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So...yeah. My friend is a very sweet and well-meaning girl, who has a very strong Christian faith (Evangelical Christian). I'm a diehard scientific rationalist raised in the atheist tradition of the political Left, though I consider myself agnostic rather than atheist (my stance is that it's impossible to know either way whether a god/gods exist or not, seeing as you can't test it and all experiences are subjective). Anyway, I digress. Last night we were chatting for while and got to talking about evolution (subject of my next exam) and then religion/Christianity in general sort of followed on from that somehow.

I was explaining how I just can't take a leap of faith so therefore can't believe in god. She asked whether I'd ever really tried and I told her that I had...it ended up getting quite personal and I told her that I'd spent some time genuinely trying to "find god" a couple of years ago (this was when I was in rehab/early recovery and seemed required to find a god of my understanding as part of my recovery - although I didn't tell her what the context of the search had been). I tried my best to pray regularly and even went through periods of abject desperation where I would be literally on my knees crying and genuinely begging for god to help me. But nothing ever came and I never felt any comforting presence or whatever I was supposed to have felt. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that either god either doesn't exist or doesn't really care about me (which is what I'd felt before really, because I could never understand why, if god did exist, he would have allowed the terrible experiences I had in childhood to have happened to me. I mean, if I had children then I'd do my best to protect them from harm...).

To cut a long story very short, her take on this is that there must be something within me that stops me from having a relationship with god...and after a bit of quizzing, this translated as her basically saying that I must be possessed by a demon. I questioned her a bit more and it turned out that she even believes in exorcisms to rid people of these evil things. It would seem that she even feels that my periods of mental torment and depression could be down to my being possessed. The evil voices that tell you you're worthless, should die, etc? All down to the demon! Though I should be clear - she does not believe that all mental illness is due to demonic possession (or perhaps she backed off from that a bit when she saw how horrified I was).

Now while I am mostly capable of rationalising this and dismissing it all as complete bollocks, there remain some irrational niggling doubts that I can't make myself let go of quite yet. It's ever so tempting for me to embrace this theory because then I could justify to myself all the things that I think are wrong with me and find a convenient exuse for them which definitively makes all my defectiveness not my fault. I can't help being possessed, it's not that I'm dirty and disgusting after all! I could tell myself, "Yes, you are evil, just like I knew all along, you worthless piece of shit. Hah, demons! Well I always knew you had those! But it's ok, perhaps you should go to this church with her and see if they can exorcise you and cast out all your evil...they might be able to fix you...". And so on.

Unfortunately this has only added another voice/stream to my thoughts which goes something along the lines of, "Yes well you would try to convince yourself that all this wasn't real wouldn't you, because if you really are possessed by evil then that evil would try to make you think that it wasn't real in order to secure its own existence".

Aaargh. I know that this can't really make sense. I'm a scientist and a rationalist and a non-believer in most things...I would never even begin to buy this theory it was about somebody else with mental health problems who just didn't believe in god. But when it's myself, it's sickeningly appealing. Hey, I've always known that I was tainted in some way! This is not doing my mind any good.

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I really hate when I am "engaged" in these coversations ..especially in public ...because am of the same feeling... but lean more towards Athiest than agnostic these days...oh yes I have had similar confrontations

when it comes out that I have no religion ..omg then the work begins if I let it!

my friend on time made a comment about Satan and "his" control over my life ...

my answer was

"honey you have to believe in the devil to be afraid of him"

her answer

"that is Satan talking through you"

my answer

"ok then you better cover your ears because he is going to start babbling now!"

it is a loosing battle I promise as logical as we feel in all of this the "Believers" feel as strongly that they are rright ..so all you can do is shrug and know in your heart there is no devil controling your being

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many people just gotta have their gods and superstitions. no matter how illogical, no matter how contrived, no matter how foolish-they gotta have a belief system or life is too overwhelming for them. always, always run away from them as conversations will be out of the question. they will spout at the drop of a hat and make you crazier than we already are. this has served me since my teens fifty years ago.

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"... this translated as her basically saying that I must be possessed by a demon. "

Nah. I can crack into this starting from the "must":

no, there are other hypotheses. Now, why, amongst those, should this one be worth paying much attention to?

Especially if it's coming from someone who does not appear to be able to countenance the alternate possibilities?

(You might, or might not, care to question her on her credentials in this area.)

The God/Demons/The Fall etc. route is easy... it is flexible enough to fit any situation which makes it, to my mind *too* easy.

