Please excuse the novel here... I tend to try to explain myself so clearly that I go overboard, so sorry about that. Also, sorry if this is in the wrong category; I wasn't sure where to put it.
I grew up in a pentecostal Christian household, Assemblies of God to be exact (extremely evangelical believe-every-word-in-the-Bible-exactly group, for those who aren't familiar with it). I remember being told things specifically like "You don't have a conscience; that's the Holy Spirit telling you you're sinning." I remember thinking, "Yeah, because I'm incapable of figuring out when I'm doing something wrong on my own... Riiight."
I knew what hell and demons and Satan were even in early elementary school. I have vague memories of speaking with my school guidance counselor about a ("real," as in not from a movie or a show but documentary style) exorcism I had witnessed. I remember being told horror stories from a youth leader about her experience with demons, which included physical assault on her. I still fear the idea of hell and I've always had a very strong fear of demons (which hasn't gone away).
Anyway, during my journey away from religion entirely I began to be confused by my own thoughts. When I no longer really believed that a God existed and I wondered, "What if I'm wrong? What if I go to hell because of this?" I've had a lot of fear even about just coming to terms with even using the word "agnostic" to describe myself.
Something similar is when I think of things like the fact that I'm going to make sure I have a wedding ceremony with absolutely no mention of God or religion of any sort, something in my head sort of mocks me by saying, "You're just trying to be difficult and defiant." I know that's not true; why would I risk eternity in hell if I really thought it existed? I don't know what that voice is though, or where it's coming from.
Those thoughts aren't always in the front of my mind by they are, and I just keep wondering if they're "God is trying to tell me I'm wrong" or if it's a totally normal human response because leaving a religion can be a scary experience on its own and my brain just needs to relearn things.
I'm not sure if anyone else has this problem, but in a way I'm hoping so because maybe someone could help me understand my "own" thoughts/why I'm having them. Is it normal? I don't really even know if this will make sense to anyone else.
Tiffany - I think you're talking to me... If not this will be terribly awkward, lol. But if so, thank you! That means a lot to me. My home growing up was emotionally abusive aside from anything religious so it happened regardless. I don't want any children of my own but if I ever have any, I'm definitely taking your route and raising them to learn for themselves and question everything! Again, thank you very much! <3
They aren't what you want to be thinking, so I don't think those thoughts are from you; I think they're the result of many years of indoctrination. (imho)
From early on you were told those aren't your own thoughts in your head, but those of the Holy Spirit, so wondering if God is trying to tell you that you are wrong seems to be seeded doubts laced with paranoia from the instillation of fear that happened to you in your childhood and growing up. Help yourself heal by continuing to push those paranoid thoughts away.
That makes sense. They've all been implanted and have just festered there for years until now it's difficult to discern mine from "theirs." Thank you for your reply!
I can relate to your concerns about whether or not you are right. I used to practice a type of Christianity for some time that was very aware of "spiritual warfare". My sister was with YWAM and went through a whole "spiritual warfare preparation" class before going to Haiti. She came back with stories about how demons attacked her during spiritual warfare. They made her feel physically drained she said. She stated she could feel the oppression the moment that they stepped onto Haitian soil. As I was only 12 or 13, I was incredibly fascinated by this other realm of angels and demons.
I read the book He Came to Set the Captives Free about how the regional bride of Satan had sex with this woman and made her his bride for the regional chapter of a devil worshiping cult.
After I had a conversion experience of my own, at a Pentecostal church, I started to study Christian scripture. I intensely studied the Bible as a layperson for about 8 years. I began to question this spiritual warfare thing, yet I knew people with stories about exorcisms. I started to realize that "Strongholds" and the spiritual possession of objects just didn't make theological sense.
I enrolled in a Christian college, and as I worked on my biblical research degree, I began to get a clearer picture of what the biblical text was actually saying about those matters, and some notions in Pentecostalism began to no longer make any sense. I began to study the early Church in an academic sense as I was working on this degree. Around my junior year, I made great leaps in my study of the early church as I became aware of ancient Christian extra-biblical texts. A study of church councils and the non-intervention of God in them and the subsequent horrifying aftermath of that nonintervention caused my seemingly unshakable faith to just waver one night as I was reading up on church history. My thought process was that if God wasn't intervening, then obviously theology didn't matter to him.
I transferred to a different college and completed a degree in biblical studies. I still tried to hold onto finding that key to ending my doubts on a reasonable basis. I enrolled in seminary. There, I found out a number of things about the formation of the OT and how the archaeological record contradicts a great deal of what the bible says.
