Demons? Really? Really! But not as you think

23. February, 2010

I just read Linus Torvalds’ post “Demons? Really?” Which is about exorcism in case you don’t want to read his piece. Apparently, there are people who believe that you can drive a demon with prayers from a human body. Which is complete nonsense according to Linus.

Really?

What are we talking about here? What is a demon? I’m not sure what the scientific definition would be but I’m pretty sure that the people discussing the topic don’t know either. They don’t care. For them, the demon is not important but to help the possessed.

From our scientific eye, talking about demons and exorcism is ridiculous. We assume that a demon is probably some kind of sickness and the poor victim would be better off in a hospital or psychiatric care. They are just sick. Just imagine when you are in pain. It affects your mood: You become thin-skinned and easily irritated. So the sickness has a mental component.

Treating the sickness would solve the mental issues. So we’re happy and the missionaries must be stupid. Or so we think.

Question: Have you ever been in this situation? In a village thousands of miles away from anywhere? Without clear water, healthy food, and people with a yearly income in the range of $5 or less? Good luck finding medicine for them or sending them to a doctor. They either have no access to such resources or can’t afford it.

What do you do? Walk away, happy with the fact that you know what would help? Or do you stay and try to help to the best of your abilities?

If you stay, what can you do? You have no medicine, you’re no doctor and you probably have no idea what is really going on. There are people around, probably from the same village who think “I don’t know what he has but I don’t want it! Let’s get rid of him before we all get sick!” These people still have to learn that modern science exists. They couldn’t care less because for them, the biggest issue is how to get enough food to survive another week. National Geographics? FDA? These are all non-issues for these people.

For them, the sick are possessed because that is something they can relate to. It explains the unknown. Demons can be shooed away.

So what do you do? Stick to your scientific knowledge? Or do you start to pray to drive the demon out? Showing compassion, doing what is expected from you, possibly triggering the self-healing effects of a placebo? Doing what you can in such a situation?

Yes, we can mock these people because they probably believe that demons really exist. But maybe they have understood hundreds of years ago that science can only help the rich. People who have (almost) unbound access to good water, food and electricity.

Maybe for them, it’s more important to help than to be right.