Saturday, February 22, 2014

Book Review of "Joyland" by Stephen King

I've read numerous other books by Stephen King, including The Dead Zone, Pet Cemetary, Christine, IT, The Tommyknockers, Needful Things, Rose Madder, and two of the books in the Dark Tower series.  I was surprised though to find that this work of his was not too far off from a normal drama/suspense story.  A few minor supernatural moments here and there, but they seemed minor in the overall context of the story.

That's not necessarily a bad thing though.  Overall I thought this book was great - a coming of age tale of heartbreak, self-discovery, heroism, tragedy, and mystery.  The characters were interesting, enjoyable, and believable. Now that I think about it, the main character in this story seemed to be about the same age and stage of life as the main character in "The Catcher in the Rye".  In my opinion though, Mr. King did a much better job of transporting me into the shoes of a character that I'm interested in and want to actually read more about.

Note: This is on my book review web site too, which is here.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Clarification of Mental/Spiritual Classification

I’ve said this before, but it seems worthwhile to restate it and provide additional clarification regarding my previous post about demonic possession.

I do believe that mental illness exists.  I don't want to over-spiritualize everything and say that every human flaw is due to “evil forces”.  I believe in scientific discoveries that lead to progress with medical diagnosis and solutions.  I fully accept that there are people that suffer from chemical deficiencies in the brain and/or other mental anomalies.  Some examples of circumstances that I am comfortable categorizing as mental illness could be slightly irrational thinking, emotional instability, lack of mental clarity/focus, difficulty functioning in everyday life or carrying out certain tasks, etc.  Other examples of legitimate mental issues are those that arise because of some traumatic experience, such as post traumatic stress disorder (soldiers after war).

However, there are also many stories and cases that I’ve either read about in the news or heard from first-hand accounts that it does not make sense to assign to the category of mental illness.  Examples of these are where people deliberately cause sexual or psychological harm to innocent victims (children or other people who have done nothing wrong to deserve it), those that contain elements of physically impossible feats (child walking up a wall, man walking around in fire without getting burned, etc.), people who clearly “hear voices” that tell them to do evil things, or people who act in a manner that is consistent with displaying what would be expected in the case of demonic possession (shrieking or recoiling upon hearing the name of Jesus, speaking in a different voice or multiple voices and with a completely different personality, etc.).  Yes, those are actual news stories, and there are plenty more examples near the bottom of my web site here.

I believe it’s important to bring attention to the effects/actions of evil – because my hope is to shine a spotlight on what I believe is a real, plausible enemy who wishes pain, frustration, and ultimately destruction upon each human being.  Because only upon realizing that you have an enemy can you see his/her/its deeds for what they are and try to defend against them.  Also, my hope is that the realization of this unseen enemy helps to promote our need for someone who can assist us, who is not only our spiritual advocate but also the ultimate conqueror/ruler of this unseen realm.  That person is Jesus.

In addition to recognizing the existence of evil, my desire is for everyone to look at each negative news story individually and determine whether they can be categorized as a simple human flaw (mental anomaly of some sort), or if it’s at least remotely possible, and in some cases highly probably, that the root cause could be something supernatural.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Discussion About Demons

On January 29, 2014 I posted a link in Facebook to an odd USA Today story.  The FB post led to a lengthy but interesting discussion about personal experiences, demons, possession, and belief (or lack thereof) in all things supernatural.  Similar to the Mega-churches discussion, I wanted to capture the key points and stories of the discussion in this blog, for posterity sake.


Most of the time the source of negative news events can be excused as either (a) crimes of passion, (b) misunderstood and/or emotionally scarred people, (c) victims of upbringing/culture, (d) desperation, (e) mental illness, or whatever other (perhaps valid) reasons.

But every once in a while, I read or hear about a story for which the only conclusion that can be reached about it is the existence and engagement of evil - the supernatural/spiritual kind. This is one of those stories (the picture links to the article): 
Strange events lead Ind. family to resort to exorcism
Robert:  If u believe in The Lord how come so many disbelieve in stories like this ... Really makes me wonder why people don't believe that true evil exists and is always around us ...  

