Do you believe in the demonic?

The Synoptic Gospels are full of stories in which Jesus casts out demons. In Mark’s gospel, healing and exorcism are Jesus’ main activities. In the early church, exorcism was part of the pre-baptismal ritual. Throughout much of the world today, exorcism is a common part of Christian practice. Even in the United Methodist Church, our baptismal liturgy includes the question, “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness?”
Yet in much of western Christianity, we tend to avoid any serious discourse on the subject of the demonic. If it does come up, we often talk about it as pre-modern myth made obsolete by modern science and medicine. Does this approach represent an intellectual and spiritual advance, or have we lost something important in the way in which we think and talk about evil?
Despite the fact that we avoid these topics in our churches, popular culture is rife with television shows, websites, and books devoted to the “paranormal.” It seems people are genuinely interested in these types of phenomena, and even open to affirming them as veridical. Why is it that the popular culture seems more open to the reality of spiritual phenomena than many of our churches are?
 
I’m particularly curious to know what, you, gentle readers, think about this matter. I’d appreciate your commenting below. Please, if you would, leave any comments here rather than on my Facebook page, so that all comments are available to all readers.
 
And let’s keep it civil, friends. 

38 thoughts on “Do you believe in the demonic?

  1. And, the rest:
    One final comment regarding Methodism. John Wesley believed in the devil and demons and he participated in exorcisms. You can read that in his Journals. Dr. Robert Webster did his PhD at Oxford University and the substance of his thesis has been published in the book Methodism and the Miraculous. As part of that thesis he has a whole chapter on John Wesley’s understanding of evil and in it he also talks about the fact that the Wesley family believed the Epworth rectory to be haunted by a poltergeist they named “Old Jeffrey”. For 10 years the Wesley brothers—Samuel, John and Charles—wrote back and forth to their family about Old Jeffrey’s manifestations. These manifestations included a bed raising up off the ground with sister Nancy on it, two times during a card game, with 6 witnesses in the room. Demonic activity is not limited to just affecting human behavior.

    Similarly, I know of a UM church that was believed by people in the church and in the community to be “haunted”. People were too afraid to talk about it and grown men refused to go into the church alone at night because they believed there was a ghost in there and “things happened”. For example, the organ would play with no one at the keyboard or music would be heard in some other part of the building when there was no one else there. The pastor talked to the District Superintendent about this and he said, “It’s not a ghost, it’s a demon. I will come over and help you cast it out.” They did so, and those manifestations have not occurred since.

  2. I mean no disrespect, but what I see as I read the above posts are several people reinforcing each other's common belief in the demonic with zero skepticism. Further, these assertions are wrapped in academic language that adds a facade of credibility. I'm not questioning if the described events actually occurred. What I am saying is that there is absolutely zero proof those events were caused by demons.

    The New Testament says to be skeptical and to test spiritual claims. Wesley said to apply reason. Shouldn't extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, or at least some evidence? Experiencing something you can't explain is not evidence. Saying the New Testament mentions demons is not proof, either.

    Making such claims regarding demonic forces can cause great distress to those suffering from afflictions or convince vulnerable people they are being possesed by such forces and cause them suffering. In addition, such attribution can divert from finding an actual cure for these people. Finally, such claims cause many people to turn away from Christianity because it appears we are stuck in the 1st Century with belief in demons, Noah's Ark, and that the Earth is only 6,000 years old.

    With no proof beyond anecdotes – none – and the harm that results from such spectacular assertions, why espouse such things? In my opinion, it is not edifying. Again, I mean no disrespect to those who believe otherwise. I just feel strongly about this topic. Thanks for your consideration.

  3. Britt, I don't think that describing these comments as “wrapped in academic language that adds a facade of respectability” is particularly respectful. One could say the same thing about the language of the skeptic. With regard to proof, one could say the same things about a number of different types of beliefs: I love my kids; God exists; there is an afterlife; it is wrong to murder, Augustus was the first Roman Emperor, etc. None of these claims are subject to the kind of proof that we use in the hard sciences, but I would also affirm that all are true. Normally, we affirm these claims are true based on simple perception, or based upon what is called a “cumulative case argument.” In other words, we might believe something to be true based on the fact that a good bit of evidence seems to point toward it, and a less substantial body of evidence seems to point away from it.

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