Amy Julia Becker
In our "enlightened" society, demons are the stuff of Halloween costumes and horror movies. But any glimpse at a newspaper leads me to concur that evil exists. Certainly it exists in the actions of countless individuals. But it extends beyond those individuals to a spiritual realm, across the cosmos and within my own being. Depression and hopelessness and rage and hatred and abuse and injustice all make their mark on human souls daily. Demons are real. But God, who is good, is also real. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
Amy Julia Becker is a recent Masters of Divinity grad from Princeton Theological Seminary and is working on a book that will be published next fall, A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny (Bethany Books). She blogs at Thin Places.
J. Ryan Parker
Upon first reading the question, I thought, "Absolutely not!" But it only took me a few seconds until I realized, "Of course, they do!" Monsters run rampant in the world I most frequently inhabit . . . pop culture. Zombies, vampires, werewolves, serial killers, serial killers who kill serial killers, smoke monsters, demons, and the like fill the films and television series I watch, the books I read, and the video games I play.
They serve a frightening function to be sure. Most of us enjoy the occasional rush that accompanies a horror or thriller film. However, they often serve a more important purpose, to make us evaluate our own humanity vis-à-vis their "inhumanity." This is why I love the recent vampire re-make, Let Me In, because the juxtaposition of the young vampire, Abby, to the human school bullies, Kenny, Mark, and Donald, who plague Owen, gives the lie to the notion that somehow evil is simply non-human, external to "us." The mistake is not in believing whether or not the "monsters" we see on screen are real. The mistake is in believing that they are always stand-ins for the "real world monsters" that we think we see around us and not warnings for what we could become . . . or, unfortunately, what we often are.
J. Ryan Parker is the creator, editor and main contributor for Pop Theology.com and a Ph.D. student in Religion and the Arts at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.
I grew up in a church that emphasized spiritual warfare. We were always under attack, we were told, from Demons/Satan. In light of the recent spat of teen suicides related to bullying I have to say that I do not believe in demons -- it was not invisible spiritual sources that made this happen. It was humans choosing to give into the laws of exclusion and dominance. But now, in light of this, I have to say I believe in the demonic. That twisted part of us -- all of us -- that seeks to cause pain and to control others.
Jason Derr is an Independent Scholar and Theologian-In-Affiliation with the Progressive Christian Alliance. He blogs at Patheos' Faith Forward and the Huffington Post.
The language of demons, devils, and Satan in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are metaphorical attempts to take with utmost seriousness the realities of evil in the world. Such language personifies the darkest fears of those of us who have sensed and experienced and perpetrated heinous acts, acts that somehow passed far beyond our best intentions. With Paul we readily say, "The things we know to do, we do not do."
Still, it does not help us to make such acts merely the results of horned, crabbed, and tailed figures who haunt the night, seeking pliable victims of their dastardly desires. Ironically, such literal beliefs in effect do the opposite of what the believers hope for them. To blame the demons is to let us off the hook; "it is not I, but the sin within," and the sin within is, to some, a ravening beast, devouring us for purely evil intent.
This plainly will not do. Jesus in Luke 10:18 announces that he has seen Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Despite John Milton's fabulous epic poem, "Paradise Lost," wherein he enshrined this "fallen angel" myth in the hearts of many, we would do better to enshrine the fact that Satan and his minions are but metaphors, ways poetically of reminding us of the realities of our sometimes nasty desires, both individually and corporately. Those desires are all too real, far more real than red-caped devils, undead ghouls, and insidious demons. Satan has fallen in the life and ministry of Jesus, fallen into metaphor only. We now are asked to follow him, Lord and giver of life.
John Holbert is a Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX, and is the author of eight books and many articles.