Demon Possession

When I was in college, I had a harrowing experience: a friend of mine became demon possessed, and subsequently went through an exorcism officiated by a local minister. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, and reinforced my lifelong Christian belief in the supernatural.

Now, many years later, I have questions. What actually happened to my friend? Supernaturalist explanations now seem overly simplistic – was she mentally ill instead? And what about the rest of us who believed that she was possessed? Were we helping her, or abusing her? And what purpose does possession serve in human societies?

Joseph Laycock, an expert in the experience of spirit possession, new religious movements, and fringe spirituality, sits down with me to explore the history and causes of demon possession.

Why I Still Call Myself a Christian

I’ve spent a great deal of time on this blog exploring the ways in which my faith has transformed from the reassuring, cozy, traditional Christianity of my childhood. I’ve wandered far from home into nontheism, flirted with blasphemy, and questioned the existence of the supernatural altogether.

Many would say I’m not a Christian at all, and they might be right. If one defines Christianity as taking the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds as literal truth, then I certainly don’t qualify. I think I stopped believing the creeds long before I ever accepted my crisis of faith. Perhaps post-Christian would be a more accurate descriptor: I’ve entered a terrain which is beyond traditional Christianity, but only accessible by way of Christianity.

And yet, I still hold on to the label Christian, and the reason is simple: I can’t give up my love affair with the myth of Christ. I can’t let go of the story about the God-man who came to earth, told stories, taught love and radical peace, and then modeled ego-death and resurrection — the path we are all meant to follow, day after day.

In the most simple, minimalistic way possible I am a Christian: a follower of Christ, someone who makes Christ the most central image of my inner guiding myth. I’m not sure I can help myself; religion is mapped onto my being like a language, from the earliest days of my life. No matter how much I may doubt, wander, and reject the unfalsifiable claims of religion, I can’t rid myself of religion, and I don’t think I need to.

If this minimalistic Christianity strikes other Christians as heretical, too little, cloying and pandering to worldly doubt, that’s fine. I accept that. But I welcome others into my minimalistic religion with me. Those who doubt, struggle, and yet still yearn for religious life: we don’t have to believe in God or the supernatural, we don’t even have to accept the stories about Christ as true — I think many of them are probably legend. We can embrace the myth of Christ, and the transcendent, self-sacrificing path that myth sets before us. And that, I think, makes us Christians.

God and Gay Sex

In this episode of Sacred Tension, Donald and I sit down to answer questions from patrons of the show. We talk about why I went into yoga, what parts of my faith remain intact after going through deconstruction, how straight allies can better serve the LGBT community, what we wish someone had told us about gay sex, and much more.

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A Few Questions You Might Have About Satanism

There’s a controversial part of my religious life that often makes for awkward conversation: I’m a member of the Satanic Temple. I’m not exactly shy about voicing my support, but my open approval of the Temple is often met with quiet awkwardness, which leads me to believe that people have questions. I asked friends and twitter what they thought of my membership. I got some fantastic questions, and I will write my responses to them below. An important caveat: I am not a spokesperson for the Temple, and these are my own interpretations and views.

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Gamification and the Singularity

In this episode, I talk to Douglas Lain about his latest novel Bash Bash Revolution: a young adult novel that explores Marxism, revolution, artificial intelligence, and the gamification of human society. We discuss utopia, mental health, the consequences of digitization and gamification on the mind and spirituality, and much more.

Douglas Lain is the publisher of Zero Books, a novelist, a podcaster, and most recently a youtuber.
Lain’s previous novel After the Saucers Landed was nominated for the Philip K Dick Award. 
Douglas Lain is also the host of the Zero Books podcast. His first podcast, entitled Diet Soap, ran for over five years.

He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and two boys. 

You can find Douglas Lain’s work at www.douglaslain.com

This is What I mean When I Say I Don’t Believe in God

I don’t believe in God.

Nothing sends off fireworks in the brain for religious people quite like an admission of atheism. It’s scary, in my beloved religious community, to admit that I don’t believe in God. I’ve had some unexpectedly unpleasant conversations with friends — conversations that suddenly dipped into ferocious defensiveness, in which they assumed a lot about what I believe and don’t believe.

So, allow me to explain what I mean when I say I don’t believe in God.

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Speaking the Truth In Love Can Break LGBT People

I hear it all the time: this protective need for some of my fellow Christians to “speak the truth in love” to their gay friends and family. In other words, while they say that they should “love and accept” those who are gay, they still feel a need to state that they think homosexuality is inherently sinful, and that gay people must commit themselves to chastity, denying homosexual sin.

I want to caution all Christians from doing this, because it has the potential to break vulnerable LGBT people. That might sound dramatic, overly policing, and hand-wringingly protective. After all, as one prominent religious pedant likes to say, “facts don’t care about your feelings.” If you believe that homosexuality is a sin, isn’t it your duty to let the world know? Regardless of how this “fact” makes others feel?

If you value the conversation and friendship of LGBT people you love; if you desire their best and want to see them flourish, unsolicited “speaking the truth in love” is dangerous.

