Thursday, September 30, 2004

hollywood's racist agenda

Hollywood is picking on me.

I didn't realize this was true, until I heard about the recent uproar by UNICO and other Italian-American organizations regarding "Shark Tale."

"Shark Tale" is the newest computer-animated movie from DreamWorks SKG. The movie, which debuted at theaters on Friday, debases Italian-Americans because it includes a shark mafia whose members speak with Italian accents and use Italian phrases such as capisce and consigliere.

Even though the film actually is spoofing the genre of mob movies, and even though the sharks end up being portrayed sympathetically, this film is a wholly undeserved ethnic smear. Everyone knows that Mafia crime families actually speak Swedish, not Italian, and like crime families from other nationalities, they are pleasant, law-abiding groups that enjoy a nice round of croquet after dinner.

That "Shark Tale" follows so closely on the heels of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," which depicted Italian soldiers as a bloodthirsty, sadistic lot who tortured the Son of God to death, just adds insult to injury. Everyone knows the soldiers who killed Jesus Christ were actually French.

It really shouldn't surprise anyone that Hollywood has it in for Italian -Americans. If you look at a history of the movies, it's obvious that movie studios will hate anybody if it boosts box office receipts.

I'm not Italian, but like many other Americans, I have a wide and varied ethnic heritage because of our nation's legacy as a melting pot. Every ethnic group to which I can claim some connection by blood has been tarnished by the cultural elite behind movies and TV.

Think about all the movies you've seen about World War II. Whether it's "Saving Private Ryan," "Band of Brothers" or "Force 10 from Navarone," you'll notice a common thread woven throughout them all: Germans are bad guys. German soldiers routinely kill American troops and support the evil regime of Adolf Hitler.

Watch a movie such as "The Pianist" or "Schindler's List," and it gets even worse. Now Germans are linked with the Holocaust and the extermination of 6 million Jews.

"Gladiator" started at a battle line where the Romans were about to fight against German barbarians. The Germans appear nowhere else in the movie, and are present only for one reason: to be denigrated, and further the director's racist agenda.

What's the message we're supposed to take away from all this? Clearly, it's that when German-Americans aren't mindless barbarians running around the woods in animal skins, we're all Nazi sympathizers who hate Jews. As a German-American, I take great exception to that, and think that the next time Hollywood sees fit to do a movie about World War II, it should forget the spin just for a moment and remember all the nice pretty flowers that grow along the Rhine.

In addition to my German heritage, I can trace my roots back to England. My English heritage gets just as thorough a drubbing as my German side.

In "Braveheart," we follow the exploits of folk hero William Wallace as he fights for Scottish independence from the English King Edward Longshanks. Longshanks is portrayed as a ruthless man who maintains order in Scotland through rape, through brutality and through the wholesale slaughter of whoever gets in his way.

He has no qualms about giving orders to kill his own soldiers in order to take out the Scots, he heartlessly bludgeons his own son and pushes his son's lover out the window and offers peace with one hand even as he moves his other to attack. The English in "The Patriot" display the same complete lack of virtue.

And in "U-571," the entire British contribution to capturing the U-boat not only was ignored, it was supplanted with fictitious accounts of American involvement.

Rather than celebrating the beauty of English culture and England's contributions to history, Hollywood treats us again and again to supposed barbarity so that when someone sees an English name, they don't see a person, they see an ethnic identity.

This is an unconscionable thing to do to my children, who must now grow up under the stigma of being German-Americans and English-Americans, rather than being accepted as full-class citizens in their own right and on their own merits.

I could go on. I also have a French ancestor, a nation disparaged in "The Pirates of the Caribbean," and an ancestress who was an American Indian, a race disparaged in everything from "Rin Tin Tin" to the films of John Wayne.

No matter where you turn, people have a reason to complain about popular entertainment depicting them in a negative light.

I wish it would stop.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

ghosts

If you want to stir up some really twisted hermeneutics, ask an evangelical or fundamentalist about ghosts.