Remember Napoleon, Laplace and Legrange:

On Napoleon asking why there was no mention of God in Laplace's "Celestial Mechanics"m he replied

"Sire, I had no need of that hypothesis."

Later when this anecdote was told to Lagrange, he is said to have commented commented: "Ah, but that is a fine hypothesis. It explains so many things."

Yes, explains anything you like... No evidence required.

This is the trouble with really good flexible paradigms: they can fit in almost any datum.

"Why are you painting white lines in the road?"

"To keep the tigers away"

"But there aren't any tigers around here!"

"Good stuff, isn't it?"

---

"You must be possessed by a demon. "

"I don't think that's a sensible position..."

"Ha! Only someone demon-possessed would be unable to see the obvious truth! My diagnosis is confirmed!"

---

This does not, of course, prove she's wrong.

Just rather works at the grounds for thinking she's right.

Yours, former Christian, now atheist

(And I've had to defend that in some theological fire-fights before now)

Chris Brown.

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Hi. It sounds like you've got most of the cogent arguments for and against, at least to the extent that there can be cogent arguments for the supernatural we by definition cannot know. Yes, agnostic and skeptic, here.

Do you know why you would find this appealing? I mean beyond the obvious you stated? For example, it would release you from responsibility is one that you mentioned. I can understand the appeal of that. But, (of course), how could you be responsible for depression in the first place? It is a biological system, chemistry in your head. That's not something you can control. Perhaps this is highlighting that you haven't come to terms with not having power or control over that. Dunno, but it's a difficult acceptance so maybe applicable. And, the things that follow in a depressive state, the things you would not do if not for the depression. Not to say you don't have a real measure of control here, but it is not fair to say it's a complete control. Then there is assuming responsibility. From the little I've read of your posts is that you are a very responsible person but even the most responsible can get a little weary of the burden. Hmm. I'm rambling a bit, but trying to say that this might be part of you saying you are not quite so clear in accepting that which you don't control and in forgiving yourself. And maybe more so, accepting that sometimes no one is in control. Idk. Just putting stuff out there.

One logic question. If it is not the way of a god or gods to govern in an individual way, why would it be reasonable for the devil to do so? I mean, pestilence and famine are so much easier to impart on the masses. What is it that would make one person so special as to be individually sought out for possession? I guess that's two questions and I guess you could say that I find some of religion quite egocentric. Btw, I've had demonic-like psychosis when depressed. It is not so hard to believe something else is taking over when the world becomes so dark and you are other than yourself. Something else has taken over, just identifying what is the question. For me it leads to empirical logic when I'm not in that state. I have a hard time taking on faith the existence of demonic creatures for which their is neither proof nor rational argument that stands up to empiricism. In short, I've come to believe that psychosis played a significant role in the development of this thing called devil and it probably gave rise to stories of demonic possession. That, of course, is deciding that the egg came before the chicken, that psychosis-like experiences begat the devil and that demons are not the cause of psychosis, the negativity that surrounds depression, and by extension, bad stuff that happens. Heh. I'm a bit of an egoist, but this is what works for me. Hopefully, it does not offend anybody.

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A lot of my psychosis and anxiety has its roots in religious imagery, I have a interest in it and I have a passion for religious study.

In the end, I tell myself that I am a basically kind person, with good wishes for myself and the people around me, and I'm not the sort of person who would be a very effective tool for Satan. I'm not morally perfect, and I am flawed, but I'm not cruel or vindictive, I don't pleasure in creating pain and chaos. It's much more likely that when I feel my thoughts are being hijacked, that it is a distorted reflection of my own mind.

For instance, the other week I was deathly afraid that I might stab my boyfriend. Now I love and adore him and would hurt myself before hurting him, I would never want to hurt him in a million years. The thoughts I was having of stabbing him weren't my own will. But when I reasoned it out with a professional therapist, we saw that the thoughts were a extension of my own natural worry that I might somehow ruin or destroy our good relationship, which means a lot. The rational worry that I might fuck up had mushroomed into an anxious rumination of a literal 'ruining' because if I stabbed him, I really *would* have ruined our relationship. The fear was just being maginified.

In reality I have never been violent and my risk is very, very low.

I also have thoughts and voices that put me down and insult me. I used to believe they were satanic beings. I now know that it is a normal chemically based thought process rooted in depression, and also it's a former reminder of abuse I have gone through in my life. I'm used to being put down by key people in the past, and because it's familiar, and comforting, my mind continues it. It reflects my deepest fear, what if I am no good in reality?

