I think it is worth considering that the educated, in their belief in their own autonomy, are unwilling to acknowledge those things [such as demon possession] which are beyond their control.
But isn’t it odd that while educated Anglican exorcists all over the western world are sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting for the call to exorcise a possessed Anglican [Anglicans admit that demon possession is rarely seen in their churches, even though every diocese has a trained exorcist on standby]…Pentecostals are finding the possessed in every nook and cranny? Pentecostals (such as Pentecostal theologian Craig Keener) will suggest that this phenomenon is due to Pentecostals being more open to the Holy Spirit (than are stuffy Anglicans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians who rarely see demon possession). But isn’t it possible that this phenomenon is due to another cause: limited education and higher gullibility?
I suggest this same situation probably existed in Jesus’ time.
And another point: If these people allegedly suffering from demon possession in the Gospels were simply suffering from a medical condition such as a seizure disorder which you allude to in your previous comments, isn’t it odd that Jesus didn’t give these people the formulation for Carbamazepine or one of the other common anti-seizure medications? It would have been so simple and resulted in so much more benefit for these suffering individuals and to humankind in general. But alas, our ways are not His ways.
Anglican theologian: The lectionary reading for Trinity 1, Year C, is Luke’s version of Jesus meeting and healing the demon-possessed man in the ‘region of the Gerasenes’ (Luke 8.26–39). The account occurs in all three Synoptic gospels; in Mark (the shortest gospel) the story is in the longest and most detailed version; Matthew 8.28–34 is the shortest, and just includes the main points in summary; here in Luke, the story is only a little bit shorter than in Mark, and Luke includes much of the detail…continued
Gary: What I find odd is that in the Synoptics Jesus seems to find demons in every nook and cranny…yet not one mention of demon possession is found in the Gospel of John! I guess demonology did not fit with the theme of John’s gospel. It is also odd how prevalent demon possession appears to have been in the time of Jesus, but I can’t remember the last time my local Anglican priest cast out a demon!
Anglican theologian: That’s an interesting observation, and one that I think has been made before. Worth making some responses. First, all the gospels are selective, so in some ways it seems odd to us that any omit anything e.g. why do the synoptics not mention Lazarus? (There is a simple literary/geographical explanation.) Second, it is clear that some things we would explain in other ways are accounted for by demon possession. That is not a sceptical comment, merely noting that the gospels were written in a pre-scientific world. Thirdly, I think it is fair to say that the average parish priest does not represent the eschatological breaking in of the kingdom of God to quite the degree that the ministry of Jesus does. Therefore it is perhaps not surprising that the Evil One is not so stirred to action. Having said that, every C of E [Church of England] diocese has someone responsible for deliverance ministry, and friends of mine have been directly involved in this.
Gary: I did a little research on the subject of exorcisms and discovered this: Exorcisms in the ENTIRE Church of England are “rare”. See this quote from an Anglican newspaper, dated January 17, 2017:
“EXORCISM might be an activity with obvious appeal to the makers of horror films, but it is not a word that crops up much in conversation about deliverance ministry in the Church of England. The need for major exorcisms is rare, the Archbishops’ Adviser for the Healing Ministry, the Revd Dr Beatrice Brandon, says.”
If we only judged the prevalence of demon possession by the statistics of the Church of England, your suggestion that demon possession was much more prevalent during Jesus’ ministry due to the impending introduction of the “Kingdom”, would appear reasonable. However, as you are aware, Anglicans are not the only Christians on the planet today. If one searches Pentecostal literature, one finds that demon possession is still RAMPANT—all over the world! (See here) Entire crowds have been exorcised of demons by Pentecostal preachers, according to these sources. And what’s more, according to these Pentecostal sources, exorcisms in Latin America, Africa, and Asia are MUCH more prevalent than in the United States.
Isn’t it odd that demon possession, now and during the time of Jesus, seems to be much more prevalent among the uneducated, the ignorant, and the highly superstitious? Maybe the reason why so many Pentecostal clergy have exorcised MANY demons, but my local Anglican priest has never exorcised a single demon in his entire pastoral career is because all of his Anglican parishioners are educated, upper-middle/upper class people with sensible heads on their shoulders; people who would never jump up during a mass begging to have “Bob” the demon cast out of him or her?
Hypothetical: A church needs a new pastor. One group of elders in the church is certain that God has moved them to call Pastor X. However, another group of elders believes that God has told them to call Pastor Y. The number of elders on each side is equal. Both pastors are equally qualified and come highly recommended from other pastors within your denomination. Who is right and how would you know? How would anyone know which group is hearing God’s voice and which group is listening to their own internal dialogue?
