Are demons real?

Are demons real?  Yes.

Are they Individual, identifiable and possess 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.

A physician who is both a student and a friend 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 patients within my own profession of psychopharmacology I have been able to treat with modern antipsychotics and mood stabilizers.  These demons can usually be influenced by manipulating a dysregulated neurotransmitter system of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine within the brain and with supporting psychotherapy when indicated.  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.

But my friend is also right.  Some demons are “drug resistant.” Hitler’s Germany, Idi Amin’s Uganda, Cambodia’s  Pol Pot come to mind.

That’s also the reason why the language of devils, demons, and evil is so important.  When we give ourselves to desires and designs that are aligned against the will of God, the evil we do acquires a consuming force all its own.  Although we may be able to account for the ferocity of it to some degree in sociological, psychological, or political categories, the sum is often greater than the parts.  In the spiritual world sometimes 2+2 equals 8.  The language of demons, devils, and evil then becomes profoundly important in naming the spiritual and moral issues at stake — as well as the very real dangers that they present.

In the end, it is always our choices that provide evil with an opening.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an Episcopal priest), live in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and five grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, Sophie, and Drew, with a sixth on the way.