Joel:  When I read ghost stories like this, my only thought is "yawn. So another group of liars or people with over active imaginations". In today's age, digital proof is pretty easy to get. They didn't bother though because it is bs. They know it, I know it

Anyways I will admit they did a good job on the music. It for sure creepy and sets the mood.
Shelley:  Joel, all due respect, unless you have come face to face with a demon, you HAVE NO CLUE! God gave me the discernment of Good and evil, not something I would wish on anyone,not a gift I asked for, because with it, comes great responsibility, and it's something that will rock your soul. I've spoke with demons that filled my brothers body, he spoke like someone from a freaking movie. He was possessed, also a drug addict for many years on and off. Believe me, you have no idea!. After God laid it on my heart to stay and pray with him,(which I refused, yet, as I turned to leave the apartment, God grabbed me by the shoulders and told me to stay and pray for him.) I fought those demons. He screamed, his body did awful things, his eyes went black, he couldn't breathe. Imagine coming to tell your brother goodbye (possibly for the last time, because you knew he was going to kill himself) and hold him, tell him you loved him, and that Jesus loved him, only to have his eyes go black, look you in the face and growl, say "god doesn't love me!" Then, with the help of your mother, get him onto the bed, pray for him, and watch him writhe in pain, and then, reach under the covers to find a three foot machete hidden under perfectly folded clothing. They wanted him to kill himself. I fought for hours with this demon. I literally went home and slept for over 24 hours for fighting them. So yeah, they DO exist. God be the glory, he is free and we are going to work on writing a book about his years of drug addiction, demon addiction and freedom in Christ.
Now, clean and sober, he recently told me, without me praying for him, he was going to take his life that night.  

Michael:  Shelley, that is a crazy story, but I believe it. No Joel, that doesn't make me gullible, because (a) I trust Shelley as a reliable/sane source of information and (b) that fits with the stories/information in the Bible, as well as my theology and understanding of the supernatural. Steve, when are you going to tell your story about the mental institution?  

Paul:  Joel, I am a retired police lieutenant and a close friend and police captain lived in a very haunted house at one time. He had to leave it. I experienced it also. I also have had my own experience with the super natural as an older teenager. I guess if you haven't had the experience then you cannot understand the reality. I kind of feel sorry for you. I won't waist anymore time on this with you. You probably don't believe in multi dimensions or the fact that an object can be in two places at the same time. Those are no longer theories but facts of quantum physics that have been proven. Have a nice and secure life in your limited reality.  

Steve:  Mike L -- Ok, for what it's worth here: I was a physics/geology major in college. I, like Joel, love science and enjoy quantum physics, astronomy, cosmology and the scientific method, etc... I truly value and appreciate where Joel. is coming from. We all should understand and appreciate Joel's points. But here's the trouble: In Feb 1982, I met a student on my floor (Oswego State College) who evidenced remarkable characteristics and (in my presence and the presence of 7 others) upon reading the Bible fell on the floor into a trance-like state and spoke with a completely different voice, and began cursing Jesus in the most intense way. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. The voice responded in great fear and screaming agony to the words of the Bible or to the name of Jesus Christ. The 32 guys on my floor all heard the screaming in another voice while he was in the trance-like state. This event was repeated on 3 other occasions in the Mental Institutions first, and when they were unable to do anything, the pastors in various churches came in to help by Biblical exorcism. This event was both witnessed by 15 or more people and documented by professors at the college. Yes, Joel, under very controlled situations, this was repeated as the "demonic" being would manifest itself, identify itself, respond to questions and scream against JC. The scientific method could have been applied and would not have mattered. The scientifically trained personnel actually ran out of the room and that's when they asked the pastors to do "something." I am sorry if this sounds like hyperbole. It is not. I have it all documented by Professor Knapp. But this forum is not the place to discuss this as the situation was far more graphic than I can detail here. Yes, I still love mathematics, rationality, science and logic and these are great tools for the world we live in. But they have their shortcomings too.  

