  • James Bradbury


    As always you come across calm and collected, but I must respectfully raise some questions.

    You give a good answer – have you ever thought of going into politics? ;)

    I think those who witnessed Jesus speaking with and casting out demons would have had good reason to attribute the disorders to demonic assault.

    How about those who witnessed Peter Popoff?

    I think the question I’m getting at with my flippant remark is why are historical miracles more convincing than present day ones?

  • Matt R


    Historic miracles, in my opinion, would be far less convincing than a miracle which I witnessed myself. I suppose a more appropriate way to put the matter is that anyone who was to witness a demon being cast out of someone followed by a dramatic resolution of symptoms would have good reason to attribute the disorders in question to demonic assault. I spoke specifically of the gospels because that was on my mind at the time.

    With that being said, my whole point was that Christianity should not be blamed for conduct which it does not espouse and which is contrary to the principles established by its writings. Any set of principles can be misused and twisted by people.



  • Polly

    Hi Matt,

    Christianity should not be blamed for conduct which it does not espouse and which is contrary to the principles established by its writings. Any set of principles can be misused and twisted by people.

    This reminds me of the debate about communism. The number one argument I’ve heard when bringing up repressive regimes (like the former CCCP)that are/were communist, is that they are not pure Marxist and if they were, it would be a workers’ paradise. I’m not saying that they, or you, are wrong. I’m just noting that idealistic systems tend to give rise to far less than ideal practices.

    In general, I think the closer a philosophy is to the nature of the real world, the less likely such abuses will be needed to stretch the system to extremes to make reality fit. Like the proverb: When the blade is dull, the axeman must swing all the harder – my paraphrase.

    Just my two Kopeki.

  • Bill D. Johnston

    Miracles as such are only truly proof to those who experience them.

    As to miracles: if any do occur, there is an natural explanation for such.

  • Matt R


    In general, I think the closer a philosophy is to the nature of the real world, the less likely such abuses will be needed to stretch the system to extremes to make reality fit. Like the proverb: When the blade is dull, the axeman must swing all the harder – my paraphrase.

    Are you suggesting that the Congonese chain and hit people to make Christianity “fit” the real world? I do not know where the Congonese got the notion that it would benefit people to be hit and chained, but it was certainly not from Jesus.



  • Polly

    Hi Matt,

    Maybe, but… if the “demons” could be cast out with a word as they are in the Bible, then it wouldn’t come to that. Since, the first attempt doesn’t work, rather than abandoning the “faith treatment”,if you will, they improvise.

    I think that in the absence a of a realistic model, faith is more likely go awry than real-world based solutions. When logic is thrown out, there’s a lot of room for error.

    For reasons stated in my last post, diseases of the mind are a little more troubling for a believer than diseases of the body (you may disagree, but I’m willing to bet that these Congonese expect DELIVERANCE FROM DEMONS not a “no” or a “not yet” from god)

    So, if words don’t work, then maybe they fall back to their understanding of the spirit realm as revealed in scripture. This spirit realm contains actively malicious, sentient beings that can be dealt with and who also respond to commands. If demons can hear through their victims’ ears, it’s reasonable to assume they can feel pain. So, a beating might do the trick.
    Also, the demoniac/s in the Gadarenes (1 or 2 depending on whether you’re reading Matthew or Mark) were chained but broke free. There was no condemnation or advice to treat them differently by JC. Sure, he healed them, but he’s not in the Congo today – you know what I mean :). In fact, Matthew records them as begging JC not to TORTURE them before their time! So, the natural fall-back plan from precedent may be to chain ‘em up and beat them.
    I didn’t read anything about starvation, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they did that, too, based on Mark 9:29 – that’s the one where some zealous editors added “…and fasting.” Paul does mention that he beats his body, mortifying it and, thus, breaking its power over him and mastering it. I can’t remember the passage unfortunately. But, this could also lend some insight into methods for dealing with sin and evil.

    In the U.S., many Christians who believe in possession, believe it’s a result of occultic practices. If sin is to blame, then harsh correctives like beating the body might be viewed as necessary.

