The story behind Jinn possession – an exercise in belief over objectivity

the-exorcistIn those parts of the world where learning and science have prevailed, miracles have ceased; but in those parts of it as are barbarous and ignorant, miracles are still in vogue.
— Ethan Allen, Reason the Only Oracle of Man (1784)

In a western secular democracy like the UK, everyone has the right to pursue their religion without hindrance, and that is the way it should be. The same freedom applies to atheists, who are not forced into following a state religion that will apply torture and even death to any non-believer or anyone of a different faith.

In this country we are quite lucky, if you think about it. In times gone by, when the Catholics were in charge, Protestants were burned at the stake. When the boot was on the other foot, Protestants were burning Catholics at the stake. But both sides would quite happily kill anyone thought to be guilty of witchcraft. Or heresy. Or anything else that did not agree with the prevailing dogma.

One of the greatest perceived enemies of religion has always been science. It’s pretty significant, I think, that you will not find any historical accounts of astronomers banding together and marching out to burn the religious to death, but the aroma of roasting scientists was not exactly uncommon in the medieval era. Contradicting religious dogma was a dangerous business. (It still is, in some parts of the world.)

Then the Enlightenment happened. Science gained a foothold and superstition started to be replaced by objective study of the world – and the universe – around us. I hardly need to start listing the benefits that science has brought to the world – everything from electricity to medical expertise that routinely saves millions of lives worldwide. It’s amazing.

And yet, even in this day and age, there are those who still try to force their antiquated superstitions on us. That’s the price of free speech, of course, but free speech is a two way street that is open to everyone, and we cannot let superstition take us back to the dark ages.

I found an article in the Shields Gazette that promotes exorcism  (yet again, ad nauseam) as though it is a real method for driving out the demons (or Jinn) that the author – Mike Hallowell (who announced his conversion to Islam in June 2011) – believes can possess some individuals. I’m not going to do a full critique of the article (you can read it, and shake your head in exasperation, by clicking on the link), but I will make a few points.

There is no objective evidence that demons (or whatever name you want to give them) are real, nor is there any confirmable evidence that those who have the symptoms of a mental illness are possessed by such alleged entities.

In the article, there are some points in particular that are worth mentioning:

If you haven’t seen a Jinn-possessed person up close and personal, you have no right to pontificate on the matter.

Wrong. If someone has the right to promote superstition, then others have the right to challenge it.

“In the West, some health professionals want everything their own way.”

That would be the scientific way. Obviously we can’t have that, can we?

Most significant, perhaps, is this gem:

Both sides need to learn from this and be prepared to understand each other a little better.

Which sounds fair and conciliatory, except it is followed immediately by this (bold added for emphasis):

Muslims are not going to change their belief, substantiated by the Qur’an, that the Jinn exist and occasionally possess people.

In other words, “It doesn’t matter how much science and objectivity you bring to bear, our beliefs will not be altered. The Qur’an says it, I believe it, that’s the end of the matter.”

In view of such closed-mindedness, the fight for rationality obviously has a long way to go yet.

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3 responses to “The story behind Jinn possession – an exercise in belief over objectivity

  1. “In this country we are quite lucky, if you think about it. In times gone by, when the Catholics were in charge, Protestants were burned at the stake. When the boot was on the other foot, Protestants were burning Catholics at the stake. But both sides would quite happily kill anyone thought to be guilty of witchcraft. Or heresy. Or anything else that did not agree with the prevailing dogma”.

    Actually, in the UK relatively few people were burned for witchcraft and heresy, the traditional punishment for which was hanging. Burning was usually reserved for High Treason and Low or Petty Treason. More people were killed for crimes against the State than sins against the Church.

    “One of the greatest perceived enemies of religion has always been science”.

    Well, that might be how you “perceive” it. Some of the greatest scientific discoveries throughout history – the majority, I would venture – have been made by deeply religious people. It is a myth that science and religion are inherently incompatible. The only people who perpetuate this false idea, methinks, are those who are gripped by an irrational dislike, fear or hatred of religion.

    “It’s pretty significant, I think, that you will not find any historical accounts of astronomers banding together and marching out to burn the religious to death”.

    Paranormal researchers tend to avoid doing this too, funnily enough, although I’m aware of one local blogger (anonymous of course) who once used this as an analogy to attack paranormal researchers with and ended up shooting himself in the foot.

    “…but the aroma of roasting scientists was not exactly uncommon in the medieval era. Contradicting religious dogma was a dangerous business.”