Ghosts don't fit in particularly well with mot Christian perspectives on the afterlife. Many, if not most, Christians would agree that when a person dies, they are either in heaven or in hell, though there are those who believe that the dead aren't in their final destination yet as much as they are "just asleep" until Judgment Day. So, particularly among the evangelical-fundamentalist crowd, there's not much room for ghosts. As a consequence, many evangelicals and Christians, faced with the thorny question of ghosts, insist that ghosts are simply demons impersonating a dead soul. Nice, neat solution.

The problem is that the Bible sometimes mentions ghosts, not to say that they exist, but to indicate that people in Bible times either held such superstitions or at least were aware of them. The gospel mentions that when the Apostles saw Jesus walking on water, they thought he was a ghost; later, after the Resurrection, he urges them to touch his corporeal body, saying, "See, I am not a ghost."

And then there's the story of Saul and the witch of Endor. At the end of 1 Samuel, King Saul goes to Endor to ask a medium to conjure the spirit of the prophet Samuel, so he can find out what is going to happen to him the next day when he goes to fight the Philistines. The news isn't encouraging: "You and your sons will all die," Samuel's spirit says to him.

Now the Bible's pretty clear that this is the shade of Samuel rising from the ground, and judging from the text, it seems no one is happy about the situation. Samuel is angry that Saul has summoned his spirit, which the Levitical code expressly forbids; Saul is disheartened by the news, and the witch herself is freaked out. But the Bible is clear that this is Samuel, not something else pretending to be Samuel.

My friend Respectfully Brian P has an interesting and convoluted take on this passage, in which he tries to argue from doctrine that the Bible is wrong, and this isn't Samuel at all.

The problem is that he's assigning a contemporary cosmology to biblical times, arguing that because Samuel's spirit rose from the ground that it couldn't a figure coming from the exalted presence of God.

The ancient Hebrews believed the dead, whether good, bad or indifferent, went to Sheol, which is Hebrew for the grave (the Greek equivalent is Hades). This was more or less synonymous with the graves where dead bodies were interred, hence the phrase we see repeated in the Tanakh that so-and-so "died and was laid with his fathers" -- because so-and-so literally was laid with fathers.

So it makes no difference whether Saul rises from the earth or comes down from the sky, since heaven is not located in the sky and hell is not located within the core of the planet. In the context of Sheol as the grave, the abode of the dead, rising from the earth makes more sense, given that people were buried.

The testimony that the witch of Endor summoned Samuel comes from the Tanakh itself, which says that Samuel's spirit rose from the ground. It doesn't say an unclean spirit, nor Sathanas, nor any other name -- just Samuel.

My take would be that the witch of Endor was by and large a fraud, and when she saw Samuel's apparition, she wigged out. It wasn't her usual tricks and it probably didn't match any of the other occasions when a spirit had become involved.

Speaking personally, I don't have a firm stand on ghosts. I know a lot of people who swear up and down that they've had experiences they can't explain any way other than paranormally, but I think a lot of people are just nuts. Many believers in ghosts just don't thinking through all the natural or even psychological possibilities that would explain the phenomena in question, if for no other reason than a paranormal one is more exciting.

So many ghosts and paranormal encounters are fraudulent, as Harry Houdini loved to show. (You gotta love the Elseworlds issue with Houdini and Batman, though.)

Others are unquestionably other spirits, some beneficient and others malevolent that are misunderstood to be ghosts or that misportray themselves as such.

But I won't rule out the possibility that ghosts exist. I don't like a world where everything is defined into neat little piles, because I don't believe God made the world to be like that. While most of us will fall asleep until the Last Day when we awaken to judgment, I won't rule out the possibility that there are some restless spirits that can't sleep, for whatever reason.

Friday, September 24, 2004

red dwarf

At the moment my wife and I are on a tremendous "Red Dwarf" kick. We borrowed the first four seasons on DVD from a friend, and have been working our way through them.

