Content Note: Discussion of depression, mental health issues, ableism
“28 When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who weredemon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way. 29 And they cried out, saying, “[a]What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before [b]the time?” 30 Now there was a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. 31 The demons began to entreat Him, saying, “If You are going tocast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” 32 And He said to them, “Go!” And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters.”
This passage and a few others in the 4 Gospels gives one of the famous accounts of Christ ‘casting out demons’. But as we navigate through this series for the month, we’ll come across different kinds of instances of demonic activity in scriptures. Of course, one of the themes is WHAT IS a demon? Is it the embodiment of evil or an actual being?… or maybe a little of both? And in what way does humanity’s crafted pop-culture units- movies, films, etc.,communicate even “secular” understanding of ‘demons’ ?
First thing’s first! It’s very clear that many folk ( some even Xtian! but many agnostics and atheists too) claiming that the demons spoken of in scripture are really just mental/psychological demons and they didn’t have another name for it at the time.. you know, since ‘modern science’ has all but disproven something like this, or at least made it very tough to believe..
Well, the problem with this is that it automatically concludes that those born with any number of mental/development disorders (including any number of intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, autism, etc.) are just perpetually demon-possessed and therefore unclean or inferior and to the extent that they could ‘have these demons cast out’ , they’d be healed and more righteous. I.e. disgustingly ableist. Now, I’d like to believe that most folks who make their case to all demons being only psychological don’t quite mean it this way, but this is essentially one notion we’re left with.. We must be mindful of that when we’re discussing the idea of ‘mental demons’.
The idea of a demonic stronghold in one’s life or in society as a whole, is often illustrated in scripture as something that the person may not have been born with as a biological/medical condition, but more so because of the presiding evil order of ‘the things of this world’. Perhaps because of empire? Let’s take a look at one- depression!
Depression is one of the leading psychological illnesses of our time in America. The recent death of Robin Williams helped to bring to light something that so many folks struggle with daily. Some say that that depression is akin to an illness that is diagnosable that we had no part in contracting, still I’ve heard other say it’s a matter of feeling a deficit in life purpose. Regardless, many will always state that if the person dies as a result of suicide due to struggling with depression, then “they had demons that they couldn’t overcome…”- so even in our Western materialist secular society we still hear the invoking of the demonic in everyday parlance when it comes to a disease as mentally burdensome as depression and suicidal thoughts. At its core, depression feels like a heavy burden on the mind of the sufferer that often coincides with some other event external to the person. Bullying, unemployment, and yes- even racism!
The mental burden placed on the mind of the one who if forced to immerse into some presiding hegemony often results in suicide. We see this in the sky-high suicide rates of Indian farmers who are struggling and embarassed by their inability to provide for their families because of corporate agro giants like Monsanto rendering them poor. Also, there’s even this article: The Link Between Racism And Depression , detailing the link between racism and depression. And speaking of colliding worlds causing depression, here’s this from the study : ‘”What’s more Asian-American women have long had the highest suicide rate of other women that age. Asian-American women age 65 and older also have the highest suicide rates for elderly women. For immigrants in particular, cultural isolation, language barriers and discrimination add to the problem”
One common theme we see between many cases of depression is the idea of , as stated earlier – a painful sense of purposeless, almost as if you’ve been forgotten or forsaken. And I couldn’t help but think of the consistent theme of “the old forgotten mansion” or “shack”, etc. that is also haunted. It’s almost as if being forsaken/forgotten is a prerequisite for the demonic, even in popular fiction! And who feels more forgotten than those who are oppressed by empire?
Let’s meditate on the link between being forsake and forgotten. The idea that Christ came to set the captives free. ( think, the phrase – “God-Forsaken!”). Christ’s ministry and power over the demonic proves that God has not forsaken His creation.
Until next time – we will explore notions of the demonic further and from a different angle, then!
For relevant posts on Ableism and Jesus’ confrontation with evil, check out these recommended posts:
Jesus heals a possessed man, or a man with epilepsy? by Sonja at Women In Theology
The Failure To Bother To Love: On Ignorance and Ableism by Katie at Women In Theology
Christianity, Disability, and Nonviolence #TheNewPacifism by Rod here at Political Jesus