Image via WikipediaBy Lance_ec
I was just watching the movie "The Golden Compass" and was intrigued by the use of the word Demon (Daemon?) for the spirit of a person that walks along side them in animal form. My kids raised their eyebrows when they first heard it in the movie, since they were already familiar with the negative Christian use of the word.
So I looked the term up on Wikipedia, and a few other places and found a whole slew of differing ideas regarding demons from Greek, Roman and other mythologies. Mostly they seem to be something between divine and mortal. Some were good demons that helped and advised people, others were more of a hindrance. This is not really all that unexpected, as people attempted to make sense of the random events of the world and attribute these events to some intelligence that they assumed was moving behind the scenes. It also makes more sense to the ancient mind than a single god, since the random events of daily life are too sporadic to be thought of as being controlled by a single deity. Having lots of gods and/or demons interacting with humans and the world makes more sense in light of the complexities of daily life. It also helps get the Christian God off the hook for the bad things that happen, since you can blame it on one of those pesky little demons.
The reason I bring this up here is that I've heard lots said about the various mythological roots of the story of Jesus' life, but I had never thought about all the other random beliefs that find their way into the bible; in this case, demon possession and exorcism. I also find it interesting that there seems to be a difference in the concepts of demons in the Old vs. the New Testaments. I'm no expert, but it seems obvious to me that the pagan beliefs concerning demons got introduced to the early Christians and Jews via the Roman occupation. It is just another example of myths and religious beliefs of the times being mixed in with Judaism to create the whole Jesus myth.
What is amazing to me is that so many otherwise rational adults still believe that demons are invisibly flying around today wreaking havoc on humankind. They believe there is some sort of invisible spiritual war being waged around the world as well as inside our own heads. Oooh, scary!!!
But what is really scary for me, is that I used to be one of those otherwise rational adults that believed this crazy stuff. Luckily, the demon concept is one of the many parts of Christianity that helped flick on the light of reason in the rational part of my brain.
Part of me back then could believe in some sort of demonic influence on people's thoughts. But when reading the bible I saw that demons were also blamed for physical ailments and psychological disorders. I also realized that the exorcism thing was a total scam. It was obvious to me that demons were not responsible for all the things that people would have blamed on them 2000 years ago. If Jesus was God, wouldn't he have known that he was actually helping a chemical imbalance or neurological disorder in a person's head, rather than casting out demons? This, among other things, led me to question what else in the bible could have been invented by ignorant people.
Now I find it funny (or sad really) that people think I am currently under demonic influence. In fact, the owner of my previous company told me to my face that after my de-conversion she had told her kids to "be careful in conversations with Lance, because when he talks, it's not just Lance talking." Yup, she thinks I'm a mouthpiece of Satan, because unbeknown to me, demons are influencing my thoughts and using my mouth to spread their evil ideas. Which according to her are any ideas that don't fit her Christian worldview. Anything that goes against what she already believes must be coming directly from the gates of hell. That is quite an effective defense system to keep reason and logic - as well as any new ideas - from entering her brain. Bummer for her.
So there you have it. In my opinion, demons are a remnant of ancient mythology that got mixed in with other myths and religious ideas to form Christian beliefs. But this ancient remnant still works as a powerful deterrent against questioning beliefs or allowing reason to penetrate the thick wall that Christians place around their fragile faith. It is part of the reason that Christians feel that they can't trust their own thought processes, and it works alongside the fear of hell to keep people enslaved to a dangerous ancient myth.
Online Reading List
- An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish by Bertrand Russell (1943)
- Bible Teaching and Religious Practice by Mark Twain
- God is Imaginary
- Is there an Artificial God? by Douglas Adams (1998)
- Skeptics Annotated Bible
- The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (1795)
- Which Way? by Robert Ingersoll (1884).
- Why I Am Not A Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)