I dropped out of seminary, and eventually enrolled in a masters program for counseling, which I am currently in process of completing. My background in lay theology taught me the theology of many denominations. The academic study taught me the theology of the Christian scholars, and it also taught me the secular interpretation of scripture as an ancient historical manuscript containing revisions and fables that helped solve political aims for various authors. My study of the behavioral sciences has helped me have a psychology-based vantage point on how this all works for people still involved in this "Personal relationship with Jesus" thing.
It is a good and healthy thing to doubt yourself. It is good to re-evaluate your positions on a regular basis. What I would like to give you are the tools that help reassure you that you are not deceived by Satan, that this is not an issue of spiritual warfare, that this is just the sad reality that all the hope promised by the Christian faith is false hope.
I am very good at seeing things from the vantage points of others, that gives me an uncanny ability to measure the internal consistency of a differing viewpoint. I can show you the countless internal inconsistencies in the Christian faith from a theological perspective instead of only an atheist one. I can also help you understand what was going on during those "exorcisms" from a behavioral sciences perspective.
I think the idea of "strongholds" makes perfect sense.
"5 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, 7 in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. 8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, 10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, Colossians 3:5-10
Once we begin to identify the strongholds, we need to wage war against them."
Is it useful to blame Satan for leading us astray - or ourselves? Or should we blame ourselves for not fighting against Satan, and letting ourselves engage in slack behaviour? (whatever that might mean to the individual.) I don't believe in Satan by the way.
It's interesting what you're saying about demons and possession. When I was ill with depression 16 years ago, there was a three-month period where I saw demons just about every day. They looked exactly like the demons in medieval woodcuts, the classical images. It was a full-scale demonic attack. They had the horrible voices to go with it. Every afternoon when I lay down on my bed and looked at the wall, they would appear, and come out at me, trying to drag me back to hell. "You're coming back to hell with us." They would criticize me and all my thoughts. Once the walls of the room came apart and there were flames in the gaps and horrible arms reaching through. I had to fight them with my mind, and then they would shrink back. It was hard work. Without Prozac (yuk) it would have been a lot harder. At the same time, it was fascinating. I used to see all kinds of other things as well, mainly threatening things to do with death. For years afterwards I used to see piles of skulls when I would shut my eyes, and was feeling bad about something. Only recently have I stopped seeing bizarre images when I closed my eyes - that had some connection to what I was thinking. These weren't disturbing though. Funny usually.
So there you go. Maybe that's where all the myths come from - somehow this stuff is hard-wired in.
Wow, I'm glad you've gotten past all that.
Counselors have to be very careful, because clients can accidentally begin to manifest symptoms of disorders just based on the assumption of the counselor that the client has it. It is called therapeutic suggestion. It is believed that many if not all of the dissassociative identity disorder cases are a result of therapeutic suggestion. It is pretty reasonable that they are a result of this phenomenon of suggestion.
I only glanced at the link, but it is talking about mental ones there, but there is a theology in some forms of Charismatic/Pentecostal Christianity that the possession of objects provides demonic doorways to the demonic realm which enable the demons to get a "foothold" or stronghold there. They also have a doctrine of generational curses, where demonic possession in areas of life such as those attributed to alcoholism, abuse, ect are generational demonic strongholds. It is a messy messy thing.
But since you are interested in the secular philosophical value of the work of religious philosophers, I can see how you can what you mean about this link which deals with how you manage your thoughts and feelings. I honestly find great value in the Ephesians passage about the armor of God as they appear to be mindsets that have a general philosophical value when taken in principle and divorced from their religious overtones.
I can see how it would be difficult to provide counsel about such a thing and how it could cause more fear and problems if done the wrong way. Ack, it's such a horrible topic to begin with. :( Wish I'd never heard of it!
I think one of the reasons I still have a fear rather than just throwing it out like everything else that I have is because even completely unreligious people have claimed attacks and whatnot... So I guess it seemed like demonic presences were a separate entity from religion entirely, if that makes sense. Either that or I'm just scared no matter what? I don't know.
That sounds more than horrible. I honestly don't think that that's something I could take. I have so much fear without actually ever seeing anything demonic that I know of. You are obviously extremely strong and I'm so glad to hear that you've gotten past that!
dizzyduckie, I think the reason I could cope with it was because I always had a firm belief that those things were being produced by my own mind, and I knew they were just a manifestation of how bad I was feeling. All I had to do was ride it out. However, I also I knew I was in danger of being sucked right into madness, and that didn't look very nice.
Like I said, it was a fascinating psychology laboratory in itself, so I was kind of entertained at the same time as clinging onto sanity with my fingertips. Actually, it was really groovy. Something to do.
I've never been bothered by this stuff ever since - only at that time, when I had been under extreme stress, and my mind broke. I believe that at times like that, the mind tells itself stories as a way to express / cope with what's going on. The physical version would be something like throwing up, or fainting.
I'd already been through years of crap by that stage, I was used to being completely wrecked and destroyed.