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. This is a small contribution to the dialogue, but since you mention Wesley, Britt, his sermon “A Caution Against Bigotry,” in which he writes at some length about the work of devils, might be on point.

    I think your cautions about abuses are well made, but I'm not clear what parts of Christianity you would leave in tact if you eliminated everything that does not meet your standard of “proof.” Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead? What proof to you have of that?

  2. David, I apologize for my statement being disrespectful and I ask that you and any offended please accept my apology. Disrespect wasn't my intent. Rather, I'm trying to describe how the above statements sound to non-academics like me. To me, they sound similar to statements by Ken Hamm and the Creation Museum in Northern Kentucky. That is, they use academic language and quote selected experts in an effort to prove that believing an ancient Biblical belief is still credible. In their case, the belief is that the Earth is only 6,000 years old and that Noah's flood (the “Noahic Deluge”) is real history. To my ears, the comments above sound like a Creationism mindset applied to another ancient Biblical belief: the demonic.

    Regarding the evidence of love that you describe, that you love your children is demonstrably true. That love exists as an independent entity outside ourselves is not. It might exist, and perhaps such an entity is what we call God. Perhaps belief / faith in such an entity is edifying and improves our lives, and even seems to be demonstrated in the life of Jesus. Therefore we conclude it's worth pursuing. Does belief in the demonic edify us that way and is thus worth pursuing? For the many reasons I describe, including my own personal experience with OCD, I strongly believe no.

    Further, if we affirm that claims are true based on simple perception or based upon cumulative case argument, well, anybody can look out the window and see that the Sun revolves around the Earth or that the person convulsing on the floor is possessed by a demon. My dad was adamant that his dad (my grandfather) appeared to him after he died and talked with for 30 minutes. I know others that make a similar claim and a psychiatrist told me that such phenomenon occurs with about 50% of people seeing their deceased spouse appear to them. Is that a real event? Should we build our spiritual lives around it? If so, why? In the same vein, why believe in the demonic?

    John, regarding proof for beliefs, I would ask two questions: 1) Is the belief edifying? And if so, 2) The more sensational the event, the greater the burden of proof if one is to believe it is a real rather than symbolic. Regarding your question, do I believe that Jesus (physically, I presume you mean) rose from the dead? Maybe, but I doubt it. Simply read the resurrection details in the four gospels. They vary wildly in important details, they can't all be accurate. Paul describes no physically resurrected body for Jesus. Perhaps Jesus appeared to his disciples and Paul in the same way my dad claimed my grandfather appeared to him, and deceased spouses appear to the surviving spouse.

    Personally, I understand Jesus's resurrection in symbolic terms of the new life that comes to us through Jesus. Therefore, if Jesus's bones were discovered tomorrow that wouldn't diminish my faith, as my faith is not based on a historical event. Rather, my faith is based on the reality and benefit of God that I see in people's lives and my own life. To those who believe the Bible more literally, I respect that you see it differently than me. I just can't see it that way, and I'm confident (never certain) that both views are fine with God.

  3. Thanks for clarifying, Britt. I guess it's easier to misunderstand in print than in person. I appreciate knowing your intentions, and respect the honest difference of opinion.

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