Why Do Christians Still Believe in Demons? [Questions That Haunt]

Questions That Haunt Christianity

This week, a twist for Questions That Haunt Christianity. Lee Pendarvis (follow him on Twitter!) is a recent convert from atheism to Christianity, but that hasn’t meant the end to his questions. It has only made them more acute:

Tony, I am a new Christian convert after being a skeptic/atheist/non-believer/whatever since I was 20 (I am now 34), and I’m struggling to harmonize my newfound faith with my more rational world view. Some of Christianity I find actually more rational than my previous atheism but some I still find less so.

Of course one of the most silly sounding aspects of Christianity is this supernatural zoo of unhidden beings, specifically demons. That is why I read your blog post where you say you do not believe in demons, with interest. I was going to comment on the blog post but the last comment was over a year ago.

The replies were typical. With any discussion about demons I can guarantee you that someone will bring up the “fact” that there is a plethora of demonic activity in Africa. I am physically unable to stop my automatic eye rolling reflex everytime I hear that. Apparently Africa is the demonic disney land. It could not possibly be because of the rampant prevalence of old world superstitious belief in Africa, could it?

The more a population believes in demons the more they see demons. The more a population believes in elves — same thing. Funny how that works out.

Another clear tip off to me that this demonic business is not physically “real” is this: I don’t think demons would behave like these overt movie monsters. It just doesn’t jibe with their supposed origins. It seems to come right out of people’s imaginations. Why do demon’s always act like drunk, rude, horny, unintelligent teenage boy’s who have thrown a party when their parents were gone for the weekend? I would think that demons would be extremely intelligent instead of being frat boy sex obsessed versions of Freddy Kruger.

Every now and then you hear stories of demons doing something like speaking in other languages, but usually they are reported to behave like crude, stupid monsters. It doesn’t make sense to me and it has all the earmarks of cultural mimicry.

Anyway, I appreciated your blog post and just wanted to comment on it. It seems like lately I have found so many Christians out there who are so very intelligent and are more rational and are struggling with the same stuff I am. People who are on a journey that does not involve dogmatic certitude about 14 impossible sounding things before breakfast.

So, my question is: Why do Christians continue to believe in the demonic when as far as I have seen, even in today’s multimedia infested world, we have yet to garner any evidence at all other than perhaps some youtube videos or recordings that are not at all remarkable (someone shouting curses in a gruff voice etc.)? In this sense belief in the demonic rests safely with UFO’s, Bigfoot and Loch Ness/Modern dinosaur* sightings in the category of “not enough evidence for belief”.
*I hope I didn’t summon YEC’s by mentioning this. Get the behind me!

  • Craig

    Do we grant that Jesus and the apostles believed and taught that demons existed? If so, then that should go a long ways in explaining why many Christians continue to believe in the stuff. Many Christians seem to fear a slippery slope: if they allow any doubt in the veracity of N.T. teachings, then their entire faith is unacceptably threatened

    Also, is it any easier to believe that angels and Satan exist?

    • Kathryn

      Well,in the days of St Paul they believed epilepsy was caused by demonic possession whereas we now know that is false.They had many beliefs then that turned out to be erroneous

  • http://christopherbaca.wordpress.com Chris

    I come from the Pentecostal tradition, where the belief in the supernatural world (and specifically angels and demons) is quite normal.

    The only rational response that I’ve heard for why people believe in demons (whether it’s right or wrong) is that Jesus seems to have believed in demons as well. While Jesus was fully man, he was also fully divine. I think the fear is that if Jesus did so (even if we don’t experience demonic activity ourselves) then we probably should too.

  • Keith Rowley

    God also generally falls in the category of “not enough evidence for belief”, Yet we still believe in God.

    There are three reasons why I believe in demons.
    1. A latent but still there belief in at least the fundamental trustworthiness of the Bible.
    2. The need for a better explanation for human evil than random biological errors.
    3. And I know this is leftover platonic thinking but it makes sense if I believe in a force that is ultimately good to believe in one that is ultimately evil.

    • moni

      Most Christians/Churches have a difficult time with this subject, and it is in Satan’s favor that we do not believe that we have a *real* enemy (and 1/3 of the fallen angels), and that this is his territory. If you don’t believe, then it’s because you have not dealt with the demonic yourself. And, consequently Satan loves it, how can we fight spiritually when we don’t believe there really is an enemy. Fortunately, this is as close to hell as most of us will get.

  • Brian P.

    One thing that I don’t really get is how does one authenticate a supernatural being?

    Say, you’re going down the road (or whatever), and you encounter something supernatural.

    “Who are you?” might be a good question.

    Now any angel (or demon sufficiently versed in Scripture) is going to know the right response is, “Don’t be afraid.”

    So you get some sort of response:

    - I am Jesus who you persecute.

    or…

    - We are many.

    or…

    - IAM.

    or (getting a bit more creative outside this tradition)…

    - I am Krishna.

    How does one figure out how truthful that response is?

    • Pax

      Ask for lottery numbers.

      • Brian P.

        Why has the lottery numbers?

        The white hats or the black hats?

        • Pax

          Well, God probably has them. Others might I guess. But, your delusions don’t.

    • Evelyn

      You have to assume that it is always God and that God is asking you to investigate something or grow as a person. If it says it’s Jesus, go study Jesus. If it says it’s many, contemplate the possible oneness and multiplicity of God. If it says it’s IAM, go study Yahweh or accept that it IS (the reality of God is a lot to handle in and of itself). If it says it’s Krishna, go study Hinduism.

      You have to find your own truth.

      • Brian P.

        Was wondering that about the “many” thing. “I am legion, we are many.” Interesting notion in the context of monotheism for sure!

        • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

          If you consider the Gospels as also an indictment of Roman oppression, it’s easy to understand why a Jewish writer would call a group of demons “legion” and then send them into pigs, which were unclean to Jews. A legion was a Roman military unit, somewhat like today’s Army brigade.

  • Mike L.

    #1 reason people still believe in demons is that demons make great scapegoats. Everyone needs a good scapegoat.

  • Pax

    I believe in demons. Now, I don’t think that what people attribute to demons is really the work of demons. The only good reason that I’ve heard of to believe in the existence of angels and demons (i.e. intelligent, non-human, spiritual beings) is because it has been revealed. If you don’t buy revelation, then sure, there’s no reason to believe in demons. It’s not a big deal. But, if you do believe in a creator God, then I don’t think this has to be a stumbling block. If God created us, couldn’t He create other kinds of beings?

    When my kids ask me if God created life on other planets or if there are dogs in heaven, my response is always “I hope so!” I hope there are dogs and wooly mammoths and moogles and all manner of crazy creatures. I don’t have any evidence that such a supernatural zoo exists, but I can’t rule it out given my understanding of God. Until I find out, I’ll continue imagining a just a small slice of what there might be.

  • Simon

    I believe in demons, but I don’t beleive in the supernatural worldview, nor the R-movie version of the demonic that is set out in your post. I think the langauge of the powers is essential for the church not to trivialise the reality of evil, and especially the way institutions oppress and even possess those people who fall under their spell. The flat language of sociology and psychology does not have the imaginal muscle to shift us off our butts and into action (albeit creatively non-violent) against these powers, to rescue and liberate their victims, to name them and call them out for their pretensions and to honour them in their place in the human world which is more than just a collection of individuals with a personal lord and saviour.

    For me both the liberal and the pentecostal don’t treat the reality of the demonic seriously enough – which consigns the church into a watery individualistic version of faith.

    • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

      Great comment. As a church we need to fundamentally reform the definition of “spirits” and or “spiritual forces”. Do I believe in demons? Of course. Every father who beats his child is possessed by demons. Every time I cut someone off in traffic (because my time is clearly more important than theirs) I am possessed by a demon. But do i believe that demons are spiritual beings literally floating around wreakimg havoc like Peeves the poltergist in Harry Potter? of course not. Demons exist as a spiritual reflection of our own shame and desire and are not a spiritual substance in themselves, but are a spiritual representation of how we experience the feelings of profound shame and fear which stem frrom god’s perceived distance and absense in this world. When a tragedy occurs in my life it is not the work of a demon, but when I respond by withdrawing, becomming bitter, and lashing out in anger I show myself to have been deceived and demonic.

