Christian Medical Fellowship: Sickness “caused by demons”

I wonder if moderate Christians wish that they could trademark the term “Christian” and stop the crazies from using it.

Although people who call themselves Christians vary hugely, organisations with “Christian” in the title are usually dangerous extremists. The only immediate exception I can think of is Christian Aid. Here in the UK we have:

  • The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship, a worrying bunch seen lobbying in Parliament to change the abortion laws. Shares its premises with the Coalition 4 Marriage which, despite its name, is mainly a small bunch of conservative Christians trying to stop gay rights.
  • The Christian Party, a fringe political group with policies that look like they were drawn selectively from verses in Exodus and Leviticus. Which they were.
  • Christian Concern, a pressure group who think that gay rights step on Christians’ rights, and who are quite grumpy about the existence of sex education in schools.
  • Christian Voice, another pressure group/ bunch of tinfoil hat exponents, whose views are amusingly demonstrated by this article. Or this one. I can’t decide which is better.
  • Frequently radicalised university Christian Unions, such as the one in Exeter (where a schism led to its being renamed the “Evangelical Christian Union” since its views excluded everyone else), and the one in Bristol which recently had to do a hasty U-turn on letting women speak at its events.
  • Christians in Parliament, whose website is not very enlightening, but who campaigned against the Advertising Standards Agency when it banned misleading advertisements for faith healing.
  • The Christian Medical Fellowship, who worry me the most. If my GP believes my sickness is a result of my sins, I want to be informed before my appointment. And as I’m about to explain, CMF members might also believe your sickness is the result of demonic possession. Yeah, you read that right.

It’s the same with churches and schools. My primary school was called a “Church of England Primary School”, and regardless of your stance on faith schools, it offered a fine education. After that, I went to “Victory Christian School”, where virtually everything we were taught could have originated in an asylum.

I was involved in the beginnings of several new churches in my childhood. In the quest for doctrinal purity, we were always setting off for newer, smaller churches. And one thing they were determined to do was avoid the word “church”. “Church”, we reasoned, had associations of dead religion, of stained glass windows and boredom. That was no way to get bums in seats! We needed to show that we weren’t like those stuffy religious types. We didn’t have religion; we had a relationship with God. We didn’t have churches; we had Christian centres. 

Among the churches I saw start were Christian Life Centre (Later renamed “The Rock” – note the word church was still studiously avoided), Carmel Christian Centre, and Living Word Christian Centre. If you see a church without “church” in the name, run far, far way. And when you get your breath back, run further. You’ve almost certainly found a bunch of radicals (and people who would embrace the term “radical” to describe themselves).

But it’s the Christian Medical Fellowship I fear most.

Here are some highlights from an article on their website (originally published in their journal, Nucleus), called Demon Possession and Mental Illness.

The New Testament tells us that Jesus has commissioned us to ‘ drive out demons’ (Mk 16:17), and we must be ready to respond to this commission if and when we are called to do so.

Psychiatry, then, is not the only domain within which we need to be aware of demonic influence, and perhaps it is not even the most important such domain. Furthermore, we cannot expect to make a simple differential diagnosis according to certain signs or symptoms of demonisation. However, this does not exclude the need to consider other possible links between demonic activity and mental illness.

Demon possession and mental illness, then, are not simply alternative diagnoses to be offered when a person presents with deliberate self harm or violent behaviour, although they may need to be distinguished in such circumstances, whether by spiritual discernment or the application of basic psychiatric knowledge. It would seem reasonable to argue that demon possession may be an aetiological factor in some cases of mental illness, but it may also be an aetiological factor in some non-psychiatric conditions, and in other cases it may be encountered in the absence of psychiatric or medical disorder.

Note: An “aetiological factor” is a cause. I had to look it up as well.

I have to say, read in its entirety, the article is less hysterical than the views I grew up with in church (where I learned that most, if not all, mental illness is caused by demons, and certainly all cases of schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder). The author at least recognises that medicine has worthwhile things to say about mental illness. Still, it’s bad enough.

The CMF say they have over 4,000 doctors in their membership. Now, maybe the above article was controversial. In my experience of evangelicals, it wouldn’t be, but let’s be conservative. Even if only 10% of their membership agree that demon possession is a possible cause of medical symptoms, that’s four hundred doctors. So what I want to know is, who are these wackjobs, and where do they practise? If I go to the doctor with mental health problems and she thinks I’m possessed of the devil, I want to know about it.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t have jobs. I’m just saying I want disclosure from my doctor if they believe something ridiculous. I’d say the same about a doctor who believes homeopathy works, or has sympathies with the anti-vaccine movement. If my GP believes preposterous crap, I want the right to request a different doctor.

Perhaps the doctors in the Christian Medical Fellowship could just display their membership cards prominently in their surgeries. That’d do the trick.

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About Jonny Scaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on January 28, 2013, in Christianity, Fundamentalism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 18 Comments.

  1. Oh, yes! ‘Tis always the demons, Jonny! After all, what can mere medicine do against the powers and principles of darkness? Humans cannot be delivered from their afflictions without first driving out the demonic forces that seek to enslave… yada yada yada….

    Egads! What about putting away childish things, ye Christians?

    Great post, Jonny, chuckling all the way! (trepidatiously).

  2. The only immediate exception I can think of is Christian Aid.

    I would think YMCA is an exception.

  3. Regarding the quest for doctrinal purity, it’s something that has dogged Evangelical churches over here across the pond for centuries. The best description I’ve ever seen of the Southern version of it was in a book called “I Am One of You Forever”, set in rural Appalachia in1942.