The thing is, I do have talents. I do have value. People tell me so. Logically I can see it. The voices aren't sinister, they are just a trick my my mind. Frightening at times. I don't watch demon possession themed movies because I am so prone to that fear. But it's just my head being a bit fucked up.

I hope that my own experience helps here.

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trying to say that this might be part of you saying you are not quite so clear in accepting that which you don't control and in forgiving yourself.

...sorry for wahooing something said to someone else, but this one line really struck hard...

Forgiving myself for being depressed and ill...feels too much like surrender. Forgiveness is something I'm terrible at, including forgiving myself, and I have let myself down so many times. I don't like or trust me right now.

I tried being Christian as a cure for depression when I was a teenager. Didn't work. I never felt comforted. I did the crying/pleading/begging thing, and really sincerely tried to "take Jesus into my heart." Never was the agony relieved.

To me, depression being an organic disease process is a lot simpler than positing a monotheistic god,a devil, a heaven, a hell, and a bunch of supernatural beings, outnumbering the population of humanity, that fight over us one by one.

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I'm used to being put down by key people in the past, and because it's familiar, and comforting, my mind continues it. It reflects my deepest fear, what if I am no good in reality?

What Karuna said.

My depression is my demon. Though the meds keep her at bay, sometimes she strolls into my mind and heart without knocking. I've named her which has helped with recognizing when she is around. My SO can see when she is around even better than I can.

Lately she has been a shadow of her former self. But I do take full responsibility. I fight and battle and win and lose. I find help and support, solace when able. I try to take it easy on myself when she is around. But she is a demon to be sure.

I don't know about god. I do believe in the connectedness of everything - me, you, the tree, the rock, the ocean. That is my god. There is horror in my god (death, earthquakes, injury, illness). I guess there is no joy without the tears. No happiness without pain. Sort of like there is no free ride. But this does not mean that whatever I long for will not happen. Thinking that 'someone' will take away what I want most is my demon talking. I put her in a little box and send her out to sea. (or at least try to.)

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Nah. I can crack into this starting from the "must":

no, there are other hypotheses. Now, why, amongst those, should this one be worth paying much attention to?

Especially if it's coming from someone who does not appear to be able to countenance the alternate possibilities?

(You might, or might not, care to question her on her credentials in this area.)

The God/Demons/The Fall etc. route is easy... it is flexible enough to fit any situation which makes it, to my mind *too* easy.

...

Yes, explains anything you like... No evidence required.

This is the trouble with really good flexible paradigms: they can fit in almost any datum.

"You must be possessed by a demon. "

"I don't think that's a sensible position..."

"Ha! Only someone demon-possessed would be unable to see the obvious truth! My diagnosis is confirmed!"

Yes, I do agree - of course there are other hypotheses, many of them far more plausible than the demon possession one. Rationally, I know that. If I question her credentials, as you suggest, then it's clear that this friend has an abject lack of experience in the areas of mental health, science or healthcare. The useful, functional, rational, well-educated, sceptical and sane part of me/my mind understands that idea of being possessed by a demon is blatantly ridiculous and there are many better explanations so, on that level, I completely reject it. You're absolutely right, it is far too flexible a paradigm and I've never really been convinced by what I see as the endless "get out clauses" that religious doctrines seem able to conjure up to explain away any inconvenient questions, exceptions, etc.

What is odd to me is how much the idea of me being possessed resonated with some weirder, darker, irrational and emotionally-wilder part of me/my mind. Again, it's the knowing vs feeling dichotomy that I so often struggle with - it can be very difficult for me to to try reconcile the two. It's as though my "sensible" brain just can't properly get through to the other bit of me. As a result I often do my best to do away with feelings altogether because I don't like how out of control they can be (although I'm getting progressively better at living with and dealing with them) - hence why I used to self-harm and then later liked to drink a lot to numb it all or drown things out completely. I suppose I would almost like that "out of control" bit to be some sort of demon that could then somehow be exorcised and thrown out permanently. The whole thing is appealing in its potential simplicity.