      A commenter above said that demons make a great scapegoat and although I think he/she was being a bit sarcastic I don’t think that is far from the truth. To believe that demons, deceivers, are to blame for our enemies hard hearts allows us to see them compassionately rather than adversarially. It allows us to realize that each person is the same as us, seeks the same peace and joy and rest that we do, but that they have been deceived into believing that they do not already have access to it. I think of demonic power as something like the weight of a persons shame burdened upon their back. They themselves are not shameful, but they are weighed down an held captive by a sense of shame nonetheless. Demons are the weight of the thoughts, words, and actions that shame tempts us to take up when the absence of God is keenly felt. Faith in Christ destroys our shame by grace and thus our shame and fear loses the power to control our actions against our neighbor.

    • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

      That’s kinda the struggle isn’t it Simon? Either you believe there are invisible forces pushing in all directions, call them whatever you want, OR, you have a sort of bland philosophy about how love is good and don’t kill, except in certain cases, which are hard to explain.

      Too bad. Looking at the scriptures as something written by men (and maybe a rare case by a women or two), for political, psychological, manipulative, sometimes good, sometimes bad, reasons, is so very much more interesting. You also open yourself up to all the writings of all time, not just 66 books, selected by, again, men, men you never knew, men who had a backwards view of the world. Why would you limit yourself like that?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    “Is there anyone who believes in spiritual things but not in spirits?” #socrates

  • Joe

    Evil spirits exist all around. Is there not a spirit at work in racism, homophobia and sexism. These are spirits of bigotry. Perhaps they are so powerful they should be personified. I think these are the demons we are called upon to pray and fast for their grip to loosened. Courage, reason, and education are good too.

    • Evelyn

      Racism, homophobia, and sexism are symptoms of broken humanity. Brokenness arises from ignorance, ignorance breeds fear and holding racist, homophobic, and sexist opinions give the broken the illusion of power. Racism, homophobia, and sexism are only powerful if you let them be. You are faced with them so you can learn to forgive and also recognize the brutish nature of fearful people. If you can find your way past these “demons” you’ll find yourself closer to what is really powerful – God.

      • Chuck

        Of course that implies that racism, homophobia and sexism are evil.

        • Kathryn

          Is it your view that it’s good to hate people of a different colour?Would God love you to do that.Jesus was brown…being from Asia Minor

  • Lee P.

    My beliefs about demons are wrapped up in my overall confusion about how to view scripture in general. I was an atheist on June 2nd and a new (or renewed) follower of Christ on June 3rd. I have accepted the challenge to work on belief, by faith, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ (and I think that the supporting historical evidence is pretty good) however I am certainly not a Biblical literalist.

    As far as the problem of believing in a Jesus who believed in demons:

    My friend Kevin is a former Biola/Talbot student and we were talking about the “100% Man/100% God” view of Jesus. This was before I was a Christian. I asked an (often posed) question: if Jesus was God on Earth and therefore infinite and all knowing then knew he could not possibly lose in his mission. In fact it was impossible for him to fail. So, why the doubts? Also, there is the issue on the Gospels of the father having knowledge that the son does not have. If so, how is he “God”? Does that not make him a “lesser” God? Kevin said that in his view, Jesus being God did not have so much to do with the powers or supernatural attributes (like knowledge of the future) that he had or did not have on Earth. To be God, all that was necessary was the he was who he claimed to be, the son, who was present with the father at creation.

    Working with that view, and admittedly, putting a little more emphasis on Jesus’ humanity than his divinity (which is helpful for me and keeps me from viewing Jesus’ sacrifice as a no risk charade), I can accept that Jesus in his Earthly state could share false assumptions and prejudices of certain phenomenon consistent with the cultural milieu. The Earthly Jesus was not a neurosurgeon or a nuclear physicist and he presumably knew nothing of germ theory. So could Jesus (IMO falsely) believed that certain mental and physical states were due to “demons”.

    In terms of contemporary evidence for demons today, all that we would need for evidence is one single video recording of a possessed person doing something that humans simply cannot do. Books flying off the shelves. Levitation etc. I suppose people could claim that it is just special effects but I bet we could tell the difference (the experts certainly could). How about the claim that the demonic can speak in languages unknown to the host and in voices that the host is not capable of making? That would seal the deal. No?

    We never get any of that. Again, this is the same with UFO videos where we can see some strange light but we cannot make out any particulars of the supposed craft. Ever. EVER! Or a bigfoot video where we are just close enough for it to look interesting but just far enough away to……you get the point.

  • http://twofriarsandafool.com Nick Larson

    This is a great question Lee, I’m glad you raised it. I too have always wanted to dismiss the language of demons. When someone talks about demons, I assume that what they mean is something like mental illness, but they don’t have the terminology to identify what’s really going on. Or maybe what they mean when they say demons is that there are things in their past that they’d rather not talk about in polite company – things they have done, or things that were done to them, that have lingering effects long after the fact. So for me too, I don’t really believe in “demons.”

    The only problem with this viewpoint is that Jesus spent a lot of time doing exorcisms. So the follow up to your questions then becomes what does a postmodern, pluralistic, technological society have to do with demons/exorcisms?

    For me, like Joe and Evelyn seem too, I tend to answer this question by taking a Walter Wink type approach. Where demonic powers are not pointy-horned, trident-wielding monsters; they aren’t even evil spirits that take over people’s bodies and make their heads rotate a 360. Demonic powers are the powers and principalities of this world when their collective spirituality becomes corrupted and they turn away from the common good. And we need to like Jesus spend time casting out things that take away from the common good.

    Hope that helps. That’s how I answer it anyways.

    • Katherine

      I think it’s better to avoid this language of demons.Jesus lived in a certain culture and he used the language of that culture.I find on a blog I use people saying they they looked at a neighbour and she looked like a slug and then a Vicar’s wife sympathising and praying about this spirit.
      Better to use the simpler human ideas of hate,envy,malice,love,kindness,etc
      We don’t need this other language..interesting about the Roman Legions

  • ft

    One rational possibility…. i have read some of Walter Wink’s work on demonic systems… systemic evil that is more related to entrenched systems or systems of thought that prevent justice or the work of God in the world.

    In that paradigm, Jesus work in casting out demons in people could be representative of liberating people from those systems or the thinking of those systems.

    I also think it can refer to our idols… those ideas, systems, beliefs etc that we place above our alliegence to God and that we allow to control us… The knowledge of the kingdom and the way of Jesus can be liberating factors that free us from such “demons.”

    • Nick Jackson

      Second that

  • Jim Armstrong

    I do not believe in demons. After 70 odd years in church life (hopeful context, I hope), I do believe in the potentiality (downside!) of free will to create bad outcomes via people. [And I've encountered some truly scarey people!] I also believe that natural circumstance and coincidence bring us “evil”. But I think that notion of personifying evil in the form of demons arises mostly from our very strong human need for explanation when no obvious or palatable explanation is available when some particularly bad [noting that as a human valuation] thing happens to us.

  • http://amaryahshaye.wordpress.com amaryahshaye

    If you’ve ever had to live under white supremacist domination, demons and such are really not crazy.

  • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

    Lee, I don’t know why many Christians still continue to believe in demons. Maybe it’s just a carryover from that old human cultural habit of personifying certain experiences, objects, etc. Nature, weather, etc., become “mother nature.” Evil becomes Satan, the devil, or Mara (the Hindu-Buddhist version of the devil). Good becomes “God.” Manifestations of goodness are called “angels.” And manifestations of evil are called “demons.”

    When I was younger and much more impressionable (and less educated than I am today), I used to believe in demons, angels, Satan, and so on. Even “God” fits into this to a great degree. But over the years I have come to conclude that demons, angels, and so on, are just personifications of elements of life that we define as “good” or “bad” and so on.

    But again, I don’t know why many Christians continue to believe in demons. In large part, I suspect such belief is rooted in the fact that many still think the Bible speaks absolute truth in all of its contents. But in the end people will believe what they want to believe, and who can ever know what those core reasons are.

    What I DO know is that PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 comes out in ten days and, albeit the series isn’t exactly A-list, I’m still looking forward to seeing it. :-)

  • Sven

    Because it’s easy to scapegoat malevolent supernatural entities for the bad things in life. It’s really just lazy rationalization.

  • Ryan Braley

    Tony,

    I know that in your past post regarding the existence of demons you mentioned the possibility of grabbing some time with Greg Boyd. What ever happened there? I would be extremely interested in hearing a conversation between the two of you over this topic. His “God At War” and “Satan and the Problem of Evil” tomes are compelling portraits of a warfare worldview.

    I would agree that Greg is one of the smartest guys that I know who believes in demons and angels and the devil.

