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7/18/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Supernatural or Explainable?

By Bill J

I've had some interesting experiences during my Christian life.

I was directly involved with a couple of exorcisms on people in our church. One involved a lady in her 50s who came to me for marital counseling. About the second session I'd asked her to recall some of her childhood. She told me a horrific act of child abuse perpetrated by her father. At some point she changed the subject, so I asked her to repeat something she'd said earlier. She tried to avoid my question, but I asked her again. Then she told me she didn't know what I was talking about. I wasn't sure what was happening, but I later discovered she was suffering from a dissociative disorder. She had slipped into a dissociative state and was talking to me as if she was a child again. It was fascinating, because in another session I asked her to write some of her story, and her writing was like that of a child's. I also noticed that when she was in her childlike state she took off her thick prescription glasses. I held up some printed material of varying sizes and asked her to read them. She read them from across our counseling room without the need of her glasses. When she returned to her normal age, she could not see without the glasses unless things were right in front of her.

At some point in our many sessions she made claims that her father was a satanic priest and had done horrible things to her and other people. Because of her claims I thought I should set up a meeting with our pastor and some other church leaders to come and pray for her. I asked a psychology professor from my college to join. Our pastor, the psychologist, myself, and a couple other people met to pray for her. Because of my Christian worldview at the time, I suspected my client might have a demon. When we prayed for her, a character manifested with some demonic name. It acted out and said all sorts of stuff; however, there wasn't anything supernatural, like in the movies. I really don't want to go into detail as I am embarrassed to tell anyone I ever thought this poor client of mine was demon possessed. It was also over 15 years ago, and my memory is no longer as sharp as I'd like to believe it is.

I've since attributed the exorcism to dealing with someone who had a dissociative disorder, and a bunch of people, including myself, as forcing our world view into a situation that really needed specially trained psychological care. I'm happy to say that I eventually corrected my erroneous line of thinking and changed my approach toward counseling. My client went on to complete a college degree, and last I heard, she was doing well.

I have spoken in tongues, prayed for people and watched them fall over, cry or start laughing. I was at a conference in Anaheim California where Paul Cain (alleged prophet) proclaimed that people called to serve God would experience a physical manifestation to confirm the call. I watched him call out various ministries like, pastor, teacher, and evangelist. At that time in my life, I really thought I'd been called to be a pastor. As soon as I heard the words missionary and church planter I began to cry. It was as if someone flipped a switch on my emotions. It was really strange.

I also saw a woman (Sandy) healed from deafness and cervical spondylosis right in front of my eyes. Sandy was our sign language interpreter during the service. She was mostly deaf; however, she claimed to needed two large hearing aides that she'd had since she was a child. She said she could not hear anything but tones. She also claimed to have spinal problems and occasionally used a walker or wheelchair. When she and her husband came forward for prayer, I remember thinking I should pray for her healing right there in front of the church. I began to pray for her spine. I laid hands on her back, and as I prayed for her spine, she jumped up and straightened her back. Then I felt impressed to pray for her hearing. As I was praying for her hearing, her eyes became as wide as saucers and she quickly pulled the hearing aids out of her ear (our worship team was playing in the background at the time). She said the music all of a sudden exploded in her hears as she heard music clearly for the first time. I walked behind her and asked her to repeat back what I was saying. People in the church watched in amazement as she started repeating every thing I said.

A week later, when she was at work without her walker or hearing aid, one of her co-workers gave her life to Christ as a result of Sandy's healing. Her husband was dumbfounded by the healing. You have to understand; this lady had all the trappings of someone who was mostly deaf. She had the special phone service, TV with closed caption, big hearing aids, a deaf accent and so on. It bothered me that she would not confirm the healing by going to her doctor. I asked her to, but she explained that she felt like she would be second guessing God or something like that. To this day I can not prove if she was healed. I lost touch with her about seven years ago. I have very little reason to doubt her; however, my training and life experience leads me to check and recheck the facts before I draw a conclusion. Her failure to produce confirmation from a medical professional still makes me suspicious.