Do you know why you would find this appealing? I mean beyond the obvious you stated? For example, it would release you from responsibility is one that you mentioned. I can understand the appeal of that. But, (of course), how could you be responsible for depression in the first place? It is a biological system, chemistry in your head. That's not something you can control. Perhaps this is highlighting that you haven't come to terms with not having power or control over that. Dunno, but it's a difficult acceptance so maybe applicable. And, the things that follow in a depressive state, the things you would not do if not for the depression. Not to say you don't have a real measure of control here, but it is not fair to say it's a complete control. Then there is assuming responsibility. From the little I've read of your posts is that you are a very responsible person but even the most responsible can get a little weary of the burden. Hmm. I'm rambling a bit, but trying to say that this might be part of you saying you are not quite so clear in accepting that which you don't control and in forgiving yourself. And maybe more so, accepting that sometimes no one is in control. Idk. Just putting stuff out there.

Thank you so much for this insight - I think that you have absolutely hit the nail on the head. You're right, at the end of the day I do have a really hard time trying to accept that my mental heath is not something that I can (completely) control. I accept it for other people, but I can't accept it for myself. I have carefully worked-out and self-enforced strategies to do my best to keep it all in check, but even that doesn't give me total control. Although I know that it's a biochemical imbalance and it isn't my fault, it's not that I'm weak, etc, I can't quite get past the feeling on some level that I must somehow be doing something wrong, that I haven't found just the right way to manage "being normal" yet. It's painful to think that I am not 100% in control of my own life/self/"destiny"/etc. Yes, I am still to some extent in denial about my mental health problems. I still can't get past the idea that I could someday somehow just DECIDE with all the maximal force of my willpower to BE WELL and GET OVER IT. I would never tell a mentally ill friend, relative or patient to just "snap out of it", but that's essentially what I keep telling myself. I even have a motivational note-to-self stuck over my desk that tells me, basically, that I am finished with being sick and that my agenda is wellness. I want to be able to purge the "defective" part of me and be perfectly well-balanced. Argh, you know, "maybe if I just keep trying...".

My mum had bouts of mental illness when I was a child, our roles became somewhat reversed, and in my childish misunderstanding I vowed that I would never "let myself" be like that. I am still raging against the idea that it might not be entirely my decision. I just don't want to have to accept that this is me. I want to force myself to be fine! So yes, I suppose the idea that the problem could some sort of demon instead of actually being an aspect of my own being is very appealing, because at least then I could have it evicted from my mind and be CURED.

Having re-read the above, I'm aware that I really should probably think about having some more pyschotherapy. I've got meds (though I'm currently on yet another likely-misguided and ill-fated mission to stop taking them, because they feel almost like a pharmaceutical admission of defeat), but I've been mentally freestyling for a bit too long now, perhaps. I made good progress when I was having regular therapy about two years ago, but the sessions came to end after my "aftercare" time from being in rehab ran out. Most of the therapy I had focused very little on addiction and more on other issues, as it has been the opinion of more than one psychiatrist that my addictive behaviours were the result of mental health issues rather than addiction being the primary disorder. Which is interesting, as the "force of will" management approach has worked pretty well for the drink, just not so well for the mental health problems...wait, I'm digressing again.

In the end, I tell myself that I am a basically kind person, with good wishes for myself and the people around me, and I'm not the sort of person who would be a very effective tool for Satan. I'm not morally perfect, and I am flawed, but I'm not cruel or vindictive, I don't pleasure in creating pain and chaos. It's much more likely that when I feel my thoughts are being hijacked, that it is a distorted reflection of my own mind.

...

I also have thoughts and voices that put me down and insult me. I used to believe they were satanic beings. I now know that it is a normal chemically based thought process rooted in depression, and also it's a former reminder of abuse I have gone through in my life. I'm used to being put down by key people in the past, and because it's familiar, and comforting, my mind continues it. It reflects my deepest fear, what if I am no good in reality?

I hope that my own experience helps here.

Yes, that does help, thanks. I also feel that, like you said for yourself, I wouldn't be the sort of person who would be a very effective tool for Satan. I do know that I'm not really a bad person - I just lose sight of that sometimes when things are going pear-shaped and I can't think rationally. In fact I try my hardest to be good, to treat people in my life kindly, I give my time to social causes that I care about...hell, I went into medicine because I wanted to do something to alleviate the burden of human suffering (all sounds very grandiose, doesn't it?!). Yeah, that sounds like I'm really up-myself. I just mean to say that I know that I'm fundamentally not all bad, even though I'm flawed.

