Thursday, April 17, 2014

Night Terrors

by Joe Erwin

I noticed a recent conversation on Adventist Today about belief in "demons." It does surprise me a little when anyone with "a lick of sense" professes belief in demons, but I have to remember that such beliefs are quite common all over the world and right here among many of my neighbors in the hills of Appalachia--and I have to think way back to when I was growing up as a devout Adventist, and most of the people around me held such beliefs.

Don't get me wrong--I was taught that there was no such thing as ghosts. The Adventist doctrine of death without any disembodied soul or spirit helped me not get worried too much about a spirit world. Even so, I recall awakening, frozen in fright, looking up at a devilish face looking down at me from the window drapes in my bedroom. When I finally struggled and uttered the name, "Jesus," the devil's countenance miraculously vanished. This pattern was repeated twice or more, with the same result and relief. Then, one night, I uttered "blah blah blah," and the result was the same. That’s when I began to understand that I had been experiencing a "night terror" with my own brain/mind supplying the content and interpretation.

But I continue to wonder what the long-term mental health consequences are of believing in a spirit world. Whether or not there is any reality at all to a spiritual dimension, we have very personal ways of injecting meaning into the things we sense or think about. And even if we have all our marbles (meaning the appropriate neurons are in the correct places and our neurotransmitters are adequately balanced), what are the functional consequences of acting as if spiritual magic controls the world and us? Can we really be sane and believe in demons?

Many people who comment on Adventist Today are highly functioning adults in the real world, but their mental health is pretty marginal when it comes to having a grasp on reality. So, believing in demons does not mean that someone is psychotic (obnoxious, perhaps, but not certifiably insane). However, for those inclined toward mental imbalance and frank psychoses, like David Koresh, doesn’t immersion in the bizarre aspects of Adventist dogma and its fanatical trajectories add fuel to their hellish fires?

I am amazed that any of us survived....


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