Another incident, which I can not so easily explain away, involved two vivid dreams I had one night while away on military duty. The first dream was of me telling someone in my family a bunch of Bible verses, and they were just shaking their heads in agreement, but not really listening. I awoke from the dream with the strangest feeling. It was like someone was trying to communicate with me. Because it felt so different from my regular dreams, I decided to asked God if this was more than a dream.

The next night, I dreamt of the same family member, who lives in another state far from where I lived. I saw them in a restaurant with a woman other than his wife. I also felt what seemed like feelings his wife was experiencing in their marriage. When I awoke the next day I felt the same strange sensation that this was more than a dream. It was so different from my typical dreams that I eventually decided to call this person as soon as I completed my two week annual training with the National Guard. Eventually, when I returned home and had time to call him, I was tentative, but I explained what I saw and experienced in the dreams. I did not draw any conclusions for him. I just told him what I felt and what I saw. He was very quiet, but eventually told me that everything I told him was accurate. He even told me that I had described the woman and the restaurant exactly as they were. He had been contemplating having an affair with this woman, but decided that he could not go through with it.

Conclusion

I cannot explain away the feelings and pictures I saw in those dreams; however, neither do I draw any definite conclusions from them. My family member (whom I had the dream about) attributes it to a prophetic gift that I have. I have had other experiences; however, I can explain them away or attribute them to my perception, beliefs, or frame of mind at the time. I question the healing of the lady only because she refused to see a doctor to confirm the miracle. I doubt the exorcisms after having experienced a few cases in Southern California in the early 90’s involving false memory syndrome, multiple personality disorder diagnosis, and alleged satanic ritual abuse cases. As a result of these experiences I quickly learned how a Christian belief system can influence the perception of good people and perpetuate harm on needy people.

I really don't know where I stand today regarding God. I have many problems with Christianity, and the more I read sites likes these, or think about it, the less I want to have anything to do with it. I was just wondering if anyone else can relate to what I've written.

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23 comments:

Micah Cowan said...

A really thought-provoking post.

First off, I would really, really recommend you run—not walk—and get yourself a copy of Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World which deals rather solidly with the subject of demonic possession, as well as satanic cult abuse. It might put your counseling session in another light. And, despite its title, demonism comprises only a fraction of the topics in the book, whose overarching theme is rational materialism combined with open-mindedness. I enjoyed this book so thoroughly, that it inspired me to buy several others from different authors, whose thoughts and words were mentioned in Sagan's work.

Of course, no one can know for certain other than the "deaf" woman, but the evidence, to me, points rather squarely at sham. It's just very difficult to accept when the perpetrator would have had to have gone to such lengths.

As to the dreams, I can offer little help. Certainly, strange things do happen that we can't always explain. I might offer the hypothesis that you subconsciously picked up on subtle signs that your conscious mind could not even begin to put together; and that, combining this with some basic knowledge of trends in your family member's tastes, your subconscious used dreams to communicate this information to your conscious mind. Or, all of that could be hooey.

But, the important thing to understand, and I applaud you for your apparent understanding of this, is that the mysterious does not equate to the supernatural. The idea of God can only exist because we feed all of our ignorance to it, and are compelled to give a name to that which we don't understand—and in our hubris, must declare that, since we don't fathom it, it must belong to the realm of the unfathomable.

Brock said...

Regarding prophetic dreams, the usual explanation, which appears to have a lot going for it, is that we take certain dreams as evidence, while discounting or ignoring the majority of dreams which have no apparent prophetic component. i know a woman who regularly predicts the imminent death of someone or other, and almost as regularly is wrong. However, her family is convinced that she has the prophetic gift, and cites as evidence the one or two times when she was right. She also tends to make her predictions regarding people who are known to be in ill health, similarly to the note above about picking up on subliminal cues.
I have also seen my fair share of healings during my fundy days, and the usual relapses sonn after. I remembver one man who asked for prayers to help him give up cigarettes, and I saw him outside smoking directly afterwards. The unfortunate effect that this had on me physically was to receive prayers for aspects of my own health, which I then neglected to follow up on with a physician. Needless to say, the result was that the condition would get worse until I broke down and went to the doctor, who would make pointed observations about neglecting one's health. When I finally got it through my head that miracles did not happen automatically as a result of prayer, I began to distance myself from the group.