    • http://www.simplyshalom.com Naomi

      Great idea! Greg Boyd just tweeted that he is teaching on his Warfare Worldview at Master’s Institute this week. I’d love to hear Greg Boy’d response to this.

  • Evelyn

    I think you can blame Benny Hinn for spreading the rumor about Africans.

    Watch this video and you will be healed!

    http://youtu.be/p4pp7IZ3nH0

  • Nick Jackson

    I am definitely not someone who denies the supernatural. I am open to the existence of demons; I would doubt that demons are personal beings, but I don’t know.

    That being said, what I believe the NT writers mean by demons, and what I believe does exist today, are evil institutions of power. All the demonic activity I can think of in the gospels are connected to Empire. I don’t have the time at the moment to get into all of them, but “legion” immediately comes to mind.

    Demons are the occupying force who comes in and takes control of people’s lives. Jesus steps in with the gospel (language of empire) and says the kingdom of god rules not demons.

    This is why I use the words demonic and satanic for things like human trafficking. Like the chocolate industry that ensalves children so that we can have cheep dessert is demonic, we all participate in it amd we all need to be exorsized from it.

    I of course cannot escape noticing that the gospels writers might be starting off with a critique of empire, but then moves beyond that to internal problems. As the messiah was expecting to come and violently overthrow the pagan government, which Jesus challenges, but then he goes to something deeper within us. There are corrupt institutions that seek to control and destroy our lives, but there is also corruption inside us that Jesus comes to overthrow.

    Does that mean demons are not institutions but spiritual beings? Personally I don’t think so. I think demon is a poetic device for those institutions and brokenness inside ourselves. Both need exorcisms.

    • Jim Armstrong

      Nick – That seems pretty philosophical for this straight-up New Testament environment. [Though I may be in agreement with the notion.] Much easier to take these “demons” to be vocabulary for human, even human-induced maladies whose nature was unknown at the time, but still required description in the words and concepts of the time. Add to that a dash of handing down of the remembrances and tellings over a few generations, and there is little need to understand them in medieval images and personifications.

      There is a principle in the sciences which might be rendered, “Why make the explanation hard when the simple will do?” It has been helpful to me in my pilgrimage, but it does confront one with the remarkable power of pure tradition and belief (the fabric of the faith traditions most of us have inherited).

    • Evelyn

      In the New Testament Jesus is itinerant and goes from town to town exorcising demons and healing people. He confronts the Priests and the Pharisees often about their religious hypocrisy but the Romans don’t show up until the crucifixion. While Jesus’ message has implications for Empire and institutions, there isn’t a lot of confrontation of those things in the Gospels. Jesus healing is done on a short-term case by case basis. The longest-term confrontation of demon(s) that Jesus does is when he goes into the desert for 40 days and deals with Satan which is really more of a personal confrontation with Evil than a societal one.

      I’ve thought about this issue because, like you, I think there is a lot of institutional Evil in the world that needs to be fought and we harbor a lot of long-term demons in our personalities. We know that a simple faith healing might help us feel better for a few days but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. Exorcising real long-term demons takes time and work – things that Jesus didn’t do much of during his ministry.

    • Kathryn

      I like that.

  • http://notapastor.wordpress.com notapastor

    Years ago, Stephen King wrote an article about why we crave horror movies. He said something to the effect that we use the horror genre as a way to project the evil parts of our personality, individually and collectively, onto something other than ourselves. We do this so that we can behave in a civilized manner in our everyday lives. It’s a kind of exorcism, a way to balance the equation, letting out the evil parts of our humanity by assigning them to fictional evil characters.

    I think it’s reasonable to say that a similar function is being performed in the belief in demons. If Christians believe in a supernatural force for good then something needs to balance that equation. But Christian theology doesn’t typically allow for an image of God that is both good and evil, so evil needs to be projected onto another figure (or figures). Therefore, demons.

    • hsrunner

      Before humans, God existed without the presence of evil. When he created Angels, evil did not exist. Satan rebelling created evil and free choice allowed for sin. The whole idea of the yin and yang or balance being found within the same entity is nonsensible. It would be like saying you fresh water can be poured into a tank of salt water, and remain fresh. God is all good, so how can he also be all evil. Demons exist through free choice. The fallen had a choice and they choose rebellion against God. Demons, even satan are no match for God. the book of job has satan reporting to God and under his authority. Their is no balance of evil and good, it is an overwhelming tip of the scale in goods favor.

      • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

        No, hsrunner, the yin-yang notion is not “nonsensible.” What IS nonsensical is actually believing that a talking snake tricked Eve into eating a piece of fruit and *boom* that’s why human beings have so many problems. Or believing that Bible stories (like Job) are real historical accounts instead of fables.

      • http://notapastor.wordpress.com notapastor

        Hi, hsrunner. In my heart, I agree that there is no balance of good and evil and that good is overwhelmingly superior and will win out ultimately.

        As for the Taoist concept of yin and yang, I think it is completely sensible, and that salt water IS both salt and fresh water, which can separated by either nature or man using even primitive techniques. Also, I’ve found the Job story to be compelling Biblical evidence for God’s evil side. How else to explain the murder of Job’s family and torture of Job for the sake of a wager? And when Job dares to question, why?, God’s answer is STFU and look at big I am and how small you are.

        • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

          The story of Job shows “God” to be at least indifferent, and at most sadistic. And it fits in with the ancient Hebrew narrative of a bi-polar/schizophrenic deity who just loves his children so much that he’s willing to rescue them through the Red Sea and then kick the shit out of them afterward when they don’t appreciate how nice he was to them.

  • hsrunner

    Christians believe in demons, because the evidence for their existance is derived from the same source that reveals the mystery of God. The glib answer is because the bible tells me so. It all comes down to who you believe is responsible for writting the bible…was it God through man, or just man. If man is solely responsible, then the bible is nothing but a cherished piece of fiction more akin to the iliad and the odyssey than relevant time honored truths and teachings. If it is God through man, then a few assumptions must be made.
    1) God desires a relationship with humans…otherwise why bother
    2) The relationship is conditional…if everyone, regardless of belief, is saved, then it doesn’t matter how we live because everyone gets the same reward.
    3) God protects and preserves the bible…if God didn’t then he set humanity up for failure, and the standard to receive salvation is impossible to achieve.

    What hubris man has to think he knows the mind of God! The way to God is a mystery and impossible for humans to know without Gods help. The bible was inspired for that very reason. If God has a standard, then the only way for humans to achieve that standard is to know what it is. If the bible is innacurate or unreliable, then the standard for salvation is unknown. If God made a mistake in the revelation, he is fallable, and not worthy to be worshiped. If man wrote down the wrong thing and screwed up what God was trying to say, then God failed to communicate his will properly. If God is a failure he is not worthy of worship. If through time, man has been allowed to tinker or revise or redact the bible, then God is a cruel god and makes us accountable to a standard he failed to give us.

    In the end, you must decide who you want to believe, God or humans. If your doctrine is derived from the wisdom of man, then..well…good luck..lol. If it’s derived from God, then the idea of demons existing is super easy to grasp. After all, if you beleive in God, it is no stretch to believe in lesser and other supernatural beings.

    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

      …. What hubris man has to think he knows the mind of God! The way to God is a mystery and impossible for humans to know without Gods help. The bible was inspired for that very reason. ….

      The Bible. Great book. I love it. But it is not the word of some cosmic supreme deity who somehow “inspired” the minds of Bible writers. If you believe that, then it’s just a belief. Nothing more. But your belief is not the same as fact. And you are asserting a fact statement that is not supportable.

      And yes, ABSOLUTELY we can know God without the Bible, which in fact can be, has been, and quite frequently is a tremendous barrier.

  • hsrunner

    I suppose I now will be called a fundamentalist or ignorant or whatever…choosing to trust God often gets one called such things. It’s fine, the truth will be revealed when judged. I prefer to say I followed Jesus even when I don’t understand, not, I don’t understand so I didn’t…

    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

      No, hsrunner, I doubt you’re ignorant (though I guess I could be wrong). Your expressed self awareness about the hokey-ness of your literalism tells me that. No, you’re just gullible. And pulling the “people will pick on me for trusting God” is kind of dumb. No one is really gonna buy the persecution complex, especially those of us (like me) who are Christians who have endured actual persecution.

      There is a reason Biblical literalism and religious fundamentalism is dying. And here’s a clue: it’s not because of secularism, intellectualism or resistance to God.

