Monday, July 31, 2017

"The Devil Made Me Do It!"

For century upon century (even before the tale of the serpent’s cunning ways in the story of the Garden of Eden was written) the existence of “demons” and the “Devil" has prevailed as a universal explanation for human sin and misery. This belief is in the Bible, abundantly so!  There is no escaping it—the belief in a demoniacal world is present in both the Old and the New Testament and if you take the Bible literally then you have to accept this category of thinking as reality.   Demonology played a large part in the ministry of Jesus and it has continued to play a large part in the life of the church.  Even John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Movement in the 18th century, held that many diseases were caused by demons, that dreams were often caused by demons and that most lunatics were demoniacs, and that to give up witchcraft was to give up the Bible.  Supposed demon-possessed people (witches) were killed in 18th century America.  Remnants of this demoniacal world remain with many of us:  the rabbit’s foot, the knock on wood, and the crossing of fingers.

But most of us no longer believe in demons today.  The realms where demons once operated have been invaded by scientific knowledge.  Insanity, once ascribed to demons—epilepsy, once regarded as evidence of demoniacal possession—dreams, hysteria, and other ills have been diagnosed, described, and at least partially understood.  Moral temptation is now seen as the result of our own evil impulses rather than “The Devil made me do it.”  All the human sin and misery of the centuries that have come and gone remain with us, but we no longer explain these as being caused by demons.

If this is so, how can I believe in the Bible?  Who ever said one had to “believe in the Bible?”  My belief is not in a book, but in the God the book attempts to describe in and through the categories of thought of the people who wrote it. Science accepts the rudimentary discoveries of Galileo, Newton, and Darwin, but it does not get stuck there—it moves on to new insights, new categories, and new understandings.  People of faith must not get stuck in old categories of thought either.

Once upon a time, our ancestors explained eclipses of the sun by saying that a dragon swallowed it.  Once upon a time, when I was a child, I believed in a world that contained an Easter Bunny, a Tooth Fairy, and a Santa Claus.  We have to surrender old categories of thought to the new.  The fact remains, however, life on this planet still includes human sin and misery, and the categories by which we explain it today may be better explained by those who follow us tomorrow.

We must always travel forward on the wonders,
new vistas, new answers are there.  We've already seen and
known the road that lies behind....

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