Nvrgoingbk said...

There ARE things that happen that the educated just can not explain away. Much as they'd like to, they are not able to apply scientific explanations to everything, which leaves one wondering just how much is going on behind the scenes.

I have some very intimate friends and family members, including my husband, none of which would intentionally decieve me regarding such things, relay some very disturbing events to me. I have heard personal stories of NDE's and encounters with the "supernatural" that are too damned powerful to deny. There are supposed sightings of UFO's that defy explanation and there are people from all over the world that risk being expelled from the military, the police force, being publicly ridiculed, etc. who adamantly profess to have seen or experienced an encounter with something from "out there". The same events have been corraborated from countless individuals living in different corners of the world who never had a chance to get together and conspire and have nothing to gain and much to loose by coming forward.

I, myself have never experienced the "supernatural". If I have, I am unaware of it, but I must admit being envious of those who have. Like Jodie Foster's character in "Contact", I would be FIRST in line to volunteer myself as a lab rat and eplore the unknown even if it meant I never came back, but I'm earthbound for now.

As far as healings from prayer or any answered prayer for that matter...well, I've just never seen ANY evidence for it whatsoever. Sure, I've heard friends brag about the healing power of prayer and attribute this or that to prayer, but solid proof has never been offered, and I've never really seen or experienced anything to make me even suspicious of "God" doing so. I have a seriously deluded friend who has skin cancer on his face. The first one he had disappeared after his church prayed but another one has quickly replaced it in just about the same place. He has neglected seeking medical attention for it, because he "hasn't had the time" and is expecting prayer to do the same for this one as it did for the last. Why, I asked him would God care so much about your easily treatable cancer and answer THOSE prayers, but not those of a child being buried alive by her abductor and rapist who has been attending youth group every week and loves the Lord with all of her heart? Why would "He" care so much about the woman in your church and her deafness when by all accounts, she lived a productive life and her "disability" was not of the dibilitating sort, but not heal (without the intervention of a team of skilled surgeons) a child with a tumor on her face so large she is going blind and can not even chew her own food? Why would he care more about one congegration's finances and need for bigger facilities and neglect the sincere cries of a Romanian orphan asking God for a home, and why, oh why, would "God" care so much about one Christian giving him all the glory for saving them from one minor car accident but not steady the hand of one's oppressor in war torn Sudan about to have her breast amputated by machete simply for refusing to bow down to Allah?

I can not deny the possiblity of the "supernatural", but to attribute any of the unexplainable events to "God", especially the God of the Bible...well, I just can't. None of the supernatural events I've read up on or been made privy to seem to have any religious connection AT ALL and since this is an Ex-Christian website, I thought I'd make that clear. Attributing these happenings to "God" and religion is where so many go wrong.

Anonymous said...

I second the suggestion that you read Sagan's "Demon Haunted World."

Kat

Fretbuzz said...

Hi Bill - thanks for your time to relay these experiences. I too, came from a background where demon-possession, prophesy and healings were the norm. Even though most of my family has moved away from the fundy circles, several members still believe that big papa healed them from various ills, diseases or injuries. They still speak of dreams they had, or relay how others dreams were so "correct" that it must certainly be the lord in action.

While those accounts were (and still are) interesting to me, something does not sit well with the "package": and that is the apparent source behind the happenings. I suppose after reading many worldwide accounts of similar events, many in regions completely devoid of christianity, I realized that the phenomenon went beyond the exclusionary christian boundaries. This is what I think is the achilles heal of christianity - that they claim absolute ownership of holy miracles and deliverance ..

Is there a way to "explain" these events scientifically? I think there will probably be a lot of people on this site who will try to, but I'm not sure we're there yet in our understanding. Possession from MPD? Maybe. I have always thought that prophesy was similar to reading a fortune cookie - if include enough phrases that gets your listener to relate to you, then everything you've said is "correct". So much of the realm of healings and prayer I think is still being explored in quantum physics and other related fields. I would not use the word "supernatural", but perhaps "ultranatural" to point to phenomenon currently beyond our investigative abilities. Again, why put the word "God" to the source of these events? All that does is remove it from our world and place responsibility elsewhere.

