Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times
Allopathic Medicine especially the fields of neurology and psychiatry had a long uphill battle against the New Testament. According to the New Testament many a diseases were due to influence of demons as Jesus, may peace be on him, worked as an exorcist. The earliest Gospel that is the Gospel of Mark talks about this in the very first chapter. Let me quote:
As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. (Mark 1:29-34)
In Matt. 17 Jesus, on whom be peace, gives recipe for casting out the demons:
When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.” “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. ( Matt 17:14-20)
The world of the New Testament compilation was one with abundant demons and ghosts. Here are a few verses from the conclusion of the Mark, which talk of Mary Magdalene being possessed by seven demons, one may have metaphorical interpretation of these today but when these verses were written, demons meant demons:
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. (Mark 16:9-13)
Two of the four canonical gospels carry the story of a woman who asks Jesus to exorcise a demon from her daughter. Unfortunately for her, she isn’t from Israel. (She is ‘Canaanite’ in one gospel, ‘Syrophoenician’ in another.) Jesus takes this into account and replies, with one of his less flattering allegories, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Pathetically, the woman answers, “Yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table,” (Matthew 15:27) after which Jesus relents and tosses her some crumbs by tossing out the demons.
Defenders of Jesus universalist status might say he was just driving home the fact that Gentiles can find salvation through faith. Indeed, that is the way the story plays out in Matthew, as Jesus exclaims, ‘Great is your faith!’ But in Mark, the earlier telling of the story, there’s no mention of faith. What wins Jesus’s favor, it seems, is the woman-master-dog metaphor; with the woman bowed before him, Jesus answers only, ‘For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.’ (Matthew 15:28 and Mark 7:29)
In other words this story highlights the primitive nature of the society and their medieval beliefs, more than anything else.
A quick word search for ‘demon,’ in the Bible, gave me the following references:
- Deuteronomy 32:17
They sacrificed to demons, which are not God— gods they had not known, gods that recently appeared, gods your fathers did not fear.
- Psalm 106:37
They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons.
- Matthew 7:22
Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’
- Matthew 8:31
The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”
- Matthew 9:34
But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”
- Matthew 10:8
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.
- Matthew 12:24
But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
- Matthew 12:27
And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges.
- Matthew 12:28
But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
- Mark 1:34
and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
A History of Warfare of Science with theology in Christendom
by Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918)
The Church has somehow survived the fierce blows from the development of science especially the theory of evolution. The fundamental doctrine of ‘Original Sin’ lost all its philosophical footing with the scientific revolution as evidence piled in the fields of geology, archaeology and biology. The Church, however, has been able to successfully ignore the evidence or push it under the rug and away from the consciousness of the masses. The dogmas of Christianity seem to have survived the blows of Darwinian evolution. But they cannot survive the evolution of printing press into internet and websites, as that allows for the skeletons and demons to revisit centuries later and often!
This is a detailed and a wonderful history book by Andrew Dickson White, who was the founding President of the Cornell University.
Because the suppression of scientific thought by the medieval Church represents one of blackest periods of human history, many scholars have studied this period with great care. Worth special mention is a remarkable two-volume treatise by Andrew Dickson White entitled A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, published in 1896. The whole text of the two volumes of the book can be read on www.archive.org. Here is one example:
The doctrine of the spherical shape of the earth, and therefore the existence of the antipodes, was bitterly attacked by theologians who asked: ‘Is there anyone so senseless as to believe that crops and trees grow downwards? . . . that the rains and snow fall upwards?’ The great authority of St Augustine held the Church firmly against the idea of the antipodes and for a thousand years it was believed that there could not be human beings on the opposite side of the earth – even if the earth had opposite sides. In the sixth century, Procopius of Gaza brought powerful theological guns to bear on the issue: there could not be an opposite side, he declared, because for that Christ would have had to go there and suffer a second time. Also, there would have had to exist a duplicate Eden, Adam, Serpent, and Deluge. But that being clearly wrong, there could not be any antipodes. QED!
The book has fairly detailed chapters on the subject of this article, how scientific development struggled with the Bible and the Church.
