Saturday, 1 April 2017

Myths About Muhammad 2. Demon Possessed

     Having read the biography of Muḥammad, I have to admit to a grudging respect. But how you assess him depends on your terms of reference. Are you looking at Muḥammad the Arab, or Muḥammad the prophet? In the case of Muḥammad the Arab, I will not speak a harsh word against him. He was a moral giant striding across his environment. His faults were those of his society, but his virtues were his own, and that is the best which can be said about any of us.
     However, if you look at Muḥammad the prophet, the ideal man, the model to which all men should aspire, then it is hard not to agree with what H.G. Wells said in An Outline of History (1920):
Because he, too, founded a great religion, there are those who write of this evidently lustful and rather shifty leader as though he were a man to put beside Jesus of Nazareth, or Gautama, or Mani. But it is surely manifest that he was a being of a commoner clay; he was vain, egotistical, tyrannous, and a self-deceiver; and it would throw all our history out of proportion if, out of a sincere deference to the possible Moslem reader, we were to present him in any other light.
     So now let us look at a few criticisms of Muḥammad. The Rev. Jerry Vine caused a ruckus when he called Muḥammad a demon possessed pedophile, and an inspirer of terrorism. Let us examine each of them in turn.

Demon Possessed
     Believe it or not, this accusation was made against Muḥammad in his own time. Muḥammad used to speak in ecstatic utterances, which he interpreted as messages from God sent by the angel Gabriel. However, some of his enemies accused him of receiving them, not from God, but from the Jinn, the sinister, malignant spirits of the wilderness which we know best as the genies of the Arabian Nights. Two verses of the Koran, 23:69 and 34:46 dispute the contention that the speaker was possessed.
     One of Muḥammad's biographers, Ibn Sad, described the prophet's demeanour when receiving a revelation:
     At the moment of inspiration, anxiety pressed upon the Prophet, and his countenance was troubled. He fell to the ground like a drunk, or one overcome by sleep; and on the coldest day his brow would be bedewed with large drops of sweat. Even his she-camel, if he chanced to become inspired while mounted on her, would be affected by a wild excitement, sitting down and rising up, now planting her feet rigidly, then throwing them about as if they would be parted from her. To outward appearance inspiration descended unexpectedly, and without any previous warning to the Prophet. When questioned on the subject, he replied: "Inspiration comes in one of two ways; sometimes Gabriel communicates the revelation to me as one man to another, and this is easy; at other times it is like the ringing of a bell, penetrating my very heart, and rending me, and this is what afflicts me the most."
     Under such circumstances, it is easy for the subject, or an onlooker, to assume that the message comes from something external, either divine or demonic. However, modern psychology is better able to understand the phenomenon.

     This is a special case of "channeling": an attempt to receive messages from invisible entities. Shamans channel spirits, and mediums channel ghosts. Others attempt to channel various other beings, such as aliens from outer space. In every case, however, they are really communicating with their subconscious minds by a process known as dissociation.
     It is difficult to explain the psychology involved in just a short article. First of all, you must understand that consciousness is an evolutionary newcomer. In simpler animals, reasoning, to use the term loosely, takes place without the individual being aware of it. This is still much the case with human beings. Indeed, there is some evidence that our mind makes its decisions a fraction of a second before we are aware of it. Certainly, it is a common experience that the solution to a problem will appear in our heads a long time after we have given up thinking about it, perhaps after having "slept on it". Obviously, the subconscious mind has been working on it all that time.
     Likewise, we are all aware of performing some action on "automatic pilot", so to speak. We may be deep in thought or listening to music while walking, and our feet just take us to our destination. Usually we are most aware of the phenomenon when we had planned to to make a deviation from our normal route, but instead find ourselves at the usual destination. The subconscious mind has been guiding the feet while the conscious mind has been otherwise engaged. There are some musicians - not that many, I will admit - who can carry on a conversation while playing a piece on the piano. The mind has been essentially divided into two in order to perform two separate tasks.
     The most extreme manifestation of dissociation, which is highly pathological, is the mental disease known as multiple personality disorder (which is not the same as schizophrenia). In this, the victim, usually in order to come to terms with childhood trauma, develops a secondary personality to handle problems the original could not face. Typical was the case of Chris Sizemore, of The Three Faces of Eve fame, whose primary personality, Eve White was prim and proper, while the second one, Eve Black was wild and less inhibited. Typically, Eve Black knew of the existence and actions of Eve White, but not vice versa. Typically, too, she developed a series of new personalities as she progressed through life.
    But there exists a lesser manifestation of dissociation which is much more benign. I knew a very saintly lady named, appropriately, Miss Toogood whose conscience really was a "still, small voice" inside her, and she blithely assumed the same was true for everyone. Likewise, Socrates used to possess what he called a daemon (which meant something like "tutelary spirit" in Greek) which used to warn him about the negative consequences of proposed actions. In other words, his subconscious had produced a voice in his head as an external manifestation of his conscience and judgment. Napoleon also appears to have externalised his conscience, such that he had.
     This sort of dissociation can also be artificially induced eg
     Most beginners who wish to develop the art of autonography [automatic writing]  simply hold a pencil in one hand over a sheet of paper and purposely allow the attention to wander or else engage in conversation. The expectation of producing autonography has the effect of mild auto-suggestion, and after a considerable time the pencil will begin to make variegated movements beginning with upward strokes, zigzag lines, or even just a single line. The next step is the formation of single letters; and then a series of letters, at first devoid of coherence. After further practise these will combine into words and sentences. In a number of instances autonographists have written and published long fantasies and even novels of undeniable merit. Such literary works invariably reflect the repressed longings and ideas of their authors, often in a complicated pattern of symbolism. [D. H. Rawcliffe (1952), The Psychology of the Occult, chapter 9. (Later editions published as Illusions and Delusions of the Supernatural and the Occult, or simply Occult and Supernatural Phenomena.)]
     Ouija boards and mediumistic trances are also a good way to connect with the subconscious in the guise of an independent entity. One medium, Hélène Smith, by means of automatic writing, verbal automatism, and dictation from hallucinations, even used to channel the inhabitants of Mars! However, according to Rawcliffe, her descriptions of the planet were no more than could be produced by an imaginative school child, and the detailed Martian language was based on European roots and an elementary grammar.
      It should be obvious where this leaves Muḥammad. His trance utterances, which he interpreted as messages from God were obviously a manifestation of dissociation. His history shows that he was undergoing a religious crisis in his search for faith, and this led to his subconscious producing apparently external messages to resolve it. At first he was confused, even suicidal, but once he became convinced that he was called to be a prophet, his subconscious was ready to provide all the answers he needed.
     Of course, one might argue that all false theology comes ultimately from the Devil, but that is not the same as possession.
     Similarly, a booklet provided by a mosque near my home explained how Muḥammad's actions were not consistent with his having made up his "revelations". Unfortunately, that only proves that he was sincere. It is possible to be both sincere and self-deluded.

Go to:      Part 3. Pedophile
               Part 4. Violence
or back to Part 1: Moon God