We live in this world and nowhere else. We experience life here too. Perhaps after we learn to directly commune with this place (and not with an idealized realm .. geesh, when are we ever going to get out of Plato's cave analogy??), we might get a little respect back for our home as well ..

All the best in your journey Bill - great reading. Larry.

Bill said...

Thanks for the book suggestion. I will read it. Thanks for the comments too. I've thought many of the same things regarding why God would heal one person and not the other. I've seen people claim healing and a week or month later they are ill again. Christianity is not consistant nor is it verifiable. There is always some excuse as to why a healing or prayer didn't work. We do what we believe and we believe what we do. That can make for a terrible mess if our theory of life, relationship and God is wrong. I've seen people hurt or mislead by pastors and Christian counselors.

jimearl said...

Along the same lines of this story, my wife has a good friend whose brother is dying from prostate cancer. He discovered it over three years ago and opted for prayer and healthy eating instead of medical help. He is now on his death bed. I think it's a shame that we allow religion such a hold on people, but what can we do. When this poor guy dies, the real tragedy will be that the religious will not change their ways nor even see a problem.

I know another friend that swears he witnessed the "healing" of a person years ago and that incident keeps him faithful to this day.

Magic doings in church are much more powerful than the magician we see in shows and on tv. But it's trickery just the same.

Bill said...

Just to make myself clear on the issue of possession, I no longer believe that demons inhabited my client. After working with this client and a few others like her, I realized that someting didn't add up with my Christian worldview. I felt decieved and tried to bring this up with other Christian leaders and ministers in my church. They just sort of looked at me and didn't have much to say. It amazed me at the time, because I couldn't beleive they didn't want to explore my concerns. They seemed to be sold on the fact that they had helped this woman, and others, be delivered from a demon and that was that.

I've come to understand that some people only look for the truth as long as it fits within their belief system. It's hard for people to put aside their desire to be righ and just look at the facts without some need to conform them to their paradigm, worldview, perception, etc. When I was a strong beleiver I used to think I was objective and open to truth. I've since realized there are many levels of self deception. The older I get the more I discover about myself and life. I get it when people say, "The older I get the less I know".

Bronwyn said...

I'd like to comment on healings. I turned away from Xtianity about 4 years ago. Twelve years ago I gave birth to a daughter with severe heart trouble. She had her first open heart surgery at 5 weeks, 2nd at 4 months and several over the next few years. She still has them, but they are few and far between.

At the time of her first surgery, the mortality rate for such small children having open heart surgery was very high. She swelled up so much, they had to leave her chest cavity open for 3 days while her body returned to it's normal size. When I went through this experience with her, I was a very devout christian. Immediately following the surgery, they couldn't stop her internal bleeding, didn't know where it was coming from, and said if it didn't stop in the next 45 minutes they'd have to go back in. The mortality rate doubles when they have to do this. My family went home and gathered everyone to prayed for her. As I was standing there, begging God to stop her bleeding, it stopped. It didn't wind down, it just stopped. I was so grateful to God, I ran out of the ICU and called my family to tell them the good news. No one answered. I had to call again. When they answered the second call, they said they'd not wanted to stop praying to answer the phone.

I know that that bleeding stopped as they were praying for my daughter. I can't deny that, but I don't believe God had anything to do with it. I believe there are things we don't understand yet, about intention and energy and focus. I think my family did stop her bleeding.

One of the biggest things wrong with organized religion and Xtianity itself, is that it doesn't allow you to take credit for the good you do. I believe that there are alot of things that we, as humans, are capable of, that we assume are out of our reach or only available through God. I believe in self healing, and more.

All the people who claim that God saved them from drugs or other bad things in their lives, make me mad. God didn't do that, YOU did that. Let us all recognize the magnificent creatures we are, however we got here.