    • frank

      Well said! And one only has to look at the exponential growth of bible based Chrisdtianity in S. America, Africa and Asia. While American Christians abandon more and more biblical truths the rest of the world are embracing them. The truth will win out, maybe not in spolied, privileged America but it will in the world. While America regresses the world prgresses.

      • http://notapastor.wordpress.com notapastor

        Hi frank. I was also thinking of the same phenomena. My take is similar to the old “there are no atheists in foxholes” saying. I think it’s very natural for humans in states of distress to turn to literal supernatural beliefs. I do it myself, all the time. When lose someone, I cling stronger to my belief in the afterlife. When someone I love is dying, I pray fervently for healing. But, I have to acknowledge that it’s possible that we believe not because something is actually true, but because it helps us to do so.

        • Frank

          I don’t doubt that what you say is a factor though it does not explain the growth of Christianity from a handful to billions and counting.

          • http://notapastor.wordpress.com notapastor

            Yes, I agree, there must be many (countless?) variables to account for the spread of Christianity. Aside from psychological ones, I think the political-economic spread of American culture has in impact. Also, I genuinely believe that the teachings of Jesus are extremely compelling and have always garnered converts. Maybe the inherent supernatural power of the Bible itself is also pushing for this growth, but I have no idea how to measure that without agreeing that assumptions of faith are actual fact.

          • Evelyn

            Frank, watch the video:

            http://youtu.be/3Bi2T3ijqAM

            These are the kinds of people who are converting to Christianity. They are not enlightened. They are superstitious.

          • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

            Thanks for the link Evelyn.

            Superstitious and unenlightened, indeed. (And it seems the only enlightened one there is the preacher. Commercially enlightened. I’m sure he’s getting a good buck from lots of those superstitious people in his audience).

            And Frank says Christianity is growing. I’d argue that people are certainly getting religion, but they are experiencing no authentic faith. It’s like Coke Zero. It’s got the flavor of the real thing, but there’s really nothing of value in it. Tasty, but ultimately empty.

  • LoneWolf

    The trick isn’t that they believe demons exist, but rather they are so eager to abdicate responsibility to them. If you accept the possibility of angels, as in creatures that are even more complex than humans, and that they have free will, then demons are just a natural conclusion, but a lot of people have found them to be a convenient scapegoat.

    That and a belief in supernatural is really exhilarating, like a drug high, and like most drugs, most demon-hunters aren’t willing to give it up.

  • http://teamaidan.wordpress.com Heather

    Just have to chime in and say that plenty of people still believe that demons/evil spirits are responsible for seizures. Epilepsy is a neurological condition that causes seizures. It’s not a mental illness and it’s not caused by demons. Seems silly to have to take the time to clarify that but it’s not a helpful or loving approach to those of us who battle epilepsy everyday. Thank-you.

    • http://notapastor.wordpress.com notapastor

      Hi Heather, thanks for sharing a very personal example. It’s one thing to debate a concept, but once real human beings are involved, it changes the perspective.

    • Evelyn

      Thank you for exorcising the demon of ignorance about epilepsy! :-)

  • Luke Allison

    I would recommend lots of reading on the subject. Read Wink, read Richard Beck’s blog series, read Greg Boyd’s two unique books “God at War” and “Satan and the Problem of Evil”….hell, read the Screwtape Letters for some fun.

    It might be helpful to read some of the more anthropological works on the subject…stuff like IM Lewis’ “Ecstatic Religion”, J. Fauret Saada’s “Deadly Words: Witchcraft in the Bocage” and look through their bibliographies for more direction.

    Whatever the case, you should study and study and study some more if indeed this question is on your mind. The one thing you don’t want to do is make a decision based on the lowest common denominator of what Christianity has to offer.

    I have a lot of the same questions you do, but I’m not willing to consign the worldview of the Biblical authors to the “rubbish” category quite yet. This has less to do with my desire to keep the Bible authoritative and more to do with the prevalence of a “warfare worldview” in history and many cultures outside our Western modern one. Truthfully, many many people within modern western cultures believe in something close to this too, based on personal experience and not scholarly acumen.

  • Lee P.

    A bit of a monkey wrench was thrown in this whole deal for me recently, as in the last few days. I have a friend who is a Dr. and scientist and this man played a pretty significant role in helping me come to Christianity. He a very rational man and a very careful thinker as most scientists are (or should be, at least).

    Anyhow, he was a psychiatrist in practice for decades and so I asked him if he was ever presented with something in his practice that he thought was demonic rather than medical/psychological. He responded, rather cryptically (from my points of view) “3 Times”. I believe my heart may have palpitated a bit when I received the email. I knew that he accepted a supernatural worldview and that he believes in the existence of demons as literal beings, but I did not think he would answer that he has had experiences with them in his practice. He elaborated a little bit and said that on 2 of the occasions the patients had a lot of history with “the occult”. He sent them to a center with expertise in helping people out of occult practice and it worked out well for them.

    He did not go in detail about the symptoms these people showed or anything like that, nor did I ask. He did say that all of the patients also had mental illness (bipolar). Perhaps he was mistaken, however this gentleman is extremely accomplished in his field. He would rank with a top .1% in the world as far as evaluating mental and emotional states so I do not take his revelation to me on this topic lightly. This fellow is not at all prone to anything close to exaggeration nor is he interested in nor have we ever discussed more outrageous sorts of things as these.

    I’m still remain pretty skeptical as is my nature but another thing that my friend said that resonated with me. No matter the nature of the demonic, many Christians spend far too much time blaming and focused on them. Scripture does not say all that much about the demonic and he say “I wish Christians would not major on minors”.

    • Matti

      “He a very rational man and a very careful thinker”

      “he believes in the existence of demons as literal beings”

      I feel it’s more rational to question your definition of “rational” than to accept those two statements as somehow compatible.

  • Ric Shewell

    I’m not convinced that this is a question that “haunts” Christianity. It’s a little too easy to answer. “Why do Christians believe in demons?” – Because they are apparently under every rock in the New Testament. I suppose the real question is, “Do I have to believe in demons to be a Christian?” The answer is simple to that one, too: “No.” Not haunted yet. I think the real question, the heart of the matter, is “How can I harmonize the events of the New Testament with my modern sensibilities?” That is a haunting question. Most of the events in the NT can be harmonized away (“demons” were just a way of explaining mental illness, etc). But can we harmonize away every event? We come to a road block when we get to Christ’s resurrection. Once we fit the resurrection into our modern sensibilities (dead people don’t come back to life), then most of the affirmations and teachings of the New Testament become void. The better question for Lee would be “How do we harmonize New Testament events with our modern sensibilities? Is it possible?”

    • Evelyn

      “Once we fit the resurrection into our modern sensibilities (dead people don’t come back to life), then most of the affirmations and teachings of the New Testament become void.”

      That would be the major problem with Christianity today. To me, the crucifixion and resurrection are dubitous and somewhat inconsequential to the study of the spiritual world that Jesus describes in the Gospel and the understanding that can be gleaned by studying it’s stories. To me, the crucifixion is a parable of suffering, a commentary on how people behave towards previous “friends” when they feel their necks are on the line, an example of crowd hysteria, and finally Jesus’ affirmation that he doesn’t know God. When Jesus was “resurrected” he seems to have come back as an apparition that only appeared to a few and he wasn’t the same as he was before he died – he wasn’t REALLY resurrected. The resurrection has some meaning to me as regards to symbolizing that life itself and God itself go on even after a death but doesn’t mean salvation via Christ’s bodily death and resurrection.

    • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

      Excellent point Ric. Hopefully that question will be asked in this series.

  • Lee P.

    Ric,

    You say that the pertinent question here is:
    “How do we harmonize New Testament events with our modern sensibilities? ”

    I said as much in my replies here. This is an issue just as much about interpretation of the New Testament in light of modern rationalism as much as anything. I think the distinction between Jesus’ resurrection and the demonic is that Jesus’ resurrection was a 1 time supernatural event while,as you so aptly put it, demons “are under every rock in the New Testament”.

    The astonishing frequency of demonic accounts told in the New Testament vs. the overwhelming lack of the same quality of evidence in modern times, coupled with the fact that the New Testament demonic accounts show evidence akin to modern neurological, psychiatric and physical illnesses, give rational warrant for a less literal interpretation of demons. We can’t do the same thing with Jesus’ resurrection.

    • Luke Allison

      Lee,

      This is excellent, and I believe evidence that you already understand the core of Christianity far better than most of us.

    • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

      …. we can’t do the same thing with Jesus’ resurrection. –

      Why not, Lee?

      If there are modern interpretations that can explain what demonic possession was or what demonic entities are, then how can we not apply the same modern interpretations to resurrection?

      Even though it happened to Jesus only once, resurrection as a supernatural event was not a one time event in the Bible. There were numerous resurrections mentioned in the Gospels. There were resurrections in the Old Testament.

      • Lee P.

        I am not saying that the demonic cannot possibly exist. What I am saying is that the contemporary evidence of the demonic is very, very poor (on the level of UFO’s and Bigfoot as I explained earlier. In fact, some would insist that UFO/Aliens ARE demons ). There is good evidence that people 2,000 years ago confused mental and physical illnesses with demon possession so that is consistent with my disbelief in literal demon beings. I don’t dispute that Jesus made sick people well, but I am disputing what it was exactly that he healed them from in the case of the demonic. As far as resurrection, I don’t know what resurrection from the dead could be confused with.

        Resurrection of the dead is not near as common in the entire Bible as the demonic is in the gospels but they can be examined on a case by case basis. In the case of touted New Testament resurrection cases there is ambiguity as to the actual state of the person — it is not told weather they were actually biologically dead in most cases (asleep, passed out, etc.) Except for the cases of Lazurus and Jesus, both resurrected after several days. In the case of the Dead Saints of Matthew, I have a very difficult time taking that event literally. Surely more than one gospel author would have written about that event. Why would you leave Zombie-Saints out of your gospel? Surely more witnesses of the day would have penned something about long dead saints rising out of their graves and walking around.

        These are not binary comparisons (Demons vs. Jesus resurrection). If the argument is “if you believe in one supernatural event in the Bible then you must believe them all” then I think that is too much all or nothing thinking. When we study the Bible we must look at the type of literature each book represents as well as the cultural constructs of the day. Besides, I accept the resurrection of Jesus mostly by faith (but also because of the supporting evidence of the phenomenon of Christianity that spring up within the lifetimes of eye witnesses.)

        • http://www.rjaypearson.com R. Jay Pearson

          …. I accept the resurrection of Jesus mostly by faith (but also because of the supporting evidence of the phenomenon of Christianity that spring up within the lifetimes of eye witnesses.) ….

          It would have to be completely by faith rather than mostly, since there is no verifiable evidence that the event actually occurred.

          All existing New Testament documents are copies of copies. There are no originals. Therefore it is impossible to authenticate the documents. As such, any testimony given in those letters cannot be verified or validated.

          As for the “phenomenon of Christianity that spring up within the lifetimes of eye witnesses” . . .

          1) again, we have no way to validate so-called “eye witness” testimony, especially when you consider that only three New Testament writers (Matthew, John, and Peter) are purported to have been actual eye witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. Any other mentions of eye-witnesses is third-party reference, and therefore hearsay. And again, we cannot even verify that the apostles known as Matthew, John and Peter were even the authors of the documents that bear the same names.

          And it’s important to note than none ever say they witnessed Jesus’ actual resurrection, as it was with Lazarus and the little girl at Mark 5; the only thing attested to was his supposed post-death appearance, which Matthew describes as announced by an angel at the empty tomb; Mark says Jesus appeared in different forms to people; Luke says he first appeared unrecognizably on the Emmaus road and then later to his disciples, still with holes in his hands and feet; and John has the most colorful accounts: Jesus is not recognized by Mary, who initially thinks he’s a gardener; he can suddenly appear in the middle of a locked room, and does this TWICE; he then appears to them in Galilee about a hundred miles away, on a beach, and is not recognizable as Jesus.

          The point being that there’s great inconsistency and conflicting variety in the resurrection stories which makes claims to its historical reality less than believable.

          2) The phenomenon of Christianity is really not that different from, say, the phenomenon of Islam. Both sprang up swiftly, with Islam exploding onto the world stage in the 7th-8th centuries with arguably greater swiftness than Christianity did in the 2nd-5th centuries. And today there are roughly 1 billion Christians in the world and 1 billion Muslims in the world. So the so-called phenomenon of Christianity’s appearance in history does not endow it with properties of divine truth.

          So all of this is important because it begs that believers honestly ask themselves why they believe.

          To engage in intellectual honesty is an act of faith.

          • Ric Shewell

            A. I love that this has gotten back to Christ’s resurrection, which I truly think its the heart of the matter for the intersection of Scripture and a liberal democratic society.

            B. Harmonizing the biblical narrative to our modern sensibilities is a liberal activity that is undertaken by both liberal and fundamentalist Christians. Fundamentalist Christians often attempt to prove how creationism, Noah’s flood, and dinosaurs all work together and fit into our modern sensibilities. They, of course, fail, and they don’t even realize how liberal they are treating the precious text.

            C. While we don’t yet think everything science purports is perfect, we do think that science is so damn good that it should trump in most explanations of the behavior of nature. Therefore, we can find “odd” looking events in nature and rightfully observe how primitive people would have interpreted such things (demons, plagues, recovery of sight… wait what?).

            D. Back to the liberal liberals of a hundred years ago. As they were harmonizing the Bible (or demythologizing as Bultmann put it), they found no problem harmonizing away the resurrection, just as Evelyn up above did (she’s not dead, just in the comments). Some even carried it out to their logical conclusions – Jesus was God, God died, God is dead, God is resurrected in all of us by the Spirit of the dead God, there is no God, there is us (The Gospel of Christian Atheism, Thomas J. J. Altizer).

            E. There are so many problems with this, but one that I think is interesting is this: This interpretation of Scripture, that explains away Jesus’ resurrection, must inject an idea that is not native to Scripture or science, and that idea is… spirituality. The biblical authors had no intentions of their works being read in a “spiritual” way, resurrecting our spirits, making us happy, saving us from gloom. People were not suffering from spiritual blindness; they were just blind. There was no spiritual oppression or poverty, just oppression and poverty. Finally, there was no spiritual death, just plain ol’ ugly death. There is no other way to interpret the resurrection other than a physical action that has begun the reversal of death. To avoid having an actual physical resurrection, you need to insert a “spiritual” paradigm, which isn’t native to Scripture, Judaism, or Science. But it’s kinda nice, so we’re okay with it.

          • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

            “The biblical authors had no intentions of their works being read in a “spiritual” way”

            When examining any document where the author is dead, it is very important to understand, or at least attempt to understand the motivation of the author for creating that document. Questions should be asked about who they were addressing, what they wanted to get across and where they got their information.

            So, Ric, you know this how?

            We have Timothy 3:16, but it’s a separate book from the gospels. We have evidence that the resurrection story was added on to Mark by someone other than the original author(s). How do you make this assertion?

          • Ric Shewell

            Lausten,

            Good question. How can I make an assertion like I did about dead authors’ intentions? Let’s just stick with my assertion, that “spiritualistic interpretations” were not the intentions of the authors. I think a careful examination of the text will show that Luke’s Jesus meant an actual, physical, rescue for the poor, blind, imprisoned, and dead. Jesus did not mean to bring about simply a “spiritual” renewal, but, in fact a political, renewal. This argument is made at length by John Howard Yoder in “The Politics of Jesus,” and I don’t want to paraphrase that book.

            To keep going, it’s all about examining the text. Why did John include the doubting Thomas narrative where the others didn’t? Why did the writer of John to lengths to narrate Jesus presenting his actual physical body to an apostle that many Gnostic traditions claim as their patron? He’s going to lengths to say this is not immaterial.

            We can go on to what is probably the knock-down-drag-out argument, which is 1 Corinthians 15:12 ff. Paul is actually saying, if Christ has not be raised from the dead (as some of you are saying) then our faith and hope is in vain. I do not see a way to spiritualize this. I don’t see any other reading except “Christ physical rose from the dead, therefore we have hope in our resurrection.” It takes an outlandish exegetical move to interpret Paul to be saying, “Look, there’s two camps: People who think Jesus spiritually rose from the dead, and those that think Jesus didn’t rise at all. ANDDDDDD, the spiritual rise argument wins!”

