Demonic possession (was Re: [asa] The Big Sleep)

From: Murray Hogg <>
Date: Tue Sep 09 2008 - 16:37:12 EDT

Hi James,

Thanks for the contribution!

As a first approximation it seems, then, that we have a few lessons to learn from this;

1) That extreme psycho-pathology and demonic possession result in the exhibition of largely similar symptoms.

2) That distinguish an instance of demon possession from one of extreme psycho-pathology thus requires deep familiarity with the later (and an obvious willingness to allow possibility of the former!)

3) That the ability to make such a distinction is not reducible to rule. That is, just as with any clinical diagnosis there is a tremendous onus upon the skill of the clinical practitioner such that it may not be possible to fully describe why a particular diagnosis is the appropriate one in a given instance.

4) That there is, at least, an extensive process of elimination of well-recognized psycho-pathologies.

5) That there is need to investigate the alleged para-normal aspects of the case in order to eliminate potential deceit and/or error.

6) That when assessed from the perspective of a person (a) trained to PhD level in clinical psychology and (b)with extensive experience in the treatment of extreme psycho-pathologies and (c) who allows the possibility of demonic possession; the instances of demonic possession (as opposed to extreme psycho-pathology) are rare.

Which brings me to my "what should a Pastor do" conclusion;

C1) When faced with an instance of apparent extreme psycho-pathology refer same to a trained and experienced clinical practitioner.


C2) If said clinical practitioner is not able to identify a known psycho-pathology (or three!) AND if there are accounts of para-normal activity associated with episodes of pathological behavior THEN, in conjunction with the clinical practitioner, the pastor may be justified in considering the possibility of demonic possession.

As an addendum to the above...

It strikes me as obvious that the instances in Mark to which Vernon alluded were NOT diagnosed by a trained clinical practitioner - and I am moved to ask whether a diagnosis of demonic possession might not be possible as the outcome of a process of spiritual discernment? This is not to imply that the Markan cases are really instances of extreme psycho-pathology misinterpreted as demon possession (without great elaboration, I believe that possibility is eliminated by the fact that Jesus himself "diagnosed" the cases and that the "case reports" were selected for inclusion in the Gospel record under the influence of the Spirit). Perhaps the obvious response here is simply that "we're not Jesus" and even given a genuine case of demonic possession the Lord's reading of the situation and ours is likely to be at variance (cf. Mark 9:14-29).

This later passage also suggests that even if we have legitimately identified an instance of demon possession, how we go about responding to it is hardly a trivial question given to simplistic answers.

Your comments?

Murray Hogg
Pastor, East Camberwell Baptist Church, Victoria, Australia
Post-Grad Student (MTh), Australian College of Theology wrote:
> > Tell you what, Vernon, rather than play the hypothetical game - why
> don't you
> > cite a contemporary case of demon possession of the sort encountered
> in Mark,
> > and your reasons for believing it to be just that sort of case, and
> then we'll
> > talk some more.
> This is a fascinating topic to me, and when I read this, I had to reply.
> Please see my article on the TNRTB site here (yes, that's my ugly mug):
> Testing Demonic Possession
> As an Emergency Psychiatrist myself, the refereenced article (original
> here: by
> Gallagher who is himself an Emergency Psychiatrist is quite interesting.
> He is Catholic, and of course the Catholic Church is the only one (that
> I am aware of) still involved in exorcism. Dr. Gallagher was not
> invovled in the exorcism per se; just the psychiatric evaluation that
> came beforehand.
> Now given, you won't find this kind of research in the American Journal
> of Psychiatry. :) But still, to the Christian, this is pretty good stuff.
> Kind regards,
> JP

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Received on Tue Sep 9 16:37:50 2008

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