Sorry to take up so much space. Also, I'm excited to read the Carl Sagan book. He and his wife are/were amazing people.

ST. JUDAS ISCARIOT'S disciple said...

the exorcist or whatever you need mental help....you need to be exorcised first..how come you became a professional psychologist without any training in the field? it is a pity that a large percentage of the world's only "hyper power" believe in ghosts..makes me long for the 'no nonsense' lenin types..a capitalist lenin that is..

Bill said...

Judas,

What are you trying to accomplish with your statement?

For anyone that might be curious, I have an undergraduate degree in counseling and psychology and a graduate degree in counseling.

Ryan Scott said...

About the deaf woman, its quite possible that her deafness was psychophysiologic. Just a possibility, and one that makes a hell of a lot more sense than her being healed of deafness by god.

Lorena said...

Bill,

Is a god needed for clairvoyance to be real?
Or
Are prophetic gifts evidence that there is a god?

Could it be that some people's brains have the ability to scan the airwaves, sort of speak, and to learn information telepathically?

Maybe there is something physiological about the brain which allows the sorts of experiences you describe (perhaps science will confirm that someday).

Don't you think that if you shut down the "gift" just because you can't explain it would be akin to ignoring who you are? Isn't that the same as shutting yourself down for the sake of "Christ?"

Before you took "all your thoughts captive" to Jesus. Are you now trying to accommodate your thinking to the idea that there is no god?

How is that better for you?

Bill said...

Ryan & Lorena,

Thanks for the comments. Lorena, I don't beleive I have any special gift. I just had some unique experiences and wondered if anyone else experienced similar stuff. The dreams I had came to me when I was away on military duty and had a lot of time on my hands. All I had to keep me entertained was a pocket new testament. I must of been reading it every day for a week when I had those two dreams. Maybe there is a connection. I can think up a few, but either way the experience was very different than a regular old dream. I'm glad I had some of these experiences. They keep me from closing my mind to other possibilities.

pikd said...

bill
thanks for giving a post like this.I have been wanting for someone to answer for a question like this...i still have some questions lingering on exorcism ...i read some spiritualism writers talking about quantum physics ...i think these sort of things need to spend times on the sector of psychology
I think our brains have amazing powers/ability like other animals but we simply deform from these abilities.I mean if you kept saying that you are sick and cant be well,your sickness will be worsen & the same goes to wellness.
As far as i knew,in nlp context,dreams that really happen is just you run"""ahead""" of time.
(if i am mistaken pls correct me...i just heard it from a nlp teacher who slightly gone a bit of the negative side)

anyway for carlsagan's book,here's a link for the audiobook version
http://www.greylodge.org/gpc/?p=60

pikd said...

mystism was strangest thing i have ever dealt with.

ST. JUDAS ISCARIOT'S disciple said...

Practising occult will result in unbelievable bad karma. One's inner energies must be used for peaceful purposes only. Focus on the Yang, Judas says. Yin is part of us too as a result of accumulated karma from this life and the ones before. More Yang and a positive karmic balance sheet is what you need to strive for. BTW positive Yang do something good for the society, be charitable, do good in your work, you don't have to be "religious" per se..

JUDAS THE MYSTIC

boomSLANG said...

Judas: BTW positive Yang do something good for the society, be charitable, do good in your work, you don't have to be "religious" per se..

Agreed, but neither does one need to be "mystic" to "do good in their work", or be charitable, etc. Moreover, the fact that extemely terrible things happen to good people; the fact that really great things happen to bad people, should be a pretty clear indicator that there is nothing "karmic" going on.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bill,

as one who has been exorcised...
and diagnosed with a dissociative disorder,
i would really really love to comment.

it happened about 17 years ago. i wish you were one of the guys there because i would love it to be one of them realizing the harm they caused and apologize. i wish one of them would have just come to me in some of these years afterwards and asked how i was doing? i want to hear them say, 'oh my god!! i just learned about ptsd and i can't believe we did that to you... are you ok? can you forgive us?'

