On Satan, Demons, and Psychiatry by Ragy Girgis

Psychiatry? Is Psychiatry going to solve our problems with Satan, demons and demon possession? It’s about time!

But how? Medication? Electroconvulsive therapy? Psychoanalysis? Jungian Analysis? Oh, maybe one of the forms of behavioral therapy? So many options.

While Dr. Girgis will present a case for how psychiatry can help us understand demons and demon possession, it will be as he combines his training as a psychiatrist, his experience as a clinician working with those with serious mental illness and his reading of a number of biblical texts we most often regard as examples of demon possession not only as a psychiatrist but as a practicing Christian.

Early in the book he tells us that, “the goal of this book is to help change misconceptions that have historically pervaded Christianity … about serious mental illness … to provide an … educational account of untreated serious mental illness, with the ultimate objective of decreasing the stigma about serious mental illness in the Christian community and increasing the acceptance of psychiatric treatment.” (pp 13-14)

Did you notice in those few short lines the repetition, “… serious mental illness”?

If you, you have been introduced to two things you will find in Dr Girgis’ book. (1) He is very intent on us understanding his focus will be on “serious mental illnesses, such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.” (p 4) (2) He seems to regard repetition as a necessary part of educating the reader. He will repeat himself.

He reminds me of the minister who said that a preacher must tell them people what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. (Surely, you’ve heard that before!)

In the preface he goes about outlining what he will present. He spends a number of chapters (chapters 2 – 12) presenting his case. And in the Conclusion he summarizes the ground he has covered. Before I frighten you away from the book, let me add, he does all this in 112 pages that is very readable and not at all sluggish.

In each of the biblical scenes and personages he address (Moses, King Saul, King David, Jonah, Nebuchadnezzar, the Gadarene Demoniac, and an “exorcism” in Capernaum), he will argue that we need not understand it as demon possession but can better understand it with the tools and perspective of modern psychiatry.

He speaks of “The Bible com[ing] from a different narrative culture that could not explain things in terms of Enlightenment rationality…. When reading … and understanding the Bible stories, one must recognize that these two narratives (pre- and post-Enlightenment) produce two narratives that are different but readily and largely overlap…. We can honor them both.” (p 64)

You need to read this book to see for yourself if he was able to honor both. I think he did a good job.

I would like to turn this book loose in a group at church and see what kind of discussion we could have and what we could learn from Dr Girgis.

And most importantly, I would love to know how successful he can be in helping us get past the stigma associated with mental illnesses. I can only hope and pray he is successful with many.

{ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est}

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

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