I don’t believe in literal, physical demons… In fact, I bet even those that believe in demons, don’t believe they’re actually made of stuff, of atoms, for example. People that believe in demons typically believe in a “spiritual realm”, in which these “spiritual things” happen. What is this “spiritual realm”? And supposing such a realm exists, how does it influence the physical realm?
Sketching out my views
The “spiritual” side of humanity is, to me, something about a way of life, a way of being in this world. Something I don’t want to go into in this post. I will just resort to hoping that everyone would agree the interface between the “spiritual” side of humanity and the real, physical side of it, is in the mind.
Shofarians might believe that the “spiritual realm” is something completely independent of the mind: if we were all “mindless” matter, there would still be a spiritual realm. I don’t believe that. I believe the spiritual side of humanity is dependent upon the mind and its experiences, beliefs, and perspectives of the world… I believe that demons are in the mind, a construct of the mind. And so I agree that they can influence the person that believes in them. Beliefs can influence behaviour, as well as how observations are interpreted.
Consider for example the history and current research about pain, from the description of a course by a Dr Sean Mackay:
Pain is a universal human experience. Ancient civilizations attributed pain to demons and curses, the Middle Ages began to see evidence that pain is involved with the brain and nervous system, and Leonardo da Vinci developed the idea that the spinal cord transmits sensations to the brain. Today, Dr. Sean Mackey, who leads a multidisciplinary team of researchers at Stanford, carries that torch forward with groundbreaking studies in functional neuroimaging of pain. One study in particular that he will discuss involves the use of real time learned brain control which offers the promise of changing the abnormal pathology in the brain of patients with chronic pain.
I’ve also heard (hearsay, ) that people used to believe the “mind”, that thing which has thoughts and pulls the “strings” of the body, existed in the forms of spirits dwelling in the empty regions of the head, in the cavities. Or what about the things that were considered as taking place in the heart, an idea that lives on in our metaphorical language? We have since learned that this is not the case, having learned that the brain controls these functions and processes the signals from our senses.
Does this take away anything of the beauty and truths that can be found in scripture from two thousand years ago? No, I don’t think so. The stories in the Bible are, to me, primarily about “profound truths”, not about science. (The Bible is not a science textbook.) We might have much more knowledge these days, we might have evolved a radically different culture, but in terms of being human, we are really no different from the ancients. Similarly, the profound truths have not changed. (Yes, something of a logical fallacy, because I have that by definition: those that change aren’t profound truths! ) The value of the stories is found in what they mean and what they stand for.
Real Live Preacher made a video clip titled Reading the Bible #6 (Demons & the 1st Century Worldview) as part of his series on How to Read the Bible wherein he provided advice to those interested in doing so. His take on demons, for those that are interested:
The Power of Demons
So, in one sense, I don’t “believe in demons”. However, in another sense, if working with a broad enough ontology, I’d be happy to agree that they exist — in the sense that a “demon” is a concept which has a tangible influence. As mentioned above. (Does “love” exist? It is a concept… not a physical entity.) As I mentioned, and as RLP seems to touch on in his clip, having a belief in demons is what gives the “demon” power. You find what you look for…
Thus, I think that by not believing in demons, they no longer bother you. For “conservative” Christians, that should be achievable by believing that Jesus “defeated them all”? Alternatively, pick up a good dose of skepticism or have more of a “modern scientific worldview”. To repeat myself: I sincerely believe the best way to exorcise demons is simply to stop believing in them, or if you are too fearful of that, by focusing on the positive and letting it drown out the negative: apathy towards demons.
So now you should have a good idea of how I see things…
Implications for Shofar’s PR
Many of my posts attempt to explain conflicting cultures to one another. This post is one of those. I believe I’ve sketched out not only my own beliefs, but that these beliefs adequately represent those of the majority my non-Shofarian friends, or even the general belief of the majority of the fragment of humanity that had the privilege to get a modern education. (Because yes, we’re all privileged.)
This section attempts to explain the implications of these beliefs for the way the world sees Shofar and similar churches. I ask that Shofarians understand this section in that light, as an opportunity to understand some of the criticism and concern that is directed towards the organisation you’ve chosen to entrust your spirituality to…
With regards to Fred’s letter and press release about the recent streaker and pepper-spraying incident, a number of my friends agree that streakers were being childish, irresponsible or criminal, but their alarm at the news was mostly towards how Fred May responded to it in that letter and press release, about how he dragged demons and conspiracy theories into it. One friend wrote, and I’m translating to (imperfect) English:
Wow I’m out of touch with what these people believe. These days I pretty much feel “live and let live”, but these kinds of ideas just seem so unhealthy
Shofarians, understood in the light of how we view these things, can you understand why we’re worried about it? Francois Malan (oh, I know two Francois Malan’s, this one is not in Shofar and is currently doing a PhD in the Netherlands) is somewhat more outspoken, and wrote the following (in Afrikaans, translation below):
Ek sien Shofar as ‘n middeleeuse (“dark ages”) denkskool en sekte, wat geen plek het in ‘n verligte samelewing nie. Hul praktyke val in presies dieselfde kategorie as aanbidding van toordokters. Al die gepraat van “intercessors” en “demone” is absoluut verwyderd van enige rasionaliteit en logika, asook van kritiese en vrye denke – juis die waardes wat ‘n universiteit nastreef. Hul brood en botter bestaan uit “conspiracy theories”, half-waarhede, en in die ergste gevalle leuens.
Hierdie studente het waarskynlik ook ‘n ernstige probleem met Shofar, maar met hul poging om hul minagting vir die kerk te wys, gekoppel aan kinderagtige en onverantwoordelike ekshibisionisme, het hulle vir Shofar ‘n groot guns bewys. Die studente het krimineel opgetree, en moet gestraf word. Niks kan hul gedrag regverdig nie, en was in uiters swak styl. Maar Shofar behoort, volgens my, nie deur die Universiteit ondersteun te word nie. Hulle is onder ons grondwet vry om hul geloof te beoefen, maar as daar enige sprake is van “okkulte aktiwiteite op kampus” dan is húlle die vernaamste oortreders.
Ek voel sterk hieroor…
I see Shofar as a medieval school-of-thought and sect, which has no place in an enlightened society. Their practises fall in exactly the same category as the worship of witch doctors. All the talk of “intercessors” and “demons” is absolutely removed from any rationality or logic, as well as from critical and free thinking — exactly the values that a university strives towards. Their bread-and-butter consists of conspiracy theories, half-truths, and in the worst cases lies.
These students [the streakers] probably also have a serious problem with Shofar, but with their attempt to show their contempt for the church, in conjunction with their childish and irresponsible exhibitionism, did Shofar a huge favour. The students acted criminally, and must be punished. Nothing can justify their behaviour, and it was in really bad taste. But Shofar should, in my opinion, not be supported by the University. Under our constitution, they are free to practice their faith, but if there is any talk of “occult activity on campus”, then they are the primary transgressors.
I feel strongly about this…
Shofarians, can you understand Francois’ reaction? Can you understand that, from the perspective explained above, if we were to say that demons and the occult exists, in the sense that believing in it creates it and gives it power, then yes, we would agree there are indeed demons in Stellenbosch… however, more importantly, we would then be forced to conclude that:
it was Fred May that brought them to our town.
Can you see how that conclusion is reached? Can you understand why we would feel that way? Aren’t you also antagonistic towards people that you believe brought demons to your home town?