The Bird Boy Of Fiji And How We Read Scripture, Part One

I have always had an interest in the study of feral children — even before I began to see so many of them running around Moscow’s Food Co-Op.

The idea that some children, abandoned by parents and society, end up being raised by animals has always fascinated me, so I’ve become devoted to watching Raised Wild on Animal Planet Friday nights.  The show features anthropologist Mary Ann Ojohta as she tracks down the Jungle Boy of Uganda, the Dog Girl of the Ukraine, and, this week, the Bird Boy of Fiji — all of whom, God be praised, have found themselves, while terribly affected by their early abandonment and neglect, safe in the arms of small, healing communities who love them.

I found the story of the toddler, kept underneath his house by his parents until his adolescence, then tethered to a pole in an old-folks home and finally rescued by an Australian psychologist, to be the most tragic.  Suchet became known as the Bird Boy of Fiji when he began, in infancy, to mimic the behaviors and vocalizations of the birds who made their home with him under the parents’ house.  His skeleton was forever damaged by the horror of never, for years, being able to stand up; by the time he could, the bird-like behaviors he had developed — pecking at the ground for his food, clucking, waving his arms — had made him the object of horror and contempt in his village.  He is profoundly delayed, developmentally, but safe — and loved — in the arms and the home of the woman who rescued him more than a decade ago.  Sachet doesn’t know why the people who love him don’t cluck and squawk like he does, or walk on bent, hobbled legs like he does, but he knows love. 

I cry at every episode, but this story — Suchet’s story — really hit me.  He wasn’t left behind when his family was scattered, or even neglected by abusive, drunken parents in their hateful stupor.  His parents kept him out of the house — kept him under their pole-raised shack roughly a foot or so off the ground — because he had epilepsy.  His epileptic seizures, the product of a brain beset by electrical storms, told his parents that he was a Devil-child — an evil spirit-boy, or a normal boy irrevocably possessed by an evil spirit, but, either way, a harbinger of evil who must be kept out of their home, if not their hearts. 

We don’t know if Suchet’s parents thought this because of some too-brief exposure to the Bible, where every case of demonic possession is represented by epilepsy-like seizures — or, to put it another way, every Biblical case of what we would now, because of advances in science and medicine now available to us, call epilepsy, is illustrated as an instance of demonic possession.  It’s very likely, of course, that the indigenous religion of Suchet’s parents taught the same thing — sadly, without the corresponding benefit of scientific knowledge — but it’s possible, given the strict, literal reading of the Biblical text, that they came to fear their son because of some incomplete exposure to the Scriptures. 

Christ knew, of course, what he was dealing with as he cast out the demons whose contamination of soul, spirit, and flesh evidenced itself in the writhings of what we now call epileptic seizures, and I can’t say with authority that there are no contemporary instances of seizure-inducing demonic possession.  I can say, though, that we now understand that when we hear the hoofbeats of seizure activity, we would be unwise to attribute them to the thunder of, say, the wildebeests of the African savannah as opposed to the more mundane gallop of the common horse. 

Scientific fact tells us that a child beset with seizures likely has epilepsy or another organic brain problem; medical advances we  praise God for enable us to do better for him than stuff him under the house and hope he dies.  No truth of Christ’s healings as portrayed in the Gospels is compromised or diminished by acknowledging that what was assumed to be at one time, and undoubtedly for the Lord Jesus to demonstrate his power, instances of demonic possession are to be seen today, and seen correctly, as the brain disorder epilepsy.  Thankfully, few would argue this point. 

Not even, I’m assuming, Douglas Wilson.

But, as I’ll demonstrate in Part Two, Wilson and other masculinist exegetes engage in a similar unreflective, context-deprived, strict-words-on-the-paper reading of the Bible, borne, we can assume, of a sincere respect for Scriptural authority — but also of a strong need to hold tight to those verses that appear to strengthen their own.  They trample the garden of Biblical teachings regarding help for the poor and concern for the marginalized in their mad stomp to pluck and wave about three or four verses that, read together, would appear to strengthen their cause if it weren’t for their apparent dissonance with the Gospel message.  We’ve seen this in his recent rants about 1 Timothy and women’s teaching and ordination, despite massive confusion emanating from the four-verse block of text he claims as the final word on the subject.

But, as I suggested in my previous post, Wilson’s exegetical errors mean that the last word to justify women’s permanent subordination is better found in Blog and Mablog — not in the Word of the God whose image is equally reflected in women and in men.

3 Responses to “The Bird Boy Of Fiji And How We Read Scripture, Part One”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Suchet would be an Indian name and not an indigenous Fijian name. Thus his parents were most likely Hindu as most rural Indians in Fiji are. Thus don’t they had read the bible…

  2. Anonymous says:

    Indigenous Religion….. Fiji’s indigenous population have followed Christianity for over 150 years.

  3. Thanks for your comments, and thanks for reading Prevailing Winds. I’m sure you understand that my point is that whatever religion adheres to a set of canonical writings must interpret those writings in the light of proven, evidence-based scientific knowledge — which glorifies God — and not in a solidly wooden way, which not only fails to glorify God but the Divine seem silly, imperious, or ignorant. We don’t want God to look as “enlightened” or “liberal” as we are, but that’s only because standing before a Holy God reveals all of our own pettiness, stupidity, and sinfulness.

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