            So looking at the text carefully is a good way to start to find the authors’ intentions. Knowing the original language helps too. Throughout western history, this dichotomy or sometimes trichotomy of the person began to take shape and become widely accepted. What I mean is this crazy idea that we have souls. And we taken this idea of body and soul and have imposed it on to the Scriptures. How do we know that they don’t think of body and soul like we do? This is where knowing Greek helps. The word that is most often translated as “soul” in the New Testament is “psyche,” the origin of many of our words like “psychology” (the study of behavior, not souls). This word pops up in an unusual place, where Paul is describing the differences between our present bodies and our resurrected bodies (1 Cor 15:44-46). Here, Paul says that a “psychikon” body is buried, and a “pneumatikon” body is raised (these are just the adjectivals of “psyche” and “pneuma”). This doesn’t make sense in our modern body/soul dichotomy. What would it mean that our bodies are buried “soulish” and raised “spiritish.” Would you listen to anyone talk like that today? Neither would they. However, if we translate “psyche” as living, life, movement, animation, whole self, this begins to make better sense for the argument in 1 Cor 15.

            If you are still reading, you are probably thinking, Ric you haven’t convinced me yet, after all, the word “pneuma” – spirit – is all over the NT. I think a careful reading would show “pneuma” to be usually in reference to God’s activity, will, or desire for us, and never as a way of explaining away improbably events or activities in the New Testament.

            Still not convinced that I can perceive the minds of the authors? Well, Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho (second century), repeats the words of Paul, but with greater emphasis attacking the “spiritualizing” idea of resurrection. “There are some who are called Christians… who say that there is no resurrection from the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken into heaven… Do not imagine that they are Christians.” He also calls them godless, impious heretics.” (Chapter 80). So here we have a 2nd century theologian commenting on the Scripture and discounting a “spiritual” way of looking at the text.

            Still not convinced, I’m sure. I’m just trying to go to length to show that, while I may not be able to know the mind of the authors perfectly, we can very reasonable rule out bad interpretation of their work, by carefully reading the text, learning the language, and reading early commentaries (prior to Augustine). Looking at all of these things, the simplest answer is that the original authors mean to say that Christ died, and his physical body, though transformed, came back from the dead. We can say that will a great deal of confidence. If we chose to say it was spiritual, then we must admit that we are walking away from their original intentions, and therefore admit that the words are the page are more important than the authors or the authors’ intents… but then we’d start to sound like fundamentalists.

          • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

            Impressive at times and a waste of typing at others. Paul does not need to present the spiritual case, nor weigh one against the other to show he is choosing the literal sense. Your evidence only shows that he stated it as if it is fact. You said little about how you could determine if he actually believed it. You also spent a lot of time on evidence unrelated to the gospel authors, which is what I asked about, and which is extremely thin, so you didn’t have much choice. That some theologians later accepted that those authors were being literal goes without argument. That only shows that people near that time would have believed them. Again, no argument on that. The question is, what did the authors believe, what was there intention?

          • Ric Shewell

            Heh, thanks for challenging me on this. I thought we were talking about the whole New Testament. I also think it’s unfair to Paul when we put such primacy on the Gospels, especially since it is almost universally agreed that Paul’s letters predate the Gospels. You say that I demonstrated that Paul stated the resurrection of Christ as a fact, which was my aim, and I’m a little surprised that it didn’t satisfy my initial assertion, which was “the biblical authors had no intention of their work being interpreted in a ‘spiritual’ way.” If Paul, and the rest of the biblical authors present Christ’s resurrection as a fact, then shouldn’t it follow that they do not intend for their words to be later interpreted as “spiritual” or metaphorical?

            Maybe this will grab you. Mark does indeed originally end without an appearance of the risen Christ. However, resurrection is sown throughout the gospel. Starting with the resurrection of the young girl in chapter 5. Christ reinterprets “death” as mere “sleeping,” language that the early church takes up, especially Paul in Corinthians and Thessalonians. Slid into resurrection story of chapter 5 is a woman who approaches Jesus with “fear and trembling,” words that Mark chooses to end his Gospel with. Chapter 5, we have two women, a resurrection, and “fear and trembling.” He ends his Gospel with these three things, too. He is literally bookending the ministry of Christ with these motifs. Also, in Mark is Jesus’ own predictions of his resurrection in chapters 8, 9, and 10. Jesus teaches about the general resurrection in 12. Finally, Jesus’ resurrection is announced by the angel at the end of the Gospel to the two women. The fact that Mark doesn’t have the resurrected Christ show up at the end is so fascinating! I love wondering why Mark did that. I do think it’s beautiful. He ends the Gospel on a down beat, with fear and trembling. It draws the reader into those feelings. Interesting. Of course, this made early Christians uncomfortable, so they added stuff. That makes me sad, but I understand. Anyway, I hope this goes into Mark enough to show that Christ’s absence at the end is not sufficient to say that Mark did not intend to say that Christ did not rise from the dead. Excuse all the negatives, but you are making me a little weary to put things in the positive (Mark intends to present Christ as risen from the dead, Christ’s absence does not negate this).

            Thanks for reading by the way. I just want to end with this, if you keep pushing me to say without a doubt that I perfectly know the mind, will, or intentions of the original authors, well I suppose I can’t do that. But if we want to push all philosophers/theologians to satisfy all necessary conditions before making any assertion, well then we’re living in a fantasy nihilistic world where we can’t say anything. Outside of mathematics, there are very few deductive arguments that can be perfectly verified. Most arguments are inductive, where we can approach truth, and eliminate outlying competitive arguments. I cannot say without a shadow of a doubt that the biblical authors intended to present Christ resurrection as factual and that they intend their writings to always be interpreted as such. But we can get pretty damn close by closely studying the text, learning about the language and the context, and reading early commentaries (among many other exegetical tactics). But who has the time for all that?! Pastors. Why I think we should also trust our pastors and encourage them to do their best.

          • http://www.winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

            “If Paul, and the rest of the biblical authors present Christ’s resurrection as a fact, then shouldn’t it follow that they do not intend for their words to be later interpreted as “spiritual” or metaphorical?”

            Have you ever read Grimm’s Fairy Tales? Did you listen to Paul Ryan last night?

  • Luke Allison

    One interesting thing I’ve always been intrigued by, however, is the fact that the writer of the Gospel According to Matthew includes “moon-struckness” and “paralysis” as two of the ailments Jesus healed in addition to demon-possession. This “moon-struck” condition is often translated “epilepsy”, although it could mean a variety of mental illnesses as well. But the writer at least seems to be aware of a difference between demon possession and something more “natural.”

  • http://www.gatewayalliancechurch.com Martin

    I know that Dr George Lamsa’s ideas on Aramaic Primacy are controversial, however I am sure that no one would dispute that Jesus did speak Aramaic, not Greek (he may have known Greek but it obviously wasn’t his everyday speech). The words for “demons”, “evil spirits”, and even “satan” in Aramaic were apparently commonly used idioms which could refer to what we would regard as psychiatric problems and out-of-control personal issues. It’s the Greek text and words that sound like “alien entities”, but Lamsa claims that is not how it was understood amongst Aramaic speaking cultures of Jesus day. There is a list of those verses and there cultural explanations here: http://www.bibletopics.com/biblestudy/166.htm

  • Lee P.

    That is a good point, Luke Allison — if what you say is factual.

    Another explanation I’ve heard for the lack of demonic accounts today is that something Jesus did decreased or eliminated their activity.

    Now I mentioned in my original post that I am confused by demonic accounts where by demons act like potty mouthed sex craved drunkards instead of intelligent, cosmic spirit beings. Perhaps they do exists but due to the current climate they are intelligent enough to remain behind the scenes since any mass demonic revelation would also lend good evidence of the the supernatural and God. They presumably don’t want that.

    I too, am interested in the meeting with Greg Boyd and Tony. Did that happen?

    • Luke Allison

      I have a class with Greg Boyd and Paul Eddy on this very topic tomorrow morning. I’ll be bringing plenty of healthy skepticism and lots of questions.

      I’ve often wondered the same things you’re asking, and I’ve been a fairly serious Christian for about 15 years, getting more serious in the last 8. I really appreciate your approach, which is measured and open-minded, rather than sarcastic and mean-spirited.

      A few speculative theories behind notions of demons acting like frat boys instead of sophisticated multi-dimensional beings:
      1. They hate embodiment, and resent the special place that killer apes have in the heart of a God who should know better, which leads to violence
      2. The impact of such a being on the physiological reality of the human psyche/bodily system may create something akin to a soprano’s frequency matching that of a crystal wine glass…nothing good could come of that
      3. In the demonic realm, frat boys are worshiped like Jesus is worshiped here
      4. Perhaps a sophisticated creature blessed with long life and indescribable power just gets bored and wants to hurt lesser creatures….this idea is explored in Richard K. Morgan’s book “Altered Carbon”, where immortal members of society (dubbed “Methuselahs) increase in debauchery and immorality rather than virtue.