I'd already read two of the books, and am pleasantly amazed at how smeggingly different the two versions of the story on while still remaining faithful to the same vision. The TV show came first, followed later by the books. The author -- a gestalt entity known as Grant Naylor -- did a superb job with the adaptation, and shows how you can improve a story in many ways by adapting it instead of slavishly retelling it.

Good series, really. If you liked "Hitchhiker's Guide," you'll like "Red Dwarf" too.

At this point, we've watched the first four seasons on DVD, and I've read two of the three books. Great stuff. I wasn't aware there had been discussion of a U.S. version of the series, but I don't doubt it wouldn't have been great stuff. It probably would have added new meaning to the word "suckage." Look what FOX did to "Dr. Who." (Or, better yet, don't. You're better off not knowing.)

The show did have some challenges, with the cast originally limited to Lister, Holly, Rimmer's hologram, the Cat and Lister's toaster, but I think it rose to the challenge admirably.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

stupid hang-ups

  1. I cannot, for the life of me, open a canister of Pillsbury biscuits. As soon as I try, I get a tight feeling across my shoulder blades and find myself cringing just at the thought. For some reason, that Pop! always gets to me and I've become hopelessly conditioned to dread it. (Perhaps it was the unfortunate accident I had as a child.)
  2. Makeup in general holds no attraction to me, but lipstick actually grosses me out. Even just the word. I'm really fortunate that Natasha has never worn makeup, except for once when she was a teenager. It's not look she needs it, either -- she looks absolutely beautiful without it.
  3. I also count steps as I take them. I've heard that that's actually one of the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive behavior, which has always troubled me slightly. (See, I get a hangup about possibly being troubled, neurotic or somesuch.)
  4. And while we're on the subject of compulsions, I sometimes will stare at the clock, to catch the numbers changing. I get keyed up by the 12:34 thing. I was disappointed when I realized I had missed 12:34:56 on July 8 1990, especially since I had missed 1:23:45 June 7, 1989, the year previously.
  5. I also peel dried glue off bottles of glue -- it's been a compulsion of mine since I was in elementary school.
  6. My younger brother has long had a hangup about buttons. Even now as a 32-year-old, he can't wear a button-down shirt. I've seen him start choking and gasping for breath in a psychosomatic response to wearing a shirt with buttons. Apparently as a young child he developed a fear that a button would pop off his shirt and go into his mouth. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

spiritual growth

About six months ago, Evangeline committed herself to Christ. I really have no idea how deep that commitment it is, but I have no doubt it was as real a commitment as a 4-year-old can make and Christ will honor it.

I have to say, it's been tremendous watching her grow in understanding. There have been amusing moments, as expected, such as a few weeks ago when I didn't have my hair tied back, and Evangeline said, "Daddy, you look like Jesus!" But there have been other, incredible moments as we've talked about the faith together. A while ago she asked me why she can see the Jesus in "The Miracle Maker" and in "Jesus Christ Superstar," but our Jesus is invisible. So I had to explain the Incarnation to her, and that Christ is now in heaven but is with us spiritually. A couple days ago, she asked how Jesus could be God if he was God's Son, and I could tell she wasn't entirely satisfied by my attempt to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. (Join the club, kiddo.)

One time, she asked me if we can see heaven, and I said that sometimes we can see heaven when we really love another person and act to them like Jesus wants us to. Another time, after we had read the Genesis account of creation, she thought for a minute and then said quite seriously, "Daddy, I don't think the sky is heaven."

I remember one time she prayed the Lord's Prayer,
"Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done
On earth as in heaven.
Daddy took the stick away from me at preschool,
And I said, 'Daddy, that was a bad choice.You're in time out.'
In Jesus' name,
Amen."

Her prayers are a little simpler right now. She usually just prays along with me at bedtime, but she also often thanks God for "all the fun I've had today, including the things I didn't like."