i didn't know anything about ptsd or dissociation when it happened. but i do now. i can't believe that neither the pastor or the psychologist present (and who the church paid to 'counsel' me for months afterwards when i became a temporary basketcase) never realized that i was experiencing normal reactions to traumatic events and did not need to be exorcised. and then that my reaction afterwards, to their recklessness, was a normal reaction to their intervention, further complicating my ptsd.... and not proof that i was still demonized as they insisted.

it's a long story. it was a far reaching destructive event because it really messed up my marriage and affected my kids. it messed me up too obviously. my ability to hold my life together was shattered at that point and it has been a long time picking up the pieces.

i never had any demons. i did have dissociated parts of myself though which i have realized now in the past couple years of working with a trauma expert.

i left the church when i got myself together and the church just loved all over my poor poor husband. they prayed like crazy for his mental demonized wife and gave him such wonderful support.

my husband is still a born againer. yeh this causes huge problems.

i don't care if there is a god or not but i don't think there is.

i believe in energy. and referring to the supernatural stuff you mentioned, i think lots of people have the ability to use their energy or harness some other energy out there and create healings. i have seen energy workers do some amazing things. and it is the same as with the church faith healing..... most of the time the healing only lasts for about 5 days if that. in the church the leaders claim it is 'god' and then blame the 'healed' person when they don't keep their healing or get their healing in the first place. energy workers can be just as bad and judgemental too. lots of them are no different than the church faith healers.

but i don't think there is any inconsistency with believing in energy and not believing in a god. i think there is tons we don't understand. i believe the dream experience you had was real. there are people in my family who have had similar things. ...which was another reason the church believed i was possessed, because to them any knowledge gained outside of the bible had to come from the devil.

i do believe it is possible for that deaf woman you knew to have had a real healing.

by the way, when i searched on the net a while back about exorcisms as a treatment for dissociative disorders, there had been several studies which showed harmful results for the recipients. based on my own experience, i think it is harmful because when a persons insides are divided and even unknown to the person, then the casting out of demons is actually casting out of the persons dissociated parts of themselves. a big huge damaging no-no.

alanh said...

Bill, you or someone else should follow up on the hearing-impaired woman. If she actually was cured of her conditions her case should be published in a medical journal, but as you know there has to be good before and after data. Here are some criteria from a great article on faith healing from quackwatch.org:

(1) the ailment must be one that normally doesn't recover without treatment; (2) there must not have been any medical treatment that would be expected to influence the ailment; and (3) both diagnosis and recovery must be demonstrable by detailed medical evidence.

If faith healing actually works then it could easily be verified scientifically, yet that still hasn't happened. However, even if she was was cured how would we determine that her cure was due to the intervention of a "supernatural" entity, and not some undefined natural phenomenon? The same question applies to your dreams - assuming you had no foreknowledge whatsoever of your family member's intentions, and it was more than a prediction on your part or an amazing coincidence, how could we determine that your dreams were due to the intervention of a "supernatural" being and not the result of some ability that you possess?

Anonymous said...

I definitely relate to what you are saying. Although I do have some problems with Christianity, I cannot say that there is no God/Spiritual realm. I have had and witnessed too many encounters with the spirit world.

Bill said...

Alanh,

I have thought about tracking Sandy down, but as you said, there is really no way to determine who or what healed her (if she really is). Regarding the dreams, I didn't know anything about my relative's dealings with another woman. It was a surprise when he told me.

My family has a history of such things (dreams, vision) happening. It goes back at least a couple of generations. I am not a spiritualist nor do I seek any form of spiritual power, energy power and anything like it. I find much more comfort in just dealing with the rational. The crazy thinking created by Christianity was enough for me. Thanks for the post.

Bill said...

To Anonymous,

First I'd like to say I'm sorry that I was one of those people who used to believ in demon possession.

I was able to back track, while working with my clients, when I was still a part of the church. I eventually worked with them to deal with the here and now. I put all of the other stuff aside and just helped them learn to manage their emotions and dissociative states.

It sickens me to see religious people shove others into pigeon holes and dismiss them as being demonized, or full of sin, or whatever else they think they are.