The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 03 Jul 2017, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Psychic attack

‘Our church is under psychic attack,’ read the email, ‘from the Evil One.’ And that was almost the last communication I had with them, before I decided that any adult human who could type this with a straight face was either ill, or else so convinced that a world they had called into being through sheer force of imagination was real, that they should be avoided. Later I heard that they had fired a female worship leader, who was wholly blameless, because a married man fancied her. I realised, with a shudder and with a moment of relief, that evangelism really wasn’t my bag.

The idea of demons, psychic attacks and goodness knows what else is a very common one in the evangelical movement and can even be found in mainstream Anglican churches who should know better. When I did the Alpha Course some years ago, we were encouraged to go to a church service at the local CofE church, which I duly did. The subject of the multimedia sermon was demonic possession and the person leading it encouraged us to approach people who they felt had demons and ‘bind’ said demons in a way that wasn’t immediately apparent.

Mental illness was mentioned, and a person I later got to know who visited one of the church’s home groups said that they had been encouraged to flush all their psychoactive medication down the toilet and rely on prayer. As the person in question suffered from severe depression and a few other complex conditions, this advice, imparted by a man in a three storey Georgian town house in a leafy part of town, would either have killed him or led to a sustained stay on a psychiatric ward. Thankfully, the person in question had enough sense to see the advice for what it was, to wit, a piece of dilettante idiocy from a man whose only really concern was what socks he wore, and avoid the church like the plague.

But the idea of demons recurs again and again in Protestant theology, and its purpose to me seems horribly clear. The point is to bind the church members together, much like an army or nation facing a supposed external threat and stop them thinking too deeply, because if they started thinking, then they might come to the conclusion that there were more significant adversaries than the vaguely delineated ones they were given. We’re talking about things like poverty, deprivation, suffering, brutality and unconcern. These are the things that Theresa May who, we’re regularly told, was a vicar’s daughter, would have been exposed to and which her government either doesn’t care about or is actively set on increasing. Properly understood Christianity would find these things to be repellent, to be a stain on its soul and an insult to everything that the Man it takes its name from lived and died for.

That it doesn’t is because it’s otherwise engaged. It’s obsessing about demons and psychic attacks, rather than actually voicing its strident opposition to the things that Jesus would have abhorred. It’s obsessed with gay people, when Jesus clearly couldn’t have given a stuff. All of these divert its energy in ‘safe’ ways that make Christian morality seem wholly unengaged and as serious as the idea of a sandal lightly pressing against a human face forever. Were church leaders rightly to note that the Bible isn’t inerrant, that a text translated and passed on by word of mouth was likely to be full of errors, but that the predominant message from Christ was one of love, we’d all be in a better place.  If there are demons, and your thinking is that way inclined, then might it not be the case that they’re causing poverty and the other evils of the age, and that the best way to combat them is to address the causes?

No, of course not. What you really care about is what people’s sexuality says about them and what the God revealed to you by a book which is full of errors has to say. You don’t worry about getting to heaven and being asked why you didn’t love enough by a God who apparently is supposed to be the incarnation of love, but about Scriptural accuracy, which seems like a very unusual emphasis indeed. And you’re similarly exercised about is whether someone was stopped from wearing a cross or for praying at work, or watching Jerry Springer: The Opera, despite the fact that your entire religion started out as a protest movement.

Over in America, the reform of healthcare which, with grim hilarity, sees pregnancy as a pre-existing condition but not impotence, is being acclaimed as a way that poor people will get closer to God, presumably because they’ll die quicker. This may seem insane, but it’s a logical extension of an obsession with the intangible over the actual which drives so many churches. Never mind that you’re sick, hungry and heartbroken, just put your hands together, pray, and somehow you’ll be ennobled by your condition, rather than reduced to beggary. There is, perhaps, something less Christlike than mouthing pious homilies when people suffer, rather than trying to reduce that suffering, but I’m not sure what.

Christianity is not a form of freemasonry, in which you care about supposed Christians to the exclusion of all else, or only care about people because you want them to join your sect. We were once told, at Alpha, that all conversations with people in the secular world were to be steered around to faith and favours were to be explained with ‘I did that because I’m a Christian.’ This is babble. Good things are to be done not because you seek converts or you want God to like you in some great and obscure way, but because they are self-evidently the right thing to do. German theologian Dorothee Soelle hypothesised that we are to be God’s hands and eyes, and I think she’s right. Get involved and fix the things that are tangible and that are broken, and the rest will shift for itself. While you worry about a demon, the others will be doing practical work. Some of them won’t be Christians, and you know what? I doubt God cares.

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