During family devotions, though, she's astounded me. We really just started having them this past week while I've been at home on vacation time, but she's taken right to them with a minimum of fuss. Natasha surprised me by pulling out an old hymnal I didn't know she had, and E has blown me away twice now by asking to sing "Nothing but the Blood of Jesus" -- and more times by knowing the words to other hymns like "Old Rugged Cross," "It is Well" and "My Jesus, I Love Thee." (The first song she ever sang actually was "Silent Night," a byproduct of my singing hymns to her as an infant to get her to sleep.)

Rachel, who is only 23 months, is already enjoying worship too. She sings along with "Jesus Loves Me" and last Sunday when Natasha went to pick her up from her Sunday School class, where they had been watching some video or another, Rachel said, "Mommy, watching Jesus!"

It's kind of intimidating and awe-inspiring. My kids are finding out as toddlers what I didn't discover until I was almost 18. I can only hope that I pass on to them by the time they turn 18 the parts of the gospel I didn't figure out until I was over 30.

favoritism

I'm looking for some perspective here, particularly from other parents, about something that's been troubling me for more than two years.

I find myself continually favoring one child over the other.

This first came up back when Chris was still here. I don't remember how it came up, but one evening in the kitchen by ourselves Niki spelled it out for me point-blank: "You love him more than you love your own daughter."

That hurt, but I couldn't argue with her. It was true. I had been making an effort to shoulder more of the burden with Chris because he was such a handful for Niki and she had a hard time dealing with his issues, and in the process ended up spending more time with him than I was spending with Eowyn, and becoming closer emotionally to him than I had been with Eowyn.

I made a point of correcting that, and spent as much time with Eowyn as I could. I went out of my way to mend the relationship with her and to make it clear to her that I love her with all my heart. Although it's been strained by the hours I've had to give Worrall NEwspapers, Eowyn and I have a strong relationship.

You can probably tell where this is going. I don't feel as close to Ruth as I do to Eowyn, and -- I hate to say this -- I don't enjoy her as much as I do Eowyn. I love to watch her develop and I take pleasure in her accomplishments, and I enjoy going for walks with her and letting her sleep on my shoulder -- but the relationship I have with Eowyn is not there. I don't know what it is -- maybe it's because Eowyn has a lot of my personality and some similar interests, and Ruth until recently has been the quiet, personalityless baby -- but I find myself time and again favoring Eowyn over Ruth.

It actually started fairly early on. For whatever reason, when Eowyn was a newborn, I could walk her around for hours and never once complain about the lost sleep or the time it took for her to settle down. With Ruth, I never had that zeal for staying up with her, and tonight found myself resenting the fit she threw about having to go to sleep, and the inconvenience at having to let her sleep on my chest until Niki came home.

I'm told this is fairly natural and normal, and it may very well be so, but it still eats at me. I don't *want* to play favorites. I want my children each to feel and to be special to their father, and I don't want one of them being able to point at another and say, "There's the one Dad loves." My brothers and I can do that to an extent with our mother, and even can point to where it shifted from one brother to another; and my mother never had any doubts which of her sisters was favored by which parent -- and who get what was left over, if anything.

In some ways, I suppose the situation here is to be expected. Ruth was born less than a month after Chris moved back with his parents. She came at the best possible time -- her arrival helped us to move on from our grief -- and also at the worst possible time -- the joy that should have welcomed her arrival was mixed with tears. (The painful irony is that Ruth is named after my grandmother, whose older brother had died shortly before she was born. My great-grandfather wanted a son to replace the one he had lost, and never got over her being a girl. I also wanted a son.)

So ... any insight from other parents here? How do you avoid playing favorites with your children? And how have others of us dealt with seeing the favoritism that our parents played?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

following a false jesus

I recently came to the shocking discovery that I've been following a false Jesus.

It was in the car a couple weeks ago, as I was driving home from work. It had been another long day on the job during a rough week, and I was worn out from it all. I was praying with that fearsome anger of someone who has been wronged, praying for justice.

I had every reason to want justice. My employers are notorious cheapskates who don't pay their employees well, who don't hire enough people and then expect the workers they do have to work doubly hard, without overtime compensation, to get the job done.