Joel:  I appreciate the comment Steve. And what I will say is that I typically always reevaluate the world around me, and try and characterize how the events I witness fall within this distribution. As I said, I believe the events I experience in life follow a Gaussian distribution. The events you or others are describing are well outside of that distribution, and thus is something that wouldn't cause me to reevaluate what I believe is true. I think in general if I witnessed the events you described, I'd probably want to seek the assistance of biologist and chemist and do an analysis of their chemical balance. I'd want this person connected to brain electrodes such that we could measure and chart brain wave activity. I'd want all interactions video taped, audio taped, and carefully documented to capture the maximum amount of data I could on the situation. I wouldn't need to make any quick conclusions, but my main goal during this time would be to capture any and all possible data that could exist regarding this event. I wouldn't want this event to just be retold as 'trust us... we were there and you wouldnt believe what we saw'. You're right, I don't believe it. Show me. Why would you expect others to put faith in you, when you could have been more diligent in your documentation of this event? And let me just say I realize that my question is unfair to you in this case because this happened back in 82 before all the things I am talking about exist. However in a more modern situation, that could be done now. In Mike's link, the produce no evidence and rely and the viewer trusting that it isn't a hoax and to make it more believable they added a creepy sound track. Do you get what im saying? If this is such a common thing, where is the evidence? Where is the scientific analysis? Back to your example... How do you know for 100% scientific truth this this person you think was demon possessed wasnt actually screwing with you. Do you not think people can change their voice? Are you sure this person was of complete sane mental health? Do you have any real evidence here that supports what you believe about this event. If I knew you better I might honestly believe that you really saw all the events you described... but how do you know that what you saw is in fact what was really happening? Finally I just want to add... you say the scientific method wouldn't have been useful in that case but it is always useful. It's how we define the world. It's how we document, gather data, prove guesses, and refine our thoughts! It's always useful.  

Steve:  I really enjoyed reading your post Joel. My wife would be glad to know there are others like me that realize all of life falls on the Gaussian distribution! I'm always telling her that given a large enough population, most things fall on the distribution curve. Anyway, your questions about my "experience" are valid, very reasonable, thoughtful and fully appropriate. I would not suggest you or anybody "trust me" instead of following documented scientific methodology on researching such things. Having said that - in 1982 there were no cell phones or video cameras to document it. I wish there were. He was completely evaluated physiologically and mentally for 2 weeks. he was in superb health. He had no history of mental health. He was also in the ROTC program. Anyway, he had more than one voice emerge - there were multiple voices coming out at the same time. It sounded like a deep angry group within him (I mentioned in my earlier post that it was more complicated). Each voice was different, spoke different languages but all screamed at the name of Christ. Too bad this wasn't taped and analyzed. It went on for a few weeks. About the scientific method I mentioned earlier - I was obliquely referring to Thomas Kuhn's landmark book ("On the Structure of Scientific Revolutions") on the function of paradigms controlling what scientists actually "see." The Scientific Method is not as objective as people think. It carries with it an implicit subjective perspective that tends to "color" the evidence into supporting the prevailing view. Thus, some of the same "data" and scientific methodology for light as "wave" was also used for light as "particle." Einstein's 1905 work (photoelectric effect - where light functions as a particle) was not accepted originally by most scientists, not because the data wasn't there, but because their paradigm didn't allow for it. A better example would be the quantum mechanical revolution that proposed a radical break from a Newtonian deterministic worldview. (Space permits a more adequate treatment of this subject). At any rate, any data on the "demon" experience if caught and repeated (and it was) on tape with all the electrodes and scientists probably would help - but it's questionable that they would want to conclude that a "spirit being" actually exists. It would be ruled out by the fact that the prevailing paradigm of naturalism does not entail any possible spirit reality. That's what I was getting at. Your points and questions are superb. I do appreciate the logical rigor with which you are approaching this....By the way, I have NOT seen the video at the top of this post. So I can't comment on it. I know, I know, ... why am I posting if I have not seen the video? Because I am not that interested and it may be a hoax Joel - so I too am skeptical about such things.  

Jeffrey:  too many people that had nothing to gain by corroborating the story have done just that. When CPS and law enforcement say it happened but they have no idea how.... then it more than likely happened. One thing you have to understand are laws concerning digitally recording children. The CPS worker would not have been videotaping or recording with a cell phone the child in the hospital. She wouldn't have had a reason to. CPS gets involved to make sure a child isn't in an abusive/neglectful situation. This happened in NW Indiana, where I am from, and I'm still in contact with the people I worked with when I worked up there, and while I didn't know the particular CPS worker that witnessed this, those I know that work with her all say the CPS worker is known as honest to a fault... I know a few other things that tell me she was telling the truth, but I can't share them without putting my own job at risk due to privacy laws. Personally, I'm not sure what to make of it.... everything can be explained away by something logical except the wall walking... and that is the part that was witnessed by others that have nothing to gain by saying they saw it. Also, the police officers refused to go back into the house after an investigation because of things that happened that they couldn't explain. The whole thing is bizarre, and I can't help but believe this may be one of the few instances when one of these stories is true.  