      This is all purely fun speculation. I hold to something closer to Wink’s viewpoint on “the powers.” But I’m open to a changed mind.

  • Lee P.

    Interesting post, Martin. I do like that view however it is difficult to see how Jesus would cast “out-of-control personal issues” into nearby pigs.

    • http://www.gatewayalliancechurch.com Martin

      He says the insane men drove the pigs into the water – the “evil spirits” was the “madness of the men” driving the pigs away: http://www.bibletopics.com/biblestudy/166s_pic.htm

      I’m not saying I am totally convinced, I am saying that I find it interesting and more attractive than believing in goblins. I have to add that my background is (very) charismatic and for years I was involved in “deliverance ministry” (including in Africa :) and I saw some very weird things (like a woman actually levitate a few inches from the floor! We sat on her!! Although that was in the UK) – but all that proves is that very weird things happen, it doesn’t prove any particular theological position. And although I have no natural explanation for experiences like that (and there are some dramatic experiences in scripture) in my humble opinion, most of the “demons” I met were in all likely-hood psychological problems and would fit very comfortably into Lamsa’s “Aramaic idioms”.

      But I am very open minded to other opinions.

      • MichelleHess

        “but all that proves is that very weird things happen, it doesn’t prove any particular theological position”

        Lol. I love that!

  • Lee P.

    Luke Allison,

    That’s awesome about the class with Boyd and Eddy! Please report back here. As for my approach, I spent a good part of a decade calling Christians hateful childish, often scatalogical names on the internet because I was so upset that they were so unreasonable and for what I viewed as hateful opinions they held towards an eternal soul that I didn’t even believe I had. So a new approach was long overdue.

  • Mary

    Evelyn and Nick, a note on Jesus and empire: Jesus was completely about confronting “Empire” and its excesses and abuse. Ist century Palestine was occupied Roman territory. All power was derived through Roman authority including the puppet governor- usually Hebrew and the Sanhedrin (religious authority) who controlled the temple; Pharisees, etc. with their royal, purple robes and judgments. (Even the Levittes of the OT were a priestly empire because they were supported by the entire Hebrew nation and were the only ones who had access to God once a year in the temple.). Access to God the Father is what Jesus offered all who sought it; not considering status, ethnicity, or burnt offerings- just a repentant heart (precisely what demons lack).
    So Lee, Demons? I believe.
    Disembodied entities (sentient? maybe? not?) who capitalize on human energy for evil or ill. … under this definition even a virus would qualify as a demon.
    ( Yes, I know viruses are “real’. Lots of things were “supernatural” until someone “discovered” them.). Just because there is a physical explanation for illness, etc. does not dismiss the possibility its having a spiritual component.
    There is evil that is palpable, has a life of its own, seems to have its own agenda (chaos) and moves through us (humanity) if we allow it (sometimes even when we do not know it is there). Like many have mentioned racism, sexism, drug addiction, and on and on could fall under this category of downward spin. Yes, we scapegoat the demon when we point in the air at “it”. I think this exists even on a cellular level and can change if we make a choice to create something else with GOD. Sometimes, however, it seems to exist in a way that has a character and personality that appears individual. No matter which way you experience this or do not experience it at all- evil exists.
    Ultimately, if I could hitch a ride on the Hubble telescope and just go; I’d end up with the same conclusion as God DOES(emphasis tense): It is Good. Sorry , evil. Good/ God trumps you every time.
    It may sound trite but I assure I did not come by this casually at all.
    God bless you, my friend.

    • Evelyn

      It’s nice to have an opinion but as far as I can tell from reading the Gospel, Jesus never confronts the Romans. The only interaction that Jesus has with the Romans before the crucifixion is when he heals the centurion’s slave. Jesus confronts the High Priests and the Pharisees about their hypocritical faith but he never comments on their politics. As I’ve heard it told, the Israelites were living in Roman-occupied territory and the Sanhedrin derived all of it’s power from the fact that the Romans would allow conquered peoples to govern themselves. If the Romans decided that the Sanhedrin was revolting against the empire, they would invade and conquer without blinking an eye. I don’t think the Sanhedrin was “empowered” by the Roman Empire so much as it was allowed to govern without putting up a fuss.

      If Jesus’ ministry had been about politics he would have been snuffed out a lot earlier than he was.

      • Luke Allison

        Evelyn,

        Assuming you haven’t, I would recommend reading Richard Horsley’s “Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder,” or really anything by Horsley….Walter Wink’s “Naming the Powers,” NT Wright’s “Jesus and the Victory of God” and Dom Crossan’s “God and Empire.”

        None of these except Wright could be qualified as even remotely conservative scholars (and the conservative scholars think Wright is a liberal demoniac), but all of them are doing amazing stuff around the topic of Empire.

        • Evelyn

          I understand that there is a current fad of the the church trying to address social justice issues by becoming politically involved. I assume that the works of the liberal scholars that you recommend are focused on rationalizing that position. I think that it is best that the church take the attitude of “serving” society in a service-oriented way rather than compelling their followers to become politically involved. Once that happens, the church gets over-politicized and given that the nature of religion is somewhat cultish (people follow the cult without really thinking about what they are doing), a political cult grows up where people start adhering to party platforms (without deference to theological standing) and assume that they are Godly when in fact they are just being blown around by the contentious winds of self-serving Washington. Service to society goes out the window and is replaced by service to a political party. People don’t think about the “right” thing to do because many of them don’t seem to be able to determine that for themselves. They cow in to their emotional attachments and rationalize their responsive actions rather than thinking before they act and acting in a way that is consistent with carefully-formed principals.

          Anyway, thank you for the book suggestions. I started reading the “Ecstatic Religion” book that you recommended and will look more closely at the other recommendations (even though my first reaction is negative).

          • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

            “self-serving Washington”???

            Our political system has some degree of checks and balances. You could make an argument for it being inherently self-serving, i.e. it was created by white slave owners and allowed for whites to own slaves, but that eventually got corrected. I’ve seen a lot of good people use “Washington” to accomplish good things.

            You did however make a good argument for the tendency of religion to develop a mindless following that corrupts government.

          • Luke Allison

            Evelyn,

            Those books are merely for the purpose of exploring what has been written. The fact is that a large portion of ancient culture and most current indigenous cultures share some kind of common understanding that the cosmos is a warzone.

            So those books aren’t for the purpose of changing your mind, but just for a broadening of perspective, negative reaction or no.

          • Evelyn

            Ok, Lausten. I’m going to vote for Mitt Romney because I really think he cares about ME and my local community. Mitt wouldn’t let a multi-national corporation steal my retirement money. I know he wouldn’t.

      • http://winter60.blogspot.com Lausten North

        Thanks for the balance Evelyn. I think Luke is really stretching and embellishing a few short passages to come up with his analysis. I probably won’t read his recommendations just based on what he says here.

        And your “snuffed out” comment is also a good one. The NT doesn’t show us so much about politics but it does give some good examples of how to make some political commentary and some social statements without coming right out and doing something that will get you arrested or censored. Of course Jesus eventually does get it, but in a way that does not put the authorities in a very good light. And the rest is history, as they say.

        • Luke Allison

          Lausten,

          Not sure I made an analysis…..actually, fairly certain all I did was recommend some books on the subject in a friendly fashion. I love Evelyn’s contributions to this site. It kind of feels like you’re into drawing firing lines, just a little bit. I think you’ve responded rather tersely to a few things I’ve written that were not in any sort of combative spirit. Perhaps I’m completely wrong and being overly sensitive.

          The only way to understand what is going on in the 1st Century rhetorical context of the New Testament is to read newer scholarship on it. That is all. I’m going to go cast demons out of my household appliances now.

  • Chuck

    If someone has in-laws, they learn to believe in demons.

  • Keith Johnston

    I am an evangelical Christian who believes in evolution, who does not believe in the historicity of Adam and Eve, who does not believe in inerrancy, who voted for President Obama (and will do so again), and who voted against Prop 8 in California (the anti gay marriage proposition). On the other hand, I believe in the miracles of Jesus, the Resurrection of Jesus and the Second Coming of Jesus as well as tongues-speaking, healings in response to prayer in the name of Jesus, and intercessory prayer in general. I also believe in demons. My belief in demons helps me explain why it is that educated evangelicals perversely reject the findings of modern science and modern biblical scholarship while at the same time embracing reactionary politics and political lies about President Obama. The inordinate hatred of gays, liberals, Muslims, blacks, etc. I also believe has something to do with demons. I think many people would use the word ‘demonic’ without actually believing in demons — I chose to think that the ‘demonic’ is actually due to the influence of demons.