Your choice of pastor story is complex only because it is concocted and artificial. My experience is that where such division is real, it means someone is not listening to God and may be pushing personal ambition, an ungodly state of mind. Such groups often fall apart. When they do not fall apart, I have seen apparently unrelated circumstances nullify the work of a partisan group, to the benefit of all who remained. In short, it can be taken out of our hands. Where people are united in their desire to follow Jesus, I have seen a whole group change mind to adopt the view of one person. That was because everyone genuinely desired the Godly response. In a God-focused context, your scenario will not arise.
Gary: How often does God answer prayers in the affirmative? Unless you can say 75-100% of the time, aren’t the odds of your prayer being affirmatively answered approximately equal to random chance? And if your prayers being answered in the affirmative are no better than random chance, how do you know that prayer actually works?
Conservative Christian: God only answers prayer as often as people ask for what warrants an affirmative answer.
Gary: Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” Jesus said if you ask ANYTHING is his name, he will do it.
Conservative Christian: Really? Does that kind of interpretation make any sense at all? Let’s keep our common sense, eh? It says, “… anything in His name“. That phrase, ‘in His name’, is there for a reason. It means that, as members of God’s family, Christians can speak with His authority. But to do that, we must also be acting under His authority. If a police officer demanded of a random stranger, “Hey, Buddy, go get me a coffee, now!” the citizen may rightly refuse; the officer would be acting outside her authority. Same for Christians. The implication of “anything” is that God invites our active participation in His work. Through the scriptures, God is saying in effect, “Here is our goal and purpose; here are your boundaries. Now, you tell Me, what would you like us to create together within that space?”
“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.”
–Leon Festinger, Stanford University psychologist
Someone who has “come to faith in Jesus the Christ” due to an emotional crises or due to a perceived “miracle” is rarely ever going to give up this belief due to evidence. Emotion-based beliefs are practically immune to evidence. Ever try to convince a friend that his girlfriend is cheating on him? If you have, you know that your evidence is almost always rejected. So maybe we non-supernaturalists should give up trying to prove religious supernatural beliefs wrong using evidence, but rather focus on the unreliability of emotion-based decisions. Maybe we should stop debating Christians regarding the authorship of the Gospels or the historicity of the Empty Tomb and instead talk to them about the events that led to their conversion.
How many times have you heard a Christian state that he or she converted to Christianity after a thorough review of the evidence? Ever? You can find such believers if you look hard enough but they are a small minority. Google the testimonies of many Christian evangelists and apologists and you will often find their conversion occurred due to a life crises. Is it wise for people to decide the veracity of fantastical supernatural claims when they are in an emotionally vulnerable state?
Maybe that is the issue we should be discussing with Christians.
Check out an excellent article that goes into more depth regarding the phenomenon of evidence vs. convictions: here
Evangelization doesn’t automatically equal fiction. Just because they [the authors of the Gospels] were writing from a bias and trying to prove a point doesn’t mean they were making it all up. The ancients could tell the difference between real history and pious myths. The gospels are written as actual history and don’t evidence the kinds of pious embellishment you seem to think they do. Compared to other Greco-Roman texts the gospels are positively restrained in their accounts of, say, the resurrection. Just because someone is writing from a bias or trying to prove a point doesn’t mean they’re making stuff up. Nobody is entirely free of bias.
And with the gospels, what they’re trying to get us to believe, is that Jesus of Nazareth was bodily resurrected in the middle of recorded space-time history. They aren’t trying to push a Christianized version of say, the Osiris myth. They knew it and their Jewish and pagan opponents knew it. Jesus was clinically dead then three days latter clinically alive again. Paul knew as well as you do how outrageous that sounds and yet he went to his death insisting that it had actually happened. The various theories that attempt to explain that away take more faith to believe than believing in the resurrection does.
You can’t accept the resurrection because your materialist worldview can’t/won’t allow for it. My worldview can/will accommodate that belief.
Gary: How can anyone living today, two thousand years later, know for certain that the Gospels were “written as actual history”??? We don’t know who the authors of these books were. Most scholars doubt they were eyewitnesses or even associates of eyewitnesses. Most scholars believe that these four books were written in an ancient literary genre that allowed for extensive embellishments.
Those are the facts, my dear conservative Christians. So why are you so certain that 2,000 year old tales of first century peasants seeing a walking, talking (resurrected) dead body are “actual history”? I say it is wishful thinking…which is another way of saying…faith.
Faith is not a virtue. It is a superstitious, irrational way of thinking.