    This conversatoin takes place in Mr. Campbell’s store. Mr. Campbell suffers from a constant stream of condemnation from the Southern Baptists because he sells whisky in his store. He has just lost a baseball game to one of the more conservative congregations. (For those in the UK not familiar with baseball, a curveball is a ball that changes direction in flight because of the way you throw it across the stiches in the baseball, which act like wing flaps on an airplane).

    They weren’t about to hang back. If it wasn’t a scrawny jackleg preacher leaning on the greasy chopblock to sermonalize the hapless pudgy man, then it was some long-jawed deacon. If it wasn’t a deacon then it was a fierce-talking sister of the church, her gray hair pinned back, gray light glinting on her rimless spectacles. Not even the children gave him peace. Their parents had taught them to say, after paying for their Kool-Aid or peppermints, “Thank you kindly, Mr. Bound-for-Hell.”

    He had a sense of irony and told my father that he’d come goddam near changing the name of his establishment to the Bound for Hell Grocery & Dry Goods and only backed off when he found out what it would cost to have his sign repainted.

    And then Johnson Gibbs lost that baseball game Mr. Campbell got up against the True Light Rainbow Baptist Church. “That was a trial” he said. “There wasn’t one car on the road didn’t stop here for somebody to run in and tell me how I backed the wrong team because I ain’t sitting on the righthand side of Jesus.”

    “I’d be more inclined to fault Johnson’s pitching” my father said.

    “Suppose I’d been sitting on the sunny side of the Lord and we won that game. Where would that put them?” Mr Campbell said.

    “Might have started a theological ruckus.”

    “They can’t stand much more ruckus,” he said “There where the road starts up Turkey Cove is your Rainbow Baptist Church, and it’s a nice white wood church. You go on up the cove a piece and there’s a little old concrete block house which is your New Rainbow Baptist Church. A big chunk of them busted away in an argument over predestination. Another two miles is the True Light Rainbow Baptist Church, which starts off with a few concrete blocks and finishes up tar paper siding.”

    “And if we’d won that baseball game?”

    “They’d of had them another fight. You’d go up on the mountain and find a pup tent by the road. The One True Light Rainbow Reformed Holiness Baptist Church of the Curveball Jesus.”

    “Too bad we didn’t win,” my father said. “I’d be curious to read the articles of faith of that one.”

  4. You’re right, this is a huge concern. I generally avoid dealing with Christians and other religious people on a professional basis wherever possible, so I would certainly want to know if my doctor was a Christian just as much as I’d like to know if my childrens’ teacher was.

    I wrote to the CMF today asking if they would furnish me with details of GP surgeries in my area that contain members of this organisation – I didn’t ask for the names of the doctors – so that I could “make an informed decision”, and I made it clear that I wouldn’t be happy having one of their members as my GP. It’s early days yet, of course. I wonder if they’ll reply.

    • I was thinking of writing and asking for clarification about the CMF’s official position on demons, and what information they had about how representative these views are of their members. It’s possible that many of their members might hold altogether more rational beliefs. But it’s unlikely that they view their faith as entirely separate from their work – if they did, they wouldn’t join a Christian medical fellowship.

    • Oh, and let me know what they say!

      • In response to recent comments by Jerry Coyne and yourself, I’ve reconciled my web name and my real name, in case you were wondering.

        I should have mentioned that I was motivated to write to the CMF following this blog post, if that wasn’t immediately apparent. Anyway, three days have passed with no response to my politely-put request. This was not unexpected, although perhaps following your comments and others they have been inundated. I doubt it.

        Congratulations on the blog. I’ve been reading it since it started. No, I hasten to add, because of any resonance, but because it reflects a life which is completely alien to my own, albeit fascinating and worrying.

      • Thanks. That’s actually very encouraging. Usually I find the only people who care are people with some kind of dog in the fight – ex-fundamentalists, current liberal Christians, science educators. It’s great to know I can be at least slightly interesting to an outsider! Thanks.

  5. Yeah in 2013, I get really worried about articles written in 1997.

  6. Just like you will obviously change your views and you could not in any way be described as someone with an axe to grind, intent on shouting from the rooftops all about it.
    And please feel free to not babble the victimhood list we all know would be forthcoming.

    • I assume you are a Christian, which is why I know you are not being sarcastic, since my Christian schoolteacher always told me sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, the highest form of vulgarity, and the devil’s language. So when you say

      you could not in any way be described as someone with an axe to grind, intent on shouting from the rooftops all about it

      I must correct you. I absolutely do have an axe to grind, and I am shouting from the rooftops about it. I believe fundamentalism is harmful and I am absolutely transparent and forthcoming about this. I give my full name, email address, and picture on the blog because I am happy to stand fully and publicly behind the views states here. Sometimes I am wrong, and where people have shown me these errors, in the past I have even corrected these errors while leaving the record of my original mistake. I don’t attempt to cover things up.

      You, on the other hand, have come here posting with a fake email address. You have not made any statement of your own position, merely made snide comments about mine. Your behaviour is cowardly.

  7. Orthodox medicine should always take presedence over alternative methods. If the patient wishes to have a priest or other holy representative present then fine but only as a form of emotional appeasement rather than a form of medical cure. I do not believe that a catholic priest can banish a demon any more than a person leap from a chair and take flight. I have witnessed many a time people who have been lured into promises of cures for terminal illnesses caused by bad spirits to which conventional treatment could help most of the time.

  1. Pingback: Witch-Doctors on display » Pharyngula

  2. Pingback: UK: Health warning — your doctor may believe in demons « Religious Atrocities

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