Joel:  Interesting comments jeff. I drove through Gary a few years ago (stopping at MJ's childhood home) and that is a very unusual town in general. Based on your comments I went back and reread without watching the video, and that would be pretty creepy if it was even half true. I wonder how much of the real documentation I can find on this event? Does seem like there might be more to this story than my first impressions. I still think it's absurd they added music to their video, but now I wonder what real documentation I can get regarding this event. Perhaps the freedom of information act might turn up something?  

Michael:  Thank you all for your comments and participation in this discussion. I think we mostly managed to keep it surprisingly civil.  Joel, I hope you didn't feel ganged up on, but you seem to handle it with grace, which I appreciate. You never did reply to Steve's last comment though (thank you for expanding on it Steve), but maybe there isn't anything more to say about it. Jeffrey, thanks for your addition - it's always great to get input from someone who is closer to the story.  

Jeffrey:  Joel, there is a copy of the report involving cps with names edited out (because they are minors). The easiest place to find it is on tmz, but it is legit. You can find it elsewhere but tmz makes access easier 

Joel:  I talked with Steve offline. I don't think Steve and I have much more to discuss on this topic in a facebook setting. It's likely that he and I have similar viewpoints with different data sets. We might even make different conclusions on the analysis of the data, but I think we have similar approaches for processing data.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Megachurches (a discussion)

An Atheist friend of mine from grade school (and now Facebook) posted the following picture, which I think was thought provoking (is that redundant?).  A discussion ensued, which I decided was worth keeping and posting here, for posterity sake if nothing else.

Me:  This is a tough issue. On one hand, you have lazy, pampered Americans that have expectations of comfort wherever they go. So do you force them to sit on the floor? If you try then they won't attend that particular church. Do you set a lower standard of comfort (no A/C, seats without cushions, open ceilings, etc.)? Do you limit the number of people who can attend, when you have a pastor and/or worship quality that can draw many more than are currently attending? Do you refuse to build a facility that can house over a certain number? If so, then what number is acceptable - 200, 500, 1000?

What percentage of a church's income is acceptable to contribute to helping the community, specifically the poor? if the "megachurch" is contributing this percentage, but they can still afford a facility for the large number of attendants, then is this acceptable? Or should the percentage be higher for churches that are larger than smaller ones, just because?

Friend:  How about this Michael. Preach from atop of a rock in a open field. That is what Jesus did.

It is my understanding that churches are also tax exempt because they must give back to the community. The decent religious charity I have seen (and given my time to) are Catholic Charities. I like the new pope dude too!

Me:  While the WWJD slogan is catchy and useful, it's not applicable to all of life's situations (for example, how to treat your wife, since Jesus didn't marry) or even to all Christian endeavors. Nor does the Bible even instruct us to follow Christ in every single thing that He did. For example, I don't expect to walk on water, turn over tables and reap chaos in temples, or to get crucified on a cross.

Additionally, both the Old and New Testaments describe churches (temples in the OT) as fellow believers meeting in a building together, with established rules and a leadership hierarchy. The OT temples were very elaborate too, requiring significant funds and ornate decor.

I do think that it's important for churches to be transparent in both their income and spending, and I also think it's very important for churches to feed the poor and nourish the community as much as possible. The (small to medium sized) one I attend contributes 25% of their income back to the community in various ways, which is pretty respectable to me, considering they have building costs, staff to pay, etc. Unfortunately though, I would not be surprised to learn that some churches (big and small) do not do any of these things.

Btw, I'm not Catholic, but I like the new pope dude too.

Friend:  If the church wishes to remain tax exempt, they should be very transparent. After all, Michael, it is the tax payer money that builds the roads leading to the temple. Auditing... That might work in the land of unicorns and butterflies but we are talking about money here. There would be skimming off the top in cases of cash donations. I believe we can all honestly admit that the church is not above corruption.
Me:  I agree with you.
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