I was an evangelical Christian for 40 years, and I loved the Bible. I studied it intensely and devoutly. I loved the Bible with all of my heart. A necessary part of my de-conversion has been to understand those ancient stories in light of current scientific and medical knowledge. These stories were written by men with superstitious minds. Here is one example:
The story is told of a man possessed with demons whom Jesus met while traveling. This man lived "amongst the tombs" and was naked and cut himself. When asked directly the man said there were many demons "legions." And so the story goes that Jesus cast these demons out, curing the man, and that these demons went into a herd of swine (pigs) who then "ran violently down a steep place into the sea."
Deconstruction of this story involves taking the knowledge we have now and going back in time to explain those events. So here is how the story would read using todays knowledge.
There was a mentally ill man who was homeless. He suffered from a severe mental illness (probably paranoid schizophrenia with comorbidity), hence the man saying "have you come to torment me". Jesus et al apparently got the man some clothes to wear and after "casting out the demons" sat and talked with him probably sharing some food with him. People with mental illness do have lucid moments where they think they are cured. (A common problem in trying to keep those on psychiatric medicine, they think they are no longer mentally ill). Jesus and friends treated this man so nicely he wanted to travel with Jesus and his group. Jesus said no. Told the man to go back to his friends and tell them "how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee." One can only assume this is what the man did.
Scene two. The man tries to reunite with friends (who have been working tending to their farms and businesses) and of course needs employment. He explains how he is cured. They of course are terrified of him, because in ancient understanding demons could transfer residence to you and your family or animals. So where did the demons go? Then they remembered that farmer Benjamin had a herd of swine who violently ran down a steep hill and drowned in the sea! That is where they went! Case solved.
This so frightened the people in this village that they begged Jesus and his group to leave!
So the question is did Jesus "cure" this man, and did "demons" go into those pigs causing them to stampede?
Today we know a few things about mental illness, and what causes herd animals to stampede. We use this knowledge to improve the lives of those we love with mental illness and to maintain order in cattle yards for major food producers (like McDonanlds). We DO NO use superstitious thinking at all in treating mental illness or trying to prevent herd animals (pigs, cattle, sheep) from stampeding.
We know that mental illness is a fluctuating condition, and that on any given day a person can be lucid and very competent. Jesus and his team, would have had contact with this man for a short period of time. Demons did not go out of this man and he was not cured. The "talk therapy" (commonly used today by meeting with a therapist or psychologist) temporarily helped this man. The placebo effect of yelling at the demons to leave, combined with the kindness of clothes and food being provided, alleviated his symptoms for a short period of time. The man did feel better, and act better. But even Jesus did not want to take care of him full time.
As for the animals, many things cause animals to stampede, usually a sudden loud noise or an optical illusion that causes the lead animal to panic. We never associate stampeding with a sudden influx of demons today!
Once again this story shows the ancient mind at work full of superstitions. During a time when there was no TV, radio, Internet, phone, not even letter writing. There was no way to declare this man "cured". They probably never saw him again. During the short time they were with him, he was better. When they left I surmise that this man couldn't find employment, and that the "demons" returned and he remained mentally ill.
Deconversion is a painful process as beloved stories fall apart under critical scrutiny. Rather than using these stories as a way of understanding and living in our time in history, they should be recognized as what they are; stories used by superstitious uneducated ancient people to explain things they had no understanding of. We have better techniques for understanding things today.
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)