    Doubtless, they believe they are doing God’s will because they are believers and may, in fact, believe that they are inspired to employ these techniques through the Holy Spirit’s guidance. The problem is they are starting off with a faulty frame of reference courtesty of the Bible.

    Well, that’s my long-winded response.

  • Polly

    Hi Matt,

    As if I didn’t write enough, huh?

    I just thought of something else. Just where is the Holy Spirit, anyway? Shouldn’t God be clueing-in his followers about the wrongness of what they’re doing?

    Let me explain:

    One of my “a-ha” moments came when I noticed two things about specific, individual Christians in my life who are long time, avid followers of Christ, studying his word daily and praying a lot:

    (1)They were far from wise – below average, IMO.
    (2)They were far from loving or compassionate – WAY below average.

    I remember the day I first asked, “Just where is the Spirit in all of this!” It was a rhetorical question. Please don’t misunderstand me. The foundation had been cracking for a while due to my reading of history and science. Then, it finally coalesced and I actually had the courage to formulate those rebellious words in my mind and then in my mouth.
    I just expect so much more goodness, mentally and heart-wise, from Spirit-filled people than what’s out there. Where’s the wisdom? Where’s the guidance from above?

  • Matt R

    Hi Polly,

    I think that in the absence a of a realistic model, faith is more likely go awry than real-world based solutions. When logic is thrown out, there’s a lot of room for error.

    This may be and I would argue that the concept of beating people to rid them of demons is not a realistic model. However, to characterize this behavior as a logical consequence or widespread tenet of Christianity is incorrect. It is in no way related to the teachings of Jesus.

    Also, the statement is based on the assumption that following Jesus and behaving logically are mutually exclusive. This is also incorrect. It is true that there are those who do behave illogically who follow Jesus, however the two are by no means mutually exclusive.

    In conclusion, there are certainly many people who have different views regarding the spiritual world. Obviously there are some who resort to deplorable means of dealing with the spiritual world, however these means are not to be found in the teachings of Jesus.

    Regarding your second post:

    I think that it is far more important to consider what sort of experience you were having with the Spirit of God. I can say, regarding those followers of Christ who behave ill, that I have found that following God is not like magic. I did not become good quickly or easily. It took work and an active decision to be good. I believe the same thing goes for wisdom. Wisdom is earned, not magically bestowed, in my experience anyway.

    One question, were you raised in a conservative, literal-interpretation of the Bible Christianity?



  • Polly

    Hi Matt,

    Conservative and literalist, yes – YEC.
    Then, Old-Earth Creationist,
    then Old-Earth, evolutionary divine interventionist (at this point I also started doubting the historicity of Noah, Job, Genesis creation, and other stories)
    Then…well, you can take it from there.

    Do you see the way the scriptures gave way as I looked deeper into the matter? The more I read, that is, the nearer I drew to God, the more He backed off. Until, finally, He seemed to be on his tiptoes in a tiny, dimly lit corner. I was not content to Let him remain. I politely, yet firmly, demanded that if He had no business here, He should leave.

    Now, the very last thing to go was belief in the power of the H.S. to change lives. I noticed that good people are good either way and bad people who happened to be believers tended to use scripture to rationalize their bad behavior. If the H.S. has any power, it should be manifest in those who seek God.
    I want to emphasize that the individuals I referred to above were really seeking God. If the H.S. is really so easily thwarted even in the face of earnest efforts to seek God in his word and through prayer, then Where is the Power?

    1. He(God) doesn’t do healings. Though he says that whatever we ask for in JC’s name, it’s ours. The caveat of “His will” is not added in certain places. fine, we’ll defer to the limiting passages.
    2. He doesn’t guarantee financial stability. fine
    3. He doesn’t show any evidence of his own existence. fine – though that would save more people or at least keep those who DO believe in him inthe fold, which is presumably what he wants.
    4. But, the fact that He doesn’t give wisdom or goodness to those who seek him is inexcusable. If anything is His will, THAT is His will.

    What’s left? nothing. Even if he exists, you may as well not believe in Him, because he really doesn’t seem to do much of anything at all.

