Friday, February 7, 2014

Spiritual Attack: Then and Now

****Trigger warning: if you have had bad experiences with fear of demons or the Satanic panic that happened in the 80s and 90s, please skip this. I would not revamp anyone's PTSD for anything. Instead, enjoy this wonderful duckling:

When I was eleven, I chanced upon this book at my grandmama's house:

If you've never read it, don't 

It's a book published in 1974 by a man who was part of the Jesus Movement. Here's a video on youtube that really gives a flavor of the time:

In brief, it was hippies meet Jesus, and most of the people in my generation of evangelical Christians were children of the Jesus people. Keith Green was probably the most popular singer-songwriter to come out of this movement, but the very idea of contemporary Christian music (CCM) has its roots in it.

A big part of this was the charismatic movement which occurred across denominational lines. The books written during this era have an energy and urgency because they were written by people who believed that they could really change the world. Given the time, it makes sense when you think about the massive social change going on. Unfortunately, the dark side to this was a renewed emphasis on Satan and demonic forces that culminated in the Satanic panic in the 80s and 90s. Satan on the Loose was a foretaste of that panic.

I really wish I'd known this history when I picked up the book. Maybe it wouldn't have scarred me so terribly. I have always been sensitive to horror, gore, violence etc, and I refuse to watch most horror movies because of this. Several times I have walked out of the theatre when the violence or darkness became too much for me to handle, and from experience I've learned to not just grit my teeth and "be cool." There's no such thing as being cool at 3 a.m. when you wake up in a cold sweat.

Frankly, I don't remember what the real contents of the book were, and God knows I'm not going to read it again. Vaguely I recall that the author had been a gang member ala David Wilkerson (author of The Cross and the Switchblade), and he had a dramatic conversion experience. Due to his background he had a history of traumatic experiences and was probably going through PTSD. The one scene I remember in the book is when his father was in the hospital dying, and he said "Son, Satan is here on my bed, and he won't let me pray." I get chills just thinking about it.

I read the book in one sitting. When I started reading it was light, but when I finished it was dark. I was alone in the "back part" of the house, and it was quiet. Then the wind started slowly growing until it howled around the corner of the house, and I jumped out of my skin. For many kids that would be were it ended - they had a bad scare and can laugh it off later. I was not one of those kids, and that book caused a great deal of misery for the next 6 years.

As I have alluded elsewhere, my faith background was not exactly sunshine and roses. I can finally name some of the things that happened as spiritual abuse, even though most of the people enforcing it had good intentions. And one of the most spiritually abusive ideas I absorbed, from this book and from the general atmosphere, was that Satan could overwhelm your soul if you gave him even an inch. That's why it was so important to be pure, to avoid even uncarved pumpkins at Halloween, or anything that had any connection to the occult, no matter how tenuous. My school taught that certain practices - such as reading Harry Potter - opened your soul to the devil, giving him the key as it were. I used to envision demons getting through the cracks in the ceiling or under the window sills. To this day I have a bad habit of sleeping with the covers over my head - yes, I manage to breathe - and that was partly due to my neuroses about demonic possession in the night. I would pray fervently every night that angels would stand guard around my bed and not let any demons near me.

My church didn't really talk about Satan much: we believed that he existed, but we were much more focused on the total depravity of mankind and figured that we didn't need much help when it came to evil. But even at my church there were hints of the panic, because it shrouded all fundamentalist and evangelical churches at that time. Part of the interest in the post-Columbine book She Said Yes (which I owned and read until I memorized) was Cassie's conversion from being in the occult. Cassie's experience was every parent's worst nightmare in the 90s - tapes of Marilyn Manson, cutting, drug use, violent drawings and poetry, black clothing, thick metal jewelry, etc. This is why any hint of being counter-cultural was punished so quickly in the church: it seemed that Satan went for the geeky kids with poetry journals and left the football players alone.

Did I actually experience demonic oppression or attack during this time? I don't think so. Frankly, I think the attack was from the church itself, from the terror and panic that were part and parcel of growing up in that subculture.

Do I believe that Satan exists? Yes, but not in the way I used to. I used to envision him as all-knowing - kind of like the evil version of God, which I later learned was one of the famous heresies. I used to attribute much of my mental illness to Satanic oppression, which is unfortunately a common practice in certain circles. I used to think he could read my mind and put things there, steal my soul, possess me if I sinned a certain way.

That said, I do think I may have experienced spiritual attack last year. There are a couple of reasons why.

First of all, the timing was just eerie.  My depression was getting better in February and March thanks to meds, but right after Easter my life took a turn for the absurd. I hit my head on Maundy Thursday; Good Friday I had a difficult time getting through the long service but managed; on the Easter vigil I was confirmed in the Episcopal church, and it was the most wonderful day since my wedding. Easter morning I woke up knowing that something was wrong. That was when my body and mind began a journey into crazy-town. Do I think Satan "caused" my mental breakdown? No, because I believe in Occam's razor and rational explanations for things like depression, panic attacks, and concussions. But, I will say that it's downright odd that it happened right after my confirmation. I've heard so many stories about people having tremendous difficulties right after conversions that it seems a tad too coincidental.

Second, I did have an experience that I think was one of the few times I experienced spiritual attack. But this post is super long, so I'll leave that for another day. Let's just say it was much more about sin and much less about demonic creatures attacking in the night.

And now I'm going to go think happy thoughts and listen to happy music, like this:

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