It's interesting that you say that maybe the internal insult stream could happen because it's familiar and therefore comforting, so you carry it on just because it's what you know. I hadn't really thought of it as perpetuating what you're used to, like a bad habit. I know in CBT I was told to "challenge the inner critic" and try to change the thoughts, but I've never really thought of them as secretly fulfilling a sort of comforting purpose, even it's a twisted sort of comfort. I guess I'm also used to being put down in many ways...maybe I do bully and torment myself just because it's familiar.

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The God/Demons/The Fall etc. route is easy... it is flexible enough to fit any situation which makes it, to my mind *too* easy.

Yes, I do agree ... -

What is odd to me is how much the idea of me being possessed resonated with some weirder, darker, irrational and emotionally-wilder part of me/my mind. Again, it's the knowing vs feeling dichotomy that I so often struggle with - it can be very difficult for me to to try reconcile the two. It's as though my "sensible" brain just can't properly get through to the other bit of me. As a result I often do my best to do away with feelings altogether because I don't like how out of control they can be...

I know that one, and have chased it round and round. (me, Asperger's and INTJ on the Myers-Briggs)

It doesn't take demons as Demons. You can get there via Freud or, what is rather more fun, the old SF film "Forbidden Planet".

"Monsters from the Id!"

The reflex-and-instinct brain is hard work to keep civilizing reins on, though I am *just about* persuaded that too tight a rein can actually be counterproductive.

Not that surprising, then, that there is a certain appeal to a simple and emotional answer.

But these things can be traps:

not least the writ-large "father figure and family" of many religions. Comfort and authority.

Chris.

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is it okay if I PM you? I've grown up in church and my faith is really important but even to me some of what you're friend is saying sounds a bit whack. I don't feel totally comfortable posting it on the forums just yet.

Yes, that would be fine, I don't mind people PMing me.

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The reflex-and-instinct brain is hard work to keep civilizing reins on, though I am *just about* persuaded that too tight a rein can actually be counterproductive.

I'm also just about persuaded of that these days - I don't think that attempts at emotional lock-down do me any good, really. It's tempting to keep on trying to repress difficult emotions, but I do accept that it's not necessarily healthy (although I'm still a fan of a certain degree of good old-fashioned British "stiff upper lip", haha). Probably better to try to work through my issues rather than sticking my fingers in my ears and going "la la la, I'm not listening...".

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The reflex-and-instinct brain is hard work to keep civilizing reins on, though I am *just about* persuaded that too tight a rein can actually be counterproductive.

I'm also just about persuaded of that these days - I don't think that attempts at emotional lock-down do me any good, really. It's tempting to keep on trying to repress difficult emotions, but I do accept that it's not necessarily healthy (although I'm still a fan of a certain degree of good old-fashioned British "stiff upper lip", haha). Probably better to try to work through my issues rather than sticking my fingers in my ears and going "la la la, I'm not listening...".

One has on occasion been accused of being "anal-retentive", but then I've never quite seen why "anal-expulsive" would be something to aim for!

I've definitely preferrred the dark (alias dry, black and twisted) humour approach, coupled to a minimal emotional response to hard times,

rather than the

"When in trouble or in doubt: run in circles, scream and shout" approach.

I feel there is not much need to go beyond the bowl of petunia's response. "Oh no, not again."

But then Douglas Adams was *very* British.

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  • 2 weeks later...

This is a wonderful problem I think. One I have thought about for many years. When I am approached by these fundamentalist characters I try to understand them and why they cling to delusional myths. There must be a good reason for it, we have always done it. I think it's just a survival mechanism to make the harsh realities everywhere around us more bearable. I don't blame them.

You mentioned the rehab thing; I too have been there. I have a real problem with drugs and alcohol, one that was about to kill me if I didn't quit. I saw that my mother was doing well with AA so I tried it and stayed for a total of 15 years. Right away I knew I needed to find a way around the whole god thing if I was going to stay there. Because he is mentioned in the AA book I decided to study the work of Carl Jung and that is what saved me. While he was not the most rational of scientists, he spoke of a "spiritual function" embedded in our psyches that we have always relied upon. That helped me to understand.

I learned that if I was having a problem doing something I really needed to do (I've always had lots of these), prayer actually helped. I determined that prayer in these kinds of personal situations is nothing more than a kind of self-hypnosis and it is valuable in getting around all the twisted hangups we tend to have.

Anyway, being a rational skeptic is not easy for me but I see no other way to live.

I lived in my last apartment for 16 years and I found out that after I left the strict catholic owner had the place exorcised. Made me sort of proud!

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