    Re: beatings – In the other post I wanted to demosntrate that there were some elements directly from the New Testament that could lead one to conclude that physical beatings could be the order of the day in response to demon possession. I don’t know if it made sense to you. As for me, I can see how the Congonese were reasoning from the scriptures


  • Matt R

    Hi Polly,

    Well, I can relate to you in quite a few things, as I suspected I could. Although I was not raised literalist YEC, I was for quite awhile. That worked fine when I was more concerned about surfing and having fun than in questioning my beliefs, but when I started delving into the matter and raising old objections which were latent in my mind, I realized that I did not feel honest with myself to take the Bible in what is called a “literal” fashion. It just did not make sense.

    This was recently and I am still looking and thinking and evaluating. I am comfortable with saying that the creation account, Job, and Noah do not seem to be actual historical things. I think that I am able to continue to believe in God because I never really bought in to the whole idea that the Bible must be 100% right or it is 100% wrong. I am comfortable viewing the Bible as fallible.

    Regarding the H.S.

    Did you experience a change when you followed God?

    I know this is a personal question and feel free to not respond. The reason I ask is because it was my personal experience, as I have stated many times before, that makes me think that there is something to the idea of God. I think that if I had never had this personal experience, and that my entire belief in God was based on the accuracy of 2000+ year old documents, that I would not have much to say here. I would probably be agreeing with you.

    Regarding the beatings:

    I find it hard to believe that anyone could seriously take those scriptures you mentioned along with the rest of the teachings of Jesus and, after careful though and reasoning, come to the conclusion that beating mentally ill people was the best course of action. However, I know for a fact that there are respritory therapists who treat emphysema patients all day long and then go outside for a smoke break, so I suppose that nothing should shock me.

    I will say that I often have a very hard time believing in demons and the like.



  • Polly

    Hi Matt,

    Well…now that I’ve laid my spiritual life-story on you…

    Did you experience a change when you followed God?

    Yes. As I mentioned, the very last belief to slip away was belief in the power of the H.S. for changing hearts and minds. The reason that lasted longer is that I myself attributed the greater love, compassion, and yes, I’ll say it, wisdom (that is, discerning the consequences of one’s actions on others and the future ramifications rather than being myopic and self-centered as we humans are prone to be) in me to His work. Quite frankly, the deeper I got in prayer and Bible studying the better I got, to a point. I really did believe that there was an all-loving, all-wise, and all-powerful individual at the heart of my change who was winning me over.
    On the other hand, the deeper I got, the LESS I was able to accept the OT’s brutality, and the NT’s Hell. Go figure, the lessons on love I learned from the Bible, actually made me more prone to reject it. I guess the student can become greater than his teacher (Luke 6:40)

    Somewhere in the back of my mind was always the nagging doubt, “What if this change is simply the result of maturity? What if just living and acting more thoughtfully and wanting good for all, is the only real change?”
    In other words, what if it really is all just ME? I would still fail: times of selfishness, irritability, etc.. There didn’t appear to be anything supernatural at work. I look out at others (not judgmentally, but critically) who have prayed and sought longer than I’ve been alive and I see results that are far less divine. I removed the plank from my eye and I see a lot of other plank-heads walking around who ought to have been fixed by the great Carpenter by now. Often I would get discouraged, thinking, “after a few more decades of spiritual discipline, is THAT the best I can hope to achieve?”

    Re: the beatings. My contention is that people don’t just take moral teachings from the NT, they take a theory of the workings of the world at large. I don’t think they beat mentally ill people out of malice. I think they try to drive the demons out of demon afflicted victims by the methods that are tangentially mentioned in the NT.

    Do you believe in the existence of demons? Hell?
    Demons, Hell, and I would say even the immortality of the human soul seem to be NT innovations. Even Satan, “the Accuser” was regarded as morally neutral in the OT, usually.


  • Matt R

    Hi Polly,

    I have had a similar experience. The more I search out God, the more I love. That is why I stick with it. There is also the rescue from addiction. I think I would have destroyed myself if that had not happened. It is hard for me to attribute that to myself as it came immediately after praying about it.

