Friday, 28 May 2010

Christian Medical Fellowship and demonic possession of the mentally disordered

In these supposedly enlightened times, the Christian Medical Fellowship is publishing on its website material that would prove perfectly acceptable to the persecutors who wrote the malleus maleficarum five hundred years ago. The CMF presumably endorses the content of the essay, which considers that much psychiatric disorder might be a consequence of demonic possession (you read that right).

The following are quotes from this (not even pseudo-academic) bunk:

Demon Possession and Mental Illness (by Chris Cook)

For example, if people can become depressed because they are bereaved, or because of physical illness, why should they not also become depressed because of demonic interference in their lives?

...a psychiatric assessment may sometimes assist the non-medical minister to avoid attributing a primary psychological disturbance to demonic activity.

It would seem reasonable to argue that demon possession may be an aetiological factor in some cases of mental illness, but it may also be an aetiological factor in some non-psychiatric conditions, and in other cases it may be encountered in the absence of psychiatric or medical disorder.

As Christians in psychiatry, then, we have an important responsibility...The New Testament tells us that Jesus has commissioned us to ' drive out demons' (Mk 16:17), and we must be ready to respond to this commission if and when we are called to do so.

The astonishing thing is that at least one Christian psychiatrist, in an article buried amongst the Catholic rantings of the New Oxford Review, gives credence to such nonsense. In the article he gives undue prominence to his impressive list of qualifications. I want to write at greater length about doctors who hold religious beliefs, but lets concentrate on one matter at hand: how do such apparently intelligent believe such astonishing guff?

In  in Michael Shermer's excellent Why People Believe Weird Things (TED lecture here) he devotes a chapter to "Why SMART people believe weird things". Shermer examines beliefs in UFOs, intelligent design, resurrection and psychic phenomena by a roll-call of biochemistry professors, famous cosmologists, and those with multiple PhDs from leading universities. His conclusion? That smart people are good at proposing and defending ideas; when their thought processes go awry, they are even better than the rest of us at engaging in the cognitive biases and perturbations of reasoning that are necessary to accommodate weird beliefs. Their odd beliefs take root and endure for the same reasons as their host was thought to be smart in the first place.

That doesn't, of course, excuse the Christian Medical Fellowship from publishing material likely to stigmatise mentally disordered individuals who already face an uphill battle to dispel the multitude of public misconceptions about their condition.

1 comment:

  1. The reason medical doctors feel able to believe this is that their beleifs are based on the historically verified Gospel accounts. In a small country the size of Wales (Israel) there are numerous mentions of Jesus Christ having to free people from demonic influence. Why should society have changed so radically since Bible times? AS a Christian, it also took me a long time to accept the reality of demons, but plain reading of Scripture shows us that they do unfortunately affect humans from time to time.

    As Jesus himself said "You are in error, because you do not know the Scriptures". (Matthew chap. 22 verse 29)