I speak from my experience. When I was in college, the Truth in Love from my fellow Christians did indeed break me. To understand this, you must understand everything going on beneath the surface – everything weighing down on an LGBT person coming to terms with their lived experience. Here’s everything that was burdening me when I was in a small Christian college, and it certainly isn’t an exhaustive list:

  • Almost every song, movie, and cultural reference deals with heterosexual experience in some way: sex, romance, marriage, hooking up, dating, etc. From my earlier memories I could never relate to any of the romantic narratives in our culture, good or bad, positive or negative. This enforced a deep, subtle current of feeling completely alien in this world. It reinforced the deep intuition that I was some kind of freak.
  • More than that, my religion spoke in exclusively heterosexual terms. Adam and Eve, the image of man and woman as the union between Christ and the church. Straight people might be able to relate to all that, but I couldn’t. I therefore felt like an outsider to my beloved religion.
  • The pressure to not have sex is already crushing for young people in the church. For gay people, it is doubly so. The hormonal rage to hookup and experiment made me feel like I was caught between two crushing walls – one being my sex drive, the other being the possibility that if I do have sex, I will be committing a grave, abominable sin that reflects the deep brokenness of our world.
  • And if you retort that, “we are all equally broken, gay or straight,” it’s likely that they gay person in your life won’t buy it. I didn’t. In practice, gay people are more broken, more outside, more excluded, because the theology makes it so. When the Bible and Christian traditions speaks to your orientation only in terms of sin and disorder (unlike heterosexuality) the claim that “all are equally sinful” becomes a sort of gaslighting. Straight people have an out, gay people do not.
  • When you are a young twenty-something, the prospect that you have three choices in life, each one depressing or damning, becomes a constant source of anxiety. 1. You can live a celibate life, which, when you are twenty, can be a terrifying thing to commit yourself to. This has less to do with sex, and more to do with the world of partnered intimacy sex is attached to. Looking into a life without partnered intimacy can be absolutely debilitating. 2. You can get married to someone of the opposite sex, which can frankly feel unfair to your partner, impossible, or miserable. Or, 3. You can be sexually active, in which case you must live with the cognitive dissonance that you are not living the way God desires you to live. That is incredibly debilitating for a young mind.
  • When struggling with with one’s sexual or gender identity, your loving community and family can suddenly feel deeply unsafe. If you come to the “wrong” conclusion, does that mean they will reject you? If you have a sexual encounter and they find out will they berate you, sermonize you, tell you how sinful you are, or disapprove? And maybe you aren’t sure you have the emotional resources to be able to handle that rejection when it comes. This can also create a crippling anxiety for LGBT people.
  • The destruction all the above anxieties have on other areas of life can create a downward spiral of more despair and anxiety. When I was in college I failed six classes and it took me 8 years to finally graduate. I just didn’t have the bandwidth to succeed, to get a job, to be productive and healthy. Every moment of the day was spent trying to resolve my sexual orientation. This left me feeling helpless, afraid for my future, and like a total fuckup.

Add on top of this a friend saying that, while they love you, they still think you are sinning and need to repent. For me, it was just too much to carry.

And yes, I did want to kill myself. I went to sleep every night fantasizing about shooting myself in the college chapel. When friends would try to lovingly tell me that they think homosexuality is sinful, I would cut myself horribly. My arms are still a latticework of scars. This wasn’t because I was unreasonably fragile, but because I was carrying so many invisible things already, and my friends, pastors, and mentors not giving me the margin to question and journey simply broke me.

The friends who saved my life were the ones who gave me space: who withheld their own opinions, except when asked, and chose to walk with me through the dark places. They told me again and again that God has the grace and space for me to question and work this all out for as long as I need to. They told me that no matter what conclusion I come to I am still loved by them and by God, that they respect the journey I’m on, and that they still see me as part of the Kingdom of God. These friends were the ones who sustained me, and might be the reason I’m still alive.

Please, withhold your truth. Give space to those who are struggling, and understand that Job’s friends were helpful only when they said nothing. We need spacious love, not claustrophobic condemnation.

Does an Afterlife Make This Life Meaningful?

Around this time last year, I buried my cousin. Ian was a vegan, atheist, and environmentalist so dedicated to the cause of caring for the earth that his principles extended even to his death. After a physicist gave a science lesson on what would happen to Ian’s body, and how he would nourish the tree that would be planted over him, we took shovels and buried what was left of Ian. He was wrapped in purple linen, and the cancer had reduced his frame to a frail shadow of his former fit, powerful, athletic self.

The ceremony was void of any spirit, symbol, or God. I was disquieted by the that, and yet I was moved. I was moved by Ian’s commitment to science, and his care for the earth. I was tempted to call the funeral hopeless, but realized that wasn’t right. The funeral was full of love, conviction, and hope, and didn’t need to say anything about an afterlife. That wasn’t the point of Ian’s life – Ian was about the here and now, the earth, the injustices that plagued the planet now. He didn’t believe in the afterlife, and that lack of belief thrust him headfirst into the present. Plus, it wasn’t my funeral. Who was I to cast judgement on Ian’s wishes? That would be tasteless.

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Face the Music and Dance: Responding to Climate Change

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change dropped a horrifying ultimatum on the world: we have a mere 12 years to to mobilize a World War II level effort to change the effects of climate change to avoid a cataclysmic future.

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