  • Lee P.

    How can you buy speaking in tongues? The apostles supposedly spoke in actual languages. Today’s tongue speakers simply babble themselves into hysterics.

  • Joey E.

    I consider myself a logical person. Growing up in the church, I ‘believed’ in demons but then again I kind of didn’t. I never really took the idea seriously and would blame people’s collapses into temptation on their own free will. I left the church for a while in my early twenties and started a road of separation from God. I was considering atheism as a viable option.

    That’s when things got weird.

    One night after a good amount of drinking, myself and two of my friends checked into a hotel. One of my friends was incoherent and we had to carry him up the stairs and lay him in the bed. His wife was with us (she hadn’t had an ounce of alcohol) and she was pretty distraught. Then things got weird. Our incoherent friend on the bed began saying that he was being surrounded by fire and was burning. I was at his side holding him and telling him in his ear that it was just the alcohol in his system and that he was scaring his wife. He continued to cry out and then he fell silent and stopped breathing with his eyes fixated on the ceiling.

    I hovered over him and began calling out his name. He wouldn’t answer. Was he dead? Then out of nowhere he jolted upwards and in a low growl screamed, “I am lucifer, I am lucifer,” and then something about our souls. It took my other friend and I to hold him down on the bed. I immediately reverted to praying that the Holy Spirit fill him up. Right as I did this he sunk back into the bed still, silent, and staring at the ceiling again without breathing. I again called out his name, but no response. Finally, he blinked and immediately set up against the bedpost. His face was calm and inviting. What the hell was happening?

    He summoned his crying wife and both me and my friend over to him, calling us his children. This sounds freaking weird, but there was a presence with him, and I couldn’t stop praying. Remember, this was a deep period of doubt for me, and five minutes before this moment my friend couldn’t talk right or even walk up stairs. Anyways, he then began to ‘bless’ us and share things that we needed to do with our lives, all in a calm and focused manner. Later we all went to sleep. He woke up and didn’t remember a thing.

    I promise this story is true. Despite this fact, my skeptical nature still looks back on this event and tries to rationalize it. It didn’t (and doesn’t) fit into my logical box. If I were someone reading all of this I would probably be skeptical too, but hey, just thought I’d share this strange story.

    Any thoughts on what happened? (Oh, and this guy was a Christian, and in his ‘calm’ state he said that this was able to happen to him because of the alcohol. He talked in third person the whole time in this state…..’insert twilight zone music’)

    • Evelyn

      It sounds like your friend was possessed by a tutelary spirit. In the Umbanda religion, for example, certain people are designated as mediums and get possessed by tutelary spirits during planned rituals. People who are not designated mediums speak to the tutelary spirits through the mediums to get advice. The mediums are trained to be able to lose consciousness easily so that possession by the tutelary spirit is not difficult. (Apparently, possession can be horrifying and difficult for people who are not trained to handle it.)

      In the Christian religion Lucifer is usually equated with the devil – something bad. However, you should note that Lucifer also means “bringer of light” and the fact that this possessing spirit gave advice and was worried about the state of your souls makes it likely that it came to help you, not hurt you.

      N.B. – This is all I can tell you. I do not participate in Umbanda or any other religions focused on spirit possession. I only know what I have read. I also think anyone reading this should refrain from calling Umbandists “devil worshippers” and should not think that the existence of the Umbanda religion is somehow responsible for your friend getting possessed. Possessions happen through the grace of God and any apparent control that we seem to have over them is illusory.

      • Joey E.

        Hmmmm, interesting. To make things clear, the ‘I am Lucifer’ state was the first state he was in. It was definitely negative and scary and the ‘soul talk’ was something along the lines of wanting our souls for not-so-good reasons. Then I prayed over him (silently), he went all blank page again, and then he sat up and started with the wisdom and blessings.

        • http://http://winter60.blogspot.com/ Lausten North

          I should have just stopped reading after, “one night after a heavy amount of drinking”. Gimme a break Evelyn. Of course there is a rational explanation. It does not require “rationalization” and it makes no difference if you were considering atheism at the time. Your friend said what he said because he lives in a culture that has stuff like that in it. It gets in our brains like dreams do and drinking breaks the barriers that hold them in.

          Have you ever talked to a psychologist or someone who knows about neuroscience about this, instead of asking people on a religious blog? If you wanted a real explanation, you would.

          • maggie

            I had a friend who used to hear 3 distinct voices and the fourth he could also actually see ( my friend said he looked like quite a normal old man ). These voices and man used to tell him to do bad things and hurt him and distrurb him a lot and he saw psycologists about this for years and it made him pretyy unable to live a normal life. But then he was prayed for by a christian pastor- a lot of folks were praying a fasting for around a week before this deliverance prayer happened. During the orayer time towards the end my friend actually felt 4 entities leave him. There was a great deal to the whole thing but afterwards my friend was very differenct and said his head was clear and that he could think clearly for the first time in over 15 years….I know this happened because my friend never saw or heard these things again….the psychiatrists and psychologists who he saw most of his life could not stop it, but this prayer DID stop it. My friend is a christian believer now, thanks to this experience because it convinced him of the power of Christ to set him free. I think perhaps we should not dismiss the reality of demons… I knopw what I experinced with my friend and I experienced the reality of Jesus in other ways too for myself personally. Perhaps really research this- Jesus after all came to save us FROM something….. God Bess x x

          • maggie

            There is a neuroscience doctor who used to be an atheist who has now become a believer- plus many others who now believer in the afterlife and in Jesus. Many muslims are having dreams of Jesus, including the ones who never had any real knowledge about him… its worth listening to the stories of real people… the neuroscientist has done studies and is satisfied that the person/s who had afterlife experiences were having spiritual experiences and not neurological ones….. its worth investigating why so many educated and intellegint people are reporting thses things, even after alifetime of NOT believeing in them…..also worth seeing is Ian McCormacks story and also Howard Storm- both were atheists who had experiences which they could not deny the reality of and both changed their formerly held strong views…. very worth a listen! God Bless

    • Jubal DiGriz

      Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and even if I was armchair diagnoses are fairly useless.

      That said, most of these symptoms sounds consistent with a stroke. “Surrounded by fire” is at the extreme end, but sometimes victims will experience tingling sensations throughout their body. Loss of balance and speech problems are very common symptoms. The “I am Lucifer” and blessings part IS very strange, but distorted senses and confusion are other symptoms, and if you posit that your friend was experiencing blood loss in his brain then bizarre behaviors make sense.

      http://www.webmd.com/stroke/guide/stroke-symptoms

      Or, you know, demon possession. Whatever fits the facts best.

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  • http://oneanotherdaily.blogspot.ca/ Greg Gamble

    Believers that are a threat to demons can discern them, and deal with them today as they did in scripture.
    Have you forgotten that the gospel must first be believed before the evidence is seen?
    Demons learned long ago not to get upset by harmless armchair philosophers that cant see them.
    I challenge you to pour out your life daily as Jesus did, among the poor, the diseased, those in prison, the fatherless and widow and the outcasts. Or, if your bailey wick is the hallowed halls of government, academia or other ivory towers, speak the whole truth in love to everyone, about everything, all the time, and you will unleash fury, scorn and even danger to your life that will eventually convince you that demons wear ties and suits too.
    When you start getting close to winning hardened sinners to Jesus, you’ll see the demons come out of hiding.
    While you may not believe in them, they believe in you, and are more aware of your spiritual heritage and the power of Christ who is in you, than you are.
    Demons are invisible to the average church goer because they are hiding right out in the open, in the many doctrines of demons that pollute Gods church, making a mockery of Jesus death and resurrection.
    Demons most effective emissaries are often Christians.
    Be careful what you believe, because you’ll have it.
    blessings
    Greg

  • kevin taylor

    I’ve had several first hand experiences with demon possessed people as well as my own experiences with them. Even with uber-educated rhetoric, experience is a much greater teacher.

  • Lee P.

    Please tell more, Kevin.

  • Doug

    Demons are the souls of fallen angels
    Aliens are fallen angels

  • Bershawn300

    Please prove to me scientifically (and preferably in a peer-reviewed paper) that demons do NOT exist. Go.

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