I had missed seeing my girls all day -- again.

I had missed reading them stories, praying with them, and tucking them into bed -- again.

I had failed to be there for my wife when the day grew long and tensions wore on her nerves -- again.

I had suffered one loss after another, and endured one abuse after another, for a job I hated with employers who couldn't care less whether they drained dry the people who were earning them their fortunes.

I wanted God to show them what they were doing, not just to me but to a dozen other people I knew. I wanted God to show my employers that they were making themselves rich at our expense, and I wanted them to know what Scripture warned about people who hoard wealth and deny workers their wages.

I was getting positively excited at the thought of their comeuppance, and was ready to dance with glee on the rubble when suddenly it hit me: I knew exactly what Simon had expected when he became Jesus' disciple.

Although he's often overlooked because of that other Simon in the gospels, Simon the Zealot is an important figure for us to remember. As a Zealot, Simon was looking for a Messiah who was going to come lift up downtrodden Israel and throw mighty Rome down to the ground. He was going to right all the wrongs, punish the wicked and shake all the Roman sympathizers right out of the house.

To Simon, in love with his liberating and conquering Messiah, the Suffering Servant embodied by Jesus must have seemed practically heretical. If it weren't for the miracles, it's possible Simon wouldn't have given Jesus a chance.
But Simon did give Jesus a chance, and over the three years Simon was a disciple, he became acquainted with the Cross. He got to understand that the way Jesus showed us isn't about hungering for revenge, even when we call it justice. Over those three years, Jesus told Simon to turn the other cheek and not to resist an evil person. And while Jesus did urge the well-to-do to assume their obligation for the poor, he saved his harshest words for religious hypocrites and always led by example.

Simon eventually got the idea of the Cross -- that we're supposed to see people made in the image of God, not enemies. After all, one of the other disciples was Levi, a Jew who worked as a tax collector for the Roman occupiers and made himself rich in the process. I'm sure the two had their more awkward moments during Jesus' ministry, but eventually Levi, who wrote the gospel of Matthew, joined Simon the Zealot in a martyr's death.

For my part, I went back to the Cross and asked forgiveness for straying -- again. After all, this isn't the first false Jesus whom I've let lead me astray. There's been the false Jesus who got me to look down on unbelievers, and there was his brother, the false Jesus who got to look down at other believers and revile them as non-Christians or as worldly. Other false Jesuses have taught me to think that if I follow Christ's commands that I'll be rewarded with wealth, with happiness or some other fleeting blessing, when Christ actually promises the exact opposite. Some have got me to attempt great things for the god who lies within me and who is always trying to divert my attention from the God I swore to serve.

One thing is always the same. Whether it's the false Jesus Simon served, the false Jesus Matthew served, the one Peter served, or some other false Jesus, he always takes my eyes off the Cross.

The Cross is where I belong. That's my sin dies and my spirit soars to life again. It's where my faith the size of a mustard seed can see impossible things happen, and it's where I find communion not just with Christ, but with all sorts of other people who, just like me, don't get it -- except for those brief shining moments when we're touched by grace and the lights come on.

If you've been following a false Jesus too -- and you know you have -- then come join me at the Cross. Because that's the other thing about the Cross -- it's where our false Jesuses are put to death, and we get to see the real one instead.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

what's it to ya?

Let's look at one of the little mysteries of Scripture.
In the very last verses of the gospel of John, Jesus and Peter are walking along the shore and have their chat about whether Peter loves him. At the end of the conversation, Peter looks back and sees John, and asks, "Lord, what about him?"

Jesus responds, "If I want him to remain until I return, what is it to you?"

John goes on to add that because of this, the rumor started to spread among the believers that John would not die, but Jesus did not say he would die. He merely said "If I want him to remain until I return, what is it to you?"

I believe that every word in Scripture has meaning on at least one level, but usually on more. If Jesus meant simply, "It's none of your business what happens to John," he could have said so in a bazillion different ways.

