The Demonization Of The Disabled

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Last Wednesday night I had the opportunity to sit in on a bible study taking place in my church. They were reading through Mark 1 & came upon the story where Jesus delivers a demon out of an unruly man in the synagogue.

Entering Capernaum upon the Sabbath, Jesus & his followers went to a synagogue where Jesus began teaching. While many were amazed by the authority & wisdom for which he spoke, one man became indignant, shouting & rebuking Jesus’ teaching saying, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” Stopping him, Jesus exclaimed back in a laud voice, “Be silent & come out of him!” Immediately the evil spirit left the man & all were amazed.

It’s a great little story that offers many insights but, I couldn’t help reflect differently on it after watching the video clip with the group a few seconds later. Showing a large group of Jewish men in a crowded room, the character of Jesus stood up & was teaching. Then off to the side of him a crippled & deformed man burst out at him. After Jesus then cast the demon out of him, the man became normal & all evidence of him being crippled or deformed has disappeared.

Our small group was then asked, “What did you think of the video?” In honesty, I couldn’t get past the depiction of the man being crippled & deformed. No where in the passage does it say that he was in such a state & even in his outburst, he seemed fluent & clear voiced. So why does it seem like all media & social expectations of demonization project it as a disability or physical disfigurement?!

It is reported that approximately 3.8 million people in Canada have a recognized disability. That’s one in every seven Canadians struggling with a physical or mental challenge of some sort. Are we to believe that this is a statistical recognition of demonized individuals in our country?! Common people!

Several years ago I remember listening to a song Eagle Eye Cherry performed called Rainbow Wings. It starts out very pointedly, “I met the devil in disguise, With his rainbow wings and a pack of lies.” It resonated with me as I recognized, the very nature of demonization is not grotesque to the senses but rather attractive & drawing. How else can we find ourselves in temptation?

All this to say that we need a more realistic perspective to what the demonic is & how it is projected in our culture & media. As a person who struggles with the challenges of life in a wheelchair myself, I think the images of physical disability should be cast in the light & narratives of inspiration & not that which is meant to be rejected & cast out.

It’s the same problem we struggle with when it comes to marginalizing our privilege, power, or position as we focus on the voices and concerns of those who have been marginalized and oppressed. Even our social justice efforts become contaminated by our desire to be the center of attention as we fail to place weaker and less powerful voices at the center of our concerns.
— Richard Beck, Reviving Old Scratch: Demons and the Devil for Doubters and the Disenchanted