    I also have issues with the brutality in the Old Testament. Hell does not bother me so much because I think that much of the perception of hell is a creation of a doctrine based on tangential references in the NT. Jesus does indeed speak of Hell, but he speaks of it as a place for the punishment of the wicked. The idea that God sends people to hell for not believing the right thing is, I think, an extrapolation. I will revisit this idea with closer study, but off the top of my head, I think it works.

    There is also the idea that Hell is not eternal and is simply a place of punishment that one stays until one has been justly dealt with before annihilation. There is also the concept of annihilation. These are much more fair and there are Christians who support the idea. I have never looked at a scriptural basis for these as my ideas have been changing so rapidly I do not have time to keep up with them.

    Regarding the beatings:

    I see your point and it is valid. The New Testament mentions demons and one could extrapolate many things from that, I still hold that the extrapolation is strained and tenuous and it is not accurate to suggest that Christianity lends itself easily to such abuses. It must be dramatically twisted beforehand. I think that I have begun repeating myself on this matter. :)

    Regarding Demons and Hell:

    Demons are odd and ill-defined in the scriptures. I have heard people speak of demonic activity in earnest but I have never experienced it. I do not have a problem believing that demons could exist, however I do not live my life searching them out or in fear of them, neither do I attribute ill-fortune to them. I guess my actual stance on demons is that they seem irrelevant to my life except in one matter. There are times when I am stuck on a negative mindset which I cannot shake. At those times I seek God’s help and it leaves me. There are particular mindsets which can be addressed in this manner, however they are rather personal and I hope you will excuse me for not being more specific. I freely admit feeling silly attributing these feelings to invisible evil creatures, but by seeking God, the feelings are dismissed every time I can remember. So I retain demons as possible.

    Hell, I think, would be absolutely necessary if there is to be any justice. I do not contend that people who do not believe the “right thing” should go there, but I definitely think that if there is an afterlife, there should be some sort of consequences for committing moral evil. I do not have a problem with punishment for the deserving. I think that there should be a sense of scale for the punishment as well.

    So, do you think that God probably isn’t there or is just unknowable?


  • Polly

    Perhaps if my experiences had been more extreme and the deliverance as dramatic, I may have stuck to God just because I wouldn’t want to risk falling off the wagon. Indeed, I was mentally purer through focus on Christ when I was younger-if you know what I mean. Still, I see where I am now as inevitable, though I never would have predicted it.
    I won’t bother trying to postulate alternative explanations for why prayer worked for you. After all, who the hell am I to tell you how to come to grips with your deliverance? Anyway, it worked! And, in the absence of any serious hindrances to your growth as an individual, why poo-pooh it?
    I imagine if there is a god, that he would not mind too much if people doubted his existence. I daresay he’s gone out of his way to remain obscure, like some kind of eccentric celebrity shunnig the limelight. Perhaps, he’s not morally perfect, but just some super smart being that got bored with his project and left. This is the only kind of god I can imagine that makes sense in a world like ours.
    I believe in Truth and that whatever it is, it’s worth seeking out. But, there is another virtue that weighs, perhaps, equally heavily and that is being true to yourself. If you’ve had an experience and that convinces you of something that your brain tells you can’t be true, what do you do? I dunno. Luckily, my brain and my heart seem to be in agreement.
    A man’s god is a reflection of his own character,so it’s a good sign that you’re projecting a pretty amicable and reasonable deity :-)

    Certainly, no one likes to think that Hitler got away with what he did. So, some kind of punishment is reasonable to expect of a god. But, the fundie god is far from reasonable – he’s a brutal despot.

    I don’t believe there is anything beyond the natural world. I am as sure of this as I am about anything. I’m not an agnostic. I really don’t believe there is a god or anything supernatural. It’s all just man-made fantasy. When I die, I’ll cease to be.
    I can’t say I KNOW this, but I can say that I’m convinced.