Chapter number 15 of the book is titled, From ‘Demoniacal Possession’ to Insanity; the next chapter is titled, From Diabolism to Hysteria. Let me share a sample here from his compelling book:
In this atmosphere of theologic thought medical science was at once checked. The School of Alexandria, under the influence first of Jews and later of Christians, both permeated with Oriental ideas, and taking into their theory of medicine demons and miracles, soon enveloped everything in mysticism. In the Byzantine Empire of the East the same cause produced the same effect; the evolution of ascertained truth in medicine, begun by Hippocrates and continued by Herophilus, seemed lost forever. Medical science, trying to advance, was like a ship becalmed in the Sargasso Sea: both the atmosphere about it and the medium through which it must move resisted all progress. Instead of reliance upon observation, experience, experiment, and thought, attention was turned toward supernatural agencies.
THE ATTRIBUTION OF DISEASE TO SATANIC INFLUENCE.
‘PASTORAL MEDICINE’ CHECKS SCIENTIFIC EFFORT.
Especially prejudicial to a true development of medical science among the first Christians was their attribution of disease to diabolic influence. As we have seen, this idea had come from far, and, having prevailed in Chaldea, Egypt, and Persia, had naturally entered into the sacred books of the Hebrews. Moreover, St. Paul had distinctly declared that the gods of the heathen were devils ; and everywhere the early Christians saw in disease the malignant work of these dethroned powers of evil. The Gnostic and Manichsean struggles had ripened the theologic idea that, although at times diseases are punishments by the Almighty, the main agency in them is Satanic. The great fathers and renowned leaders of the early Church accepted and strengthened this idea. Origen said: “It is demons which produce famine, unfruitfulness, corruptions of the air, pestilences; they hover concealed in clouds in the lower atmosphere, and are attracted by the blood and incense which the heathen offer to them as gods.” St. Augustine said: “All diseases of Christians are to be ascribed to these demons ; chiefly do they torment fresh-baptized Christians, yea, even the guiltless, newborn infants. Tertullian insisted that a malevolent angel is in constant attendance upon every person. Gregory of Nazianzus declared that bodily pains are provoked by demons, and that medicines are useless, but that they are often cured by the laying on of consecrated hands. St. Nilus and St. Gregory of Tours, echoing St. Ambrose, gave examples to show the sinfulness of resorting to medicine instead of trusting to the intercession of saints. St. Bernard, in a letter to certain monks, warned them that to seek relief from disease in medicine was in harmony neither with their religion nor with the honour and purity of their order. This view even found its way into the canon law, which declared the precepts of medicine contrary to Divine knowledge. As a rule, the leaders of the Church discouraged the theory that diseases are due to natural causes, and most of them deprecated a resort to surgeons and physicians rather than to supernatural means.”
Other developments of fetich cure were no less discouraging to the evolution of medical science. Very important among these was the Agnus Dei, or piece of wax from the Paschal candles, stamped with the figure of a lamb and consecrated by the Pope. In 147 1 Pope Paul II expatiated to the Church on the efficacy of this fetich in preserving men from fire, shipwreck, tempest, lightning, and hail, as well as in assisting women in childbirth ; and he reserved to himself and his successors the manufacture of it. Even as late as 1517 Pope Leo X issued, for a consideration, tickets bearing a cross and the following inscription : “This cross measured forty times makes the height of Christ in his humanity. He who kisses it is preserved for seven days from falling sickness, apoplexy, and sudden death.”Naturally, the belief thus sanctioned by successive heads of the Church, infallible in all teaching regarding faith and morals, created a demand for amulets and charms of all kinds; and under this influence we find a reversion to old pagan fetiches. Nothing, on the whole, stood more constantly in the way of any proper development of medical science than these fetich cures, whose efficacy was based on theological reasoning and sanctioned by ecclesiastical policy. It would be expecting too much from human nature to imagine that pontiffs who derived large revenues from the sale of the Agnus Dei, or priests who derived both wealth and honours from cures wrought at shrines under their care, or lay dignitaries who had invested heavily in relics, should favour the development of any science which undermined their interests.
O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain … ( Matt 17:14-20).
- Andrew Dickson White. A History of Warfare of Science with theology in Christendom. D Appleton and Company, 1896. Page 26-28 of volume II.
- Andrew Dickson White. A History of Warfare of Science with theology in Christendom. D Appleton and Company, 1896. Page 29-30 of volume II.