I live in a Christian house share in London. Shared living will always throw up challenges, and those moments are good ways to rethink those of our ideas that we hold too rigidly.

They are also times in which you can make a positive influence on those you live with. Recently a housemate had a psychotic episode and attempted to attack his fiancée with a kitchen knife.

To cut a long story short, he was admitted to a secure hospital while we as a house have been trying to get our heads around what happened and deal with the ways it has affected us.

Some in the house are confident this was a demonic presence and have focused on praying out the demon. I however am confident this language is not helpful. I do not think a demon possessed him, but rather he had a psychotic episode and he now needs treatment, time to recover and help to understand triggers.

The conundrum I have is whether I should respect the opinion that a demon possessed my housemate and put it down to the ‘rich tapestry’ of Christian belief or say that their belief is harmful?

In this instance I don’t think spending the night in prayer and fasting in order to banish his demon would positively affect his mental health. But resting, learning, understanding and treating his mental health condition will.

I struggle to imagine what it must be like to believe you were possessed by a demon. Terrifying, at the very least. What questions would haunt you? And how would your view of God be changed, believing God allowed a demon to possess you? Again the anxiety caused by these questions is also not good for one’s mental health. I think it would be enough to turn me off God for life. In this situation I think it is clearly not a helpful belief and should be opposed.

Can a belief in demons play any part in a proper approach to mental health? I have good friends who take scripture ‘at its word’ and believe in demons because it says so. However some accounts, such as in Luke 9, have a clearly diagnosable health condition. I’m inclined to interpret demonic references as either a lack of medical knowledge at that time, a literary tool or a way of dealing with the unknown. Either way talking demons doesn’t help when talking about mental health. It distracts from understanding mental health conditions and adds malevolent associations unnecessarily.

I believe in free speech and freedom of belief and yes the Christian Church contains a rich and diverse set of beliefs, but surely we should be able to say some beliefs are harmful and when they are to identify them. We need to work to remove the stigma from mental ill health, not demonise it.

(picture via CreationSwap)

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