    Two wrongs don’t make a right, of course, and science itself can be just as tyrannical as religion when it’s unfettered (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/oct/19/thetyrannyofscience)

    So what now? Are we to condemn all religion on the basis of what some psychopathic extremists once did? That’s as illogical as condemning all science due to the actions of a few crazy academics. Actually, States which were and are traditionally anti-religious, like the Soviet Union, had/have an equally bad (if not worse) track record than religious dictatorships when it comes to killing the innocent.

    “Then the Enlightenment happened. Science gained a foothold and superstition started to be replaced by objective study of the world – and the universe – around us.
    That explains why our earth is now a pollution-free paradise with zero crime and violence and devoid of disease and starvation, I suppose.
    I hardly need to start listing the benefits that science has brought to the world – everything from electricity to medical expertise that routinely saves millions of lives worldwide. It’s amazing”.
    Yup, we definitely live in an Edenic garden of delights.
    It truly is amazing of course, and until recently in the majority of cases it was religiously-minded scientists who made the discoveries you speak of. In any case, “superstition” is a highly subjective term usually employed to describe anything we personally don’t believe in. One man’s superstition is another man’s truth.
    “And yet, even in this day and age, there are those who still try to force their antiquated superstitions on us”.
    I’m sure you’ll have plenty examples of this to offer, of course. As for Islam, forcing your opinions on others is condemned both inside and outside the Qur’an. I’m also curious as to just why an “antiquated” opinion should be any less valid than a modern one.
    “That’s the price of free speech, of course, but free speech is a two way street that is open to everyone, and we cannot let superstition take us back to the dark ages”.
    And just how do you propose to prevent this happening without curtailing the right of free speech on the part of those you accuse of taking us back to the Dark Ages? Would you allow the paranormal or creationism to be taught in universities and schools? If not, how does this square with your championing of free speech?
    “I found an article in the Shields Gazette that promotes exorcism (yet again, ad nauseam)…”

    This free speech idea really gets to you, doesn’t it? Actually, the stories I write up are largely dictated by my readers, not I. Then again, as I recall you don’t have a very good impression of my readers, do you?

    “…as though it is a real method for driving out the demons (or Jinn) that the author – Mike Hallowell (who announced his conversion to Islam in June 2011) – believes can possess some individuals.”

    Now I can point you to articles where I’ve stated categorically that I a) don’t believe in demons or b) demon possession. I await your provision of references to my work where I’ve done the opposite. Also, for the record, and as I’ve specifically pointed out to you before, demons are not synonymous with the Jinn but are a different phenomenon entirely.

    “I’m not going to do a full critique of the article…”

    Of course not, as you’d really be struggling, but if I were you I’d just go for it, Skeptic. Then I’ll provide a cogent, well thought-out response.

    “There is no objective evidence that demons (or whatever name you want to give them) are real…”

    To the best of my knowledge this is correct.

    “…nor is there any confirmable evidence that those who have the symptoms of a mental illness are possessed by such alleged entities”.
    Well I agree with you regarding demon possession insofar that a) I haven’t seen any evidence for it, and b) don’t personally believe in it, but unless you’ve been present at every alleged Jinn possession since the dawn of human history you simply can’t say that it’s never happened. All you can say is not that the evidence doesn’t exist – only that you haven’t personally seen it.

    I said, “If you haven’t seen a Jinn-possessed person up close and personal, you have no right to pontificate on the matter”.

    You replied, “Wrong. If someone has the right to promote superstition, then others have the right to challenge it”.

    There you go again. Instead of providing facts you simply repeat your subjective opinion that possession is “superstition”.

    Now it’s interesting that on the UFO subject you pontificate as follows:
    “Naturally, I’m really worried about being described in public as delusional by unqualified self-appointed experts who believe in, but cannot prove, the existence of ghosts, cryptids, UFOs, poltergeists and all the rest of it, of course. After all, one of those experts might crush my puny requests for evidence with… “

    Mmmm…”requests for evidence”. Glad you brought that up. I seem to remember a certain local blogger asserting that for over a decade I’d been making claims to possess startling evidence of the supernatural but never actually released analysis of it as promised. The same person also made a raft of false criticisms about me in regard to a certain haunted hairdressing salon a couple of years ago. He promised that he’d support his allegations by posting references and citations to my work “soon”, but, as I confidently predicted, that never happened. I’m still waiting. In fact, the one reference he did supply was written not by me, but by another journalist entirely. So much for accuracy!
    If you’d like me to post those allegations here for the benefit of your readers – I’ve scrupulously documented them – and my repeated, detailed challenges to him to back them up with evidence, just let me know. I’m sure devotees of Bad Thinking would find them truly interesting. Better still, why don’t you encourage him to post his supposed evidence against me and pull the rug from under my feet?
    If he’s going to demand that others provide evidence of their claims then he should do exactly the same, right? So, my challenge to him hasn’t altered: He should publicly identify himself and provide evidence of the allegations he made against me – or admit that he was wrong, surely? The last time we debated this he pointedly avoided answering any of my challenges with specific refutations. He simply made broad-based, vague references to “red herrings”, and such, not one of which was a specific rebuttal of anything I’d said.