  • Polly


    You know, I’ve heard even fundamentalist apologists say that they didn’t think Hell was necessarily for all “unbelievers.” I don’t remember the name of the book, but it was quite surprising and you may find their view interesting if you haven’t heard it before. Their conviction was that when JC said, “I am the way, truth and life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (one of my favorite verses to quote at “liberal” Christians, btw) that JC didn’t mean that no one who didn’t know his name per se wouldn’t get into heaven, but just that whoever gets to heaven, whether they knew it or not during their earthly sojourn will have arrived because of God’s grace through JC.
    Naturally, I think this is a dodge. But, it’s not a horrendous interpretation. Anyway, if people are going to believe in the Bible, it would certainly be better for Christians to adopt this stance compared to the damnation-for-jaywalking mentality.

    Re: beatings. My hope is that emphasis on demons and even angels, too, will decrease and people will take concrete actions based on concrete information to solve their problems. It may be a part of Christian cosmology (maybe not), but it’s not incumbent on Christians to try to spot such beings in their lives and exorcise them. I think certain “ministries” emphasize demons because it’s easier to deal with a sentient being – even an evil one – than with “luck” or the random happenings of the economy and nature and their impact on one’s life.

    I find it extremely telling that out of the entire Bible demon possession is only ever mentioned in the synoptic gospels and once in Acts. Though “demon-possessed” is used as an epithet in John, possession and exorcism are not mentioned as far as I can remember. I wonder if Mark was part of some kind of cult? Matthew and Luke simply borrowed much from him – that’s the theory, anyway. I’m not sure demon possession even should be part of Christianity, especially since Paul’s writings don’t mention it. It may be a “pagan” belief that slipped in through Mark. But, this is all amateur biblical “scholarship” on my part – laughable attempt, at that.
    There are scant references to demons in the OT, and usually they are describing idols.


  • Matt R


    I enjoy talking to you and hearing your perspective. It helps me stay grounded and in touch with different points of view. I value that. I also value the respect that you show towards me despite my different beliefs. Thank you.

    I think Hitler did suffer at least some consequences for his actions although they were, I think, insufficient. Happy people do not commit suicide. Along those lines, I have observed a sort of built-in judicial system of sorts. In my experience, a positive attitude and commitment to moral behavior creates a sort of person who has joy even in difficult circumstances. These “good” people are their own reward. In contrast, negative, selfish people tend to be their own punishment, surrounding themselves with other unpleasant people and stewing in their unhappiness. I have observed this “moral justice” at work. Perhaps it is not ubiquitous, but in my experience it is very common. The sad part is that people end up destroying themselves ultimately.

    I believe in Truth and that whatever it is, it’s worth seeking out. But, there is another virtue that weighs, perhaps, equally heavily and that is being true to yourself. If you’ve had an experience and that convinces you of something that your brain tells you can’t be true, what do you do? I dunno. Luckily, my brain and my heart seem to be in agreement.

    My brain finds merit in the logical arguments on both sides of the issue. It is my experience that makes my brain think that there is something more. I do not have a problem admitting that I do not fully understand that “something more”. Nevertheless, I continue to experience it and Christianity is the means by which I do so. I would have more difficulty convincing myself that there is no God than in continuing to believe that there is God.

    I also think it is interesting that you separate God from the natural world. I think that it is possible that there is nothing except the natural world, except that we do not have an exhaustive explanation of the natural world.

    One thing that comes to mind when I ponder what sort of being could be the “primary cause” ; the being that acts in the absence of a cause. I think of an ant walking across a kitchen counter in a house where “Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows is playing on the CD player. What does an ant know of music?

    Truly, I wonder if it is even rational to postulate understanding a being able to create our reality. It would be like inventing a new primary color, I think.



  • Polly

    I would have more difficulty convincing myself that there is no God than in continuing to believe that there is God.

    Yes. So in order to be true to yourself and avoid becoming a walking contradiction, that is what you ought to believe, until new information or experiences tell you otherwise. But, we humans (atheists, theists, hockey-fans) have a tendency to close ourselves off from any new info. once we’ve decided on something. It takes a conscious effort to counteract that tendency by looking at the arguments and data of
    both sides, fearlessly.
    That’s why fundies are so hard to reach. If they learn something that contradicts what they believe, they’re risking eternal suffering for changing their minds or even questioning/ “doubting.” So, they have to be anti-knowledge in certain fields and to a certain degree. I ran up against those limits often in my ruminations.

