Monday, March 5, 2012
Demon Attributions in the United States
In several posts about Helen Ukpabio and children’s deaths following accusations of witchcraft and demon possession, I’ve focused on beliefs that African Pentecostals encourage. Child deaths related to witchcraft and demon accusations have occurred both in Africa and among African immigrants in the United Kingdom. Using Dr. Rosalind Hackett’s work as a source, I also discussed the role that certain postulated spirits play in African Pentecostal life, and the value of such malevolent spirits in contributing to the worldview that emphasizes “spiritual warfare” between good and evil.
However, the fact that some Africans mistreat or kill children because they believe in demon possession does not mean that all non-Africans are free of this dangerous assumption. Children in the United States, too, have died during attempts to expel the demons that were thought to infest them. One recent case, discussed at http://childmyths.blogspot.com/2011/12/faith-based-child-abuse.html , involved a recently-adopted 4-year-old, Kairissa Mark, whose adoptive father referred to her as a “demon child”.
Publications about expulsion of demons are easily available through Amazon and other source. For example, “Deliverance for Children and Teens”, by Bill Banks, was published in 1985 and reissued in 2008. “A Manual for Children’s Deliverance”, by Frank and Ida Mae Hammond, originally published in 1996, was reissued in 2010. (The term “deliverance” in these titles refers to the expulsion of demons, which the authors consider to be responsible for many childhood problems both trivial and serious.) Numerous websites profess problems that occur when demons attack children-- which, it is said, they may do through no fault of the child, but because a parent or even grandparent deviated from strict rules about sexual behavior or trafficked with the occult by using a Ouija board or an “8-ball”.
A recent youtube production, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIPkjOF-dCQ&feature=related, was mentioned on the “Little Prince” adoption and Reactive Attachment Disorder website, and was accompanied by enlightening comments about the role demons are thought to play in a child’s development. (Please let me point out, though, that the video and comments are now said to have been taken down by the maker, so there’s no way I can arrange for you to check my accuracy here. My thanks to Linda Rosa for pointing these out; I didn’t move quite fast enough to see the video.) Here are a couple of the comments (verbatim):
@BlessedBlessedinHim said: If that was happening to me I would get spiritual help immediately there may not be nothing wrong with your child. Demons are real, and can enter children who are not baptised, and have not made the decision to repent they are open to demonic harm. I have seen these things myself so no matter what anyone says I will never be convinced they are not real. Maybe this is real to you? This is something a doctor can’t cure your child appears normal otherwise.
@Retro80Lady30 said: I agree. some things are caused by demons and do believe that a child can be influenced by such things.. Our son has healed immensely but it has taken years of prayers and showing unconditional love. I do not believe the whole cause of Rad is demonic influence ..oe these children are hurt, traumatized, and angry from having no control … they need healing and sometimes healing does not come instantly.. In that case God gives us what we need in order to parent and love these children..
These comments demonstrate that it would be a mistake to think of demon possession beliefs as “what people used to think in the Middle Ages” or “what some people think in Africa, not here”. People living in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and no doubt elsewhere are on this very day attributing children’s behavioral, mood, and physical problems to possession by demons, and are seeking deliverance practices as cures for seizure disorders, ADHD, schizophrenia (a specialty of the Hammonds, who believed the word meant multiple personality), and, as we saw above, Reactive Attachment Disorder. Believing that deliverance can cure these problems, the adults are likely to avoid conventional medical and psychological treatments for these treatable problems.
I have had a long love affair with the First Amendment, but as time goes on my passion is turning to ambivalence. The problem is the difficulty in discriminating between the right to hold certain beliefs and the right to act on those beliefs in ways that affect other people. We tolerate a belief in polygamy while simultaneously forbidding polygamous marriages. But it’s much harder to tolerate a belief in demonic possession of children while forbidding neglect of appropriate medical and psychological treatment, because we can’t foresee that neglect or detect it immediately. The tradition of the “family veil” prevents authorities from investigating what families do to children, unless it has become clear that a child has been harmed, and rightly so-- we would all be frightened if investigators (not necessarily knowledgeable ones) could come into our homes at a whim. Public and private schools used to provide a layer of protection for children whose parents’ beliefs were dangerous, but the rise in unsupervised homeschooling has removed that protection for many children.
Where do we go now? Is it possible to protect children from belief-based abuse and neglect, without instituting a force of Childrearing Police? When inappropriate action flows from beliefs, what ideas should we tolerate? I can’t answer; I can only repeat that children in the United States have died from exorcism practices, and that the belief in demon possession of children is still very much with us.