    Oh, and as for those “unqualified, self-appointed” experts you speak of, as you’re presumably an expert yourself could you give me just one example of such a person who has truly proclaimed themselves as an expert as opposed to being lauded as an expert by others? Also, can you detail just how many of these experts you’ve ever contacted yourself to determine whether they really are unqualified, as per the claim? If you agree with him, how exactly did you make this determination? Again, if you wouldn’t proclaim yourself as an expert in the paranormal, how can you judge others who claim that they are? Well, you couldn’t, could you, because then you’d then be making yourself a “self-proclaimed expert” along with all of the others; the very thing you’re criticising. Seems to me you’re in a bit of a bind here; a sort of, “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” scenario. If you aren’t an expert, then how can you judge, and if you are an expert, how did you become one?
    Whilst we’re on the subject, can you reveal your own qualifications in the field? For instance, how many books have you had published on the paranormal? How many cases have you researched personally? How many articles on the supernatural have you had published in newspapers, magazines and journals? How many professional associations in the field do you belong to? How many TV documentaries have you made, how many radio interviews have you taken part in and how many conferences have you spoken at? After all, it’s hardly becoming to criticise those “self-appointed experts” if you’re nowhere near being an expert on the matter yourself, is it?
    I said, “In the West, some health professionals want everything their own way.”
    “That would be the scientific way. Obviously we can’t have that, can we?”
    As I’m sure you’re aware, you’ve taken my quote right out of context. If you’d posted the sentence in its context readers would see that my criticism had nothing to do with health workers promoting some, “scientific way”, which I’d wholeheartedly support, but rather the refusal of some to accept the reality of Jinn possession, the scientific validity of which is certainly not a closed issue, as you’d have discovered if you’d attended a conference with me on the subject in London back in June.
    I said, “Muslims are not going to change their belief, substantiated by the Qur’an, that the Jinn exist and occasionally possess people”.

    Your response: “In other words, ‘It doesn’t matter how much science and objectivity you bring to bear, our beliefs will not be altered. The Qur’an says it, I believe it, that’s the end of the matter’.”
    Give your readers a truthful answer: Up to this point, have you actually read the Qur’an for yourself? In fact, Muslims are positively encouraged to look for scientific objectivity in regards to their beliefs, and there are hundreds of Islamic publications in existence which prove the point. Doctor and Egyptologist Maurice Bucaille, for example, became convinced of the Qur’an’s veracity specifically because of its scientific accuracy and wrote a number of books on the subject. He was criticised by some, inevitably, but no true Muslim rejects science in favour of the Qur’an, as in Islam it is believed the two are perfectly compatible. All we are left with, then, is your own subjective opinion that they aren’t.

    Of course Muslims believe the Qur’an; that’s why they’re Muslims. Not sure what your point is here in repeating an obvious truism.

    Here’s a serious offer: If you fancy a good-natured, civilised debate on this and similar issues in public, I’d be more than happy to arrange something. Just let me know. It would be the perfect opportunity for you to step out of the shadows and stop sniping at people anonymously, whilst simultaneously blowing a religiously-minded Dark Ages relict like me out of the water, wouldn’t it? Your readers might think this would be a really good idea. If you decide to decline this offer, you might wish to explain why.

    “In view of such closed-mindedness, the fight for rationality obviously has a long way to go yet”.
    You’re right. Your mind is completely closed to the idea that Jinn possession might be a real phenomenon.
    You’re entitled to your opinions, of course, Skeptic, but if you’re going to offer them publicly at least get your facts right and try to demand of yourself the same rigorous standards you require from others. The way I see it, you have several choices. You can simply remove this post and refrain from dealing with it. Alternatively, you could simply make a few non-specific swipes without actually answering any of my challenges. Finally, you could deal with each one directly and specifically, which would be the honourable thing to do.
    The difference between you and I is that my readers know the person behind the pen, so to speak. When I offer an opinion on something, I put my name to it. I don’t fire broadsides at people and/or concepts from the darkness. In my opinion that’s cowardly. Tell us; why don’t you let people see just who you really are?

    Like

  2. Mike,

    I’ve prepared an answer to your comments, but I have to answer you by posting my reply as a completely new post.

    This is because it is not possible to post images in the comment thread, and I am using certain images to support the points I want to make.

    The new post will be up very soon.

    Like

  3. Pingback: Mike Hallowell on the Jinn–A reply | Bad Thinking

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