So what did he mean by "If I want him to remain until I return, what is it to you?" If all he meant was "It's none of your beeswax" -- and I believe that not only is a valid interpretation, but one of the layers of meaning -- then why not say, "It's none of your business?" Or, if he wanted to be poetic, why not say, "If I want him to grow antlers and sing at bar mitzvahs, what is that to you?"

Good literary analysis holds that the choice of words in a passage, particularly when it's cryptic or suggestive like this is, there's more than one layer of meaning.

I compare it to the fate of Enoch, when the author of Genesis writes "Enoch walked with the Lord, and then he was no more for the Lord took him away." On the face of it, that means Enoch died, end of the story, game over. But it's such a clever way to say it -- and it differs from all the other deaths in that genealogy, where the author writes "And then he died," so it's completely reasonable to assume that Enoch didn't just die, but was translated.

In Acts 1, the disciples ask Jesus if he's going to restore the Kingdom of Israel. What is it Jesus says? Not "If I want to wait a couple millennia to do it, what is that to you?" but "It is not for you to know the times and dates the Father has set by his own authority."

There you have it. Point-blank, in-your-face "This is none of your business." But that's NOT how he answered Peter's question. Which means to me that that wasn't his whole intent.

The Revelation explanation -- that John was physically present for a vision of the End Times, and hence was "alive until I return" -- is one I heard back in college, but I don't quite buy it.

That seems to be suggesting that John saw futuristic events but didn't understand them, so he developed weird images like locusts that sting like scorpions, and green mice that run uphill in the moonlight. That just sounds ridiculous, particularly when you consider how much of the imagery of Revelation is found in earlier prophetic books, particularly from the Tanakh.

I wouldn't be surprised if the closing verses in John are partly the basis for the old legend about the Wandering Jew.

Good Bible study involve asking "Why did it happen this way?" I find I get the most understanding of Scripture and what Christ does in us when I try to understand the people and the dynamics involved. Knowing more about a seder makes lights come on during a reading of the Last Supper that would have stayed off if I hadn't read the haggadah before last Easter.

And as I said, good literary analysis involves looking at cases where a simpler response wasn't used, particularly when you consider that Jesus had other occasions where he spoke quite plainly: "Then neither will I tell you by whose authority I am doing these things" or "It is not for you to know the times and dates the Father has set by his own authority."

That Jesus said anything beyond "What is it to you?" makes his comments worth considering; that John heavily implies that Jesus didn't mean John would never die makes it doubly intriguing to think about.

Given the context of the quote, I think tjos take on it is the best one: that Jesus is saying it's going to be a while until he returns, and John will outlive all the others. Jesus just told Peter how he would die -- when you are old you will stretch out your hands and be taken where you do not wish to go -- so it makes sense that Jesus is saying something about John's fate.

Our college IVCF staff worker was big on the idea that Christ's prophesied "coming on the clouds in judgment" was a reference to A.D. 70, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and that other prophecies we consider to be End Times refer to the Last Days of the covenant with Israel. (I do not subscribe to this belief.)

In that sense, you could argue that John lived until Jesus came again, since he was not martyred, but lived to see the church become an increasingly Gentile body, saw the sack of Jerusalem under Vespasian and also witnessed the end of the Caesars, when Nero, last of the Julio-Claudians, was killed.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

demonology

A friend of mine launches a discussion on the Christian doctrine of demons

1: Do you believe there is such a thing as a literal "demon"? If so, where do you think they came from?
Pittsburgh.

No, seriously, I'd say the testimony of Scripture is pretty clear that there are spiritual entities that are evil, but what they are, doctrines are going to vary. The traditional explanation, which I side with by default, is that demons are fallen angels that took place in a rebellion against God back at the beginning.

That's not entirely stated within Scripture. Christ bears witness that he saw Satan "fall from heaven like lightning," and there is a passage in the book of Revelation that talks about a war in heaven that ended with a third of the stars being cast from the sky. We assign that story to the beginning, but I'm not clear on why, except that it's what we do.