    A very recent example might demonstrate what I mean. A post on an unrelated (language) blog discussed the origin of human language and its evolution. It was met with the very first respondent proclaiming:

    Considering the origin of language, I must point out that there’s no need to speculate about such things. The Holy Scriptures tell us that Man was capable of speech when he was first created, and thus God created language as well as everything else.
    I certainly do not want to start an argument, but it seems very futile to discuss how language might have developed from a simpler form to the more complex…

    I wasn’t angered by his narrow-mindedness. I felt really sorry for him. Here’s a guy who’s into languages (like me) and he’s cutting himself off from relevant historical and scientific knowledge that could benefit and expand his interest in that subject.
    To me, and probably a little contrary to most on this blog, the preeminent concern is not Atheism, per se, but the FREEDOM from restrictions on human thought and inquiry. Personal god-belief isn’t necessarily opposed to that, I’m seeing more and more thanks to discussions like this. It’s my former brand of Christianity that was.
    But, for me, facts still weigh much more heavily than even my own personal experience.

    Anyway, I know I’m going on and on. Don’t feel like you have to respond, unless you want to of course.

  • Matt R


    I have found that having discussions with people who have ideas radically different than my own has forced me to pull my head out of the proverbial sand and accept the difficult realities which seem to challenge my beliefs. One thing I have learned recently is that no matter how hard you believe something, you cannot change reality. This applies to everyone, I think.

    A good example in my life is neurology. As a physical therapy student I have to understand some neurology to rehabilitate patients who suffer from neurological injuries. Studying neurology shows the function of the human mind and takes away a lot of the spiritual aspect of it. This can be threatening to someone who wants to believe in a “soul”, however because of my discussions here and other places, I have forced myself to accept reality and adjust my beliefs accordingly. So my point is, thanks for being one of the people who is helping me embrace more of reality.



  • Polly

    I’ve gained a new perspective on “Christianity” far different from what I always thought it was. Though I was in it, I have learned from you and others, but mostly from reading what you write, that that was just one of many possible implementations of JC’s teachings.

    LOL! Can you imagine an atheist going around trying to correct believers’ doctrine?

    “Salvation is by faith ALONE!…you know…if there was anything to be saved from…which, there isn’t.”


    “You can’t reject the trinity and call yourself a Christian because…because…God is…uh…One…if there were a god…but there isn’t. yeah”

    While I don’t fully understand how a believer can pick and choose from the Bible, the demand that one accept everything or reject everything does seem rather infantile and unnecessary. Now, I read a pastor make exactly that assertion this morning. But, just because fundies make rules, doesn’t mean they get to decide who is or isn’t a Christian. Indeed, the ranks of progressive Christians are swelling.

    I had come to a belief in god THROUGH the inerrant WOG. Whatever god was, or at least whatever we could know about him, I knew was neatly contained within the pages of the Bible. I use the term Bible-god sometimes. For me, they really were one and the same. I believed in the Holy Spirit and his power, of course. But, nothing in real life even within my relationship with god could ever contradict the unmistakably clear teaching of the Bible. If something did, it was wrong. Pretty narrow, huh?

    I’ll give you an example (I’m going to switch to present tense for ease of reading and writing):
    1)Mormonism is a satanic cult and LDS members are most assuredly on the path to destruction if we don’t get in there and pull them off by showing them the many contradictions and revisions of the Book of Mormon.
    2) I have a tendency to be able to “spot” other believers even before they tell me they are believers. I can feel the Spirit within them. I’m usually right. Although I’ve gotten a few false negatives (they would claim anyway) I’ve never gotten a false positive.
    3)A co-worker of mine sure seems like a faithful person. I feel the goodness of the Spirit within him.
    4)He’s MORMON! *shudder*
    5)Well, I guess I got it wrong this time. He obviously can’t be saved and can’t have a right relationship with JC. He doesn’t even believe in the Trinity for crying out loud!

    What do you say to someone who views life through the girthy lens of a 1,000+ page book?

    Thanks for corresponding with me. I look forward to future discussions.