In this season of haunted houses and horror movies, we couldn’t imagine a better time to grapple with the subject of demons. In our tradition, demons take center stage in numerous biblical stories and continue to chill us today as central characters in popular and religious culture. But do they really exist outside of our imaginations and nightmares? Are demons real, today?
We challenged a panel of pastors, theologians, and students to help us answer the question. Here’s an excerpt from our first responder, the Rev. Dr. Frederick Schmidt, a spiritual director, Episcopal priest and Spirituality Professor at Perkins School of Theology:
Are demons real? Yes.
Are they individual, identifiable, possessing a power of their own? Are they able to override and overrun the innocent without their cooperation, as in the film Rosemary’s Baby? No, I don’t think so.
William Benefield, a friend and psychopharmacologist, observes:
…all of this talk of the Enemy and demons can be uncomfortable for me, living in the current century and after formal study in the scientific method. Most demons and devils I have encountered in my patients have been treatable with modern antipsychotics and mood stabilizers. Now in my own spiritual formation as I delve into my inner self, my own “drug resistant demons” become more real to me in my psyche.
I share his reservations. I also have a theological problem with some of the language that we use about demons: The only real, identifiable being with power of its own is God. Every other power on earth either depends upon the power of God, or operates in the shadow of God’s absence. So, to talk about demons as if they have a power all their own is the stuff of horror stories, not theology.
In the end, it is always our choices that provide evil with an opening.