Monday, 21 July 2014

Anglican Babylon

The Babylonians were remarkable observers and documentalists of human illness and behavior. However, their knowledge of anatomy was limited and superficial. Some diseases were thought to have a physical basis, such as worms, snake bites and trauma. Much else was the result of evil forces that required driving out… many, perhaps most diseases required the attention of a priest or exorcist, known as an asipu, to drive out evil demons or spirits.
Neurology and psychiatry in Babylon Edward H Reynolds and James V Kinnier Wilson, via Nerurosceptic.

It's easy for sceptics to dismiss such three thousand year old heathen superstitions  as mere "failed science", but today's deeply held beliefs represent an altogether different and more sophisticated order of metaphysics, don't they? Take the Church of England - moderate, tolerant, theologically sophisticated, inclusive and definitely not at all superstitious:
Deliverance Ministry seeks to make real to those who feel possessed, oppressed or afraid, the overcoming of evil by our Saviour Jesus Christ, so that his living presence may bring peace.

The Christian Deliverance Study Group is used by the Bishops of the Church of England to help with training for Advisers in Deliverance Ministry in each Diocese. It does not provide ministry directly to those who are troubled by paranormal experiences.
From The Christian Deliverance Study Group's website. Among the handy resources on the site is a tab entitled 'What's troubling you?,' from which you can navigate a drop-down menu and select from 'Poltergeists,' 'Ghosts and Haunting,' 'Abuse,'* or 'Curses,' depending on the nature of your supernatural affliction.

The priestly org chart looks a bit different these days and Jesus has ousted Tammuz as the most popular brand of life-death-rebirth deity, but tweak these minor details and the central content of the The Christian Deliverance Study Group website wouldn't look out of place incised in cuneiform script on a bronze-age clay tablet.

From where I'm standing, the difference in status between a defunct religion that nobody believes in any more and one that still has "relevance" and living adherents** looks precisely as arbitrary as the status ranking of superstition and religion, as summed up by Deborah Hyde:
You can get a degree in theology, but you can't get a degree in repelling vampires. There's undoubtedly a pervasive sense, even now, that religion is a superior class of metaphysics...
... So personally, I've always thought the difference between religion and superstition was not so much degrees of nonsense, but politics.

*Which would be quite a reasonable thing to investigate, were it not for the implied "Satanic" prefix that becomes apparent when you click the 'Abuse' link:
The activities of some groups may involve hypnotism, drugs, psychological pressure, blackmail or other inducements which undermine your free will. Satanic groups, new religious movements and cults are commonly accused of such abuse. At its most extreme this may include paedophilia, depraved sexual rituals and sacrifice. Evidence of such activity is extremely hard to prove.
**Although the C of E doesn't look that many generations away from itself being one with Nineveh and Tyre.