The Greek New Testament calls the spirits Jesus casts out of people "unclean spirits," with no explanation of where they came from, although the spirits recognize Jesus as the Holy One of God and recognize that they have a date with destiny.

The prophet Micah, in 1 Kings, declares that God sent a lying spirit into Ahab's court so that Ahab's prophets would all promise him victory, so that Ahab would go into battle and be killed. The book of Job also has Satan entering the presence of God and giving an accounting of his activities to God. So while Scripture clearly indicates that Satan is in opposition to God's kingdom and his plan, it also shows that he is subject to him, which makes for a different sort of rebellion than we usually imagine.

There was a school of thinking among the ancient Hebrews that Satan was a servant of God whose job was to take the opposite view and be (you'll pardon the phrase) the Devil's Advocate. That certainly seems to be one of the functions he has.

But yes, I believe in demons and devils, even though I won't claim to know definitively and exactly what they are.

Do you think that "demon-possession" is often a case of a misunderstanding of a health problem, either physical or psychological? Are tales of such things from the Bible a superstitious view based on incomplete understanding by the authors?

I think there's some overlap. Some people are like Father Zissima (?) in the Brothers Karamazov, who saw more devils than hell could hold. To them, any head cold or missed parking space is an attack by Old Scratch. Other people believe everything has a natural cause and completely disbelieve in angelic or demonic beings -- what Lewis called the two equal but opposite errors concerning the Devil.

Sometimes mental illness is demonic affliction. Other times it's just mental illness. Same is true for physical ailments, I would say.

Just because something has a physical cause doesn't mean it's rooted solely in the physical world. The natural world is a subset of the supernatural world, and so the supernatural world is able to affect the natural world we live in, in ways that we cannot perceive, just as our physical activities have repercussions in the spiritual world.

So to answer your question, my short answer is No, and my long answer is Yes, but.

Demon possession seemed to be very common in Jesus' time, at least compared to today. Why do you think that is? Is it because of the sort of misunderstanding mentioned above, or were there other issues at work? Do you think maybe the stories are a metaphor?

Like everything else in the Bible, the accounts of deliverance from demonic possession are layered with meaning and can be interpreted correctly in several different lights. I believe they happened pretty much as described.

As to the explosion in demonic activity, I'd say it's because of Christ's grand entrance onto the world stage. The world and its people didn't notice much at first, but in the spiritual world Mary's pregnancy was a rock that shattered mighty empires into dust that blew away, and then grew into a mountain that covered the earth.

And I'd say demonic activity is just as pronounced now as in New Testament times, but I think we're inclined to disbelieve it because we're more enlightened.

I've been *through* demonic oppression. I know other people who have been. I know two people who claim to have been demon possessed, and a few others who claim to have cast demons out of people. (I'm sure someone's going to make charges of crackpottery, but there you have it.)

Interesting points: The Greek word we translate as "possession" also gets translated as "anointing" when it's used to describe the Holy Spirit and his effect upon Christians. Thus it's not possession as much as it is an unholy anointing of sin, or, as could be said, "demonization."

Other interesting point: The New Testament authors used the same word to describe Jesus casting out demons as they did to describe what he did to the money changers in the temple.

Do you think it's possible that even modern medical problems, fully understood by medical science, are in some way physical manifestations of spiritual conflicts?

I already answered this, but yes, I do.

For example, I have a severe case of psoraiasis. It covers about 20 perecnt of my body. The biological causes of psoriasis are all well documented: hyperactive immune system from not being breastfed as an infant, stress factors, skin damage, weight problems, zinc shortage, blah blah blah.

Let me focus on the stress factor. Do you think just maybe that there could be something even slightly demonic that could trigger a stress attack and lead to a flareup in psoraiasis? That's a minor thing, of course, and I'm not saying that Satan has given me a severe case of psoraiasis, but I do think it could be a physical side effect of something else like a spiritual attack that has nothing to do with the health of my skin.