What About Demons?

All of this is apropos of a post where Tony Jones talks about how he doesn’t believe in demons. Apparently Jones mentioned how most modern people would diagnose the man possessed by demons in Luke 8 as having schizophrenia and not a legion of demons. Jones goes on to conclude that he does not believe that there are demons in the way that the authors of the New Testament and indeed Jesus suggest that there are demons. This is perhaps not all that different from how we now regard geocentrism as incorrect as well – but perhaps it is. That demons are something that pertains to the unseen and to the “spiritual” makes them somehow more above revision of the sort concerning whether the earth is traveling around the sun or not.

Broadly there are two camps of Christians (at least Protestants) when it comes to talking about the whole subject of demons. There are the charismatic-pentecostal groups that broadly have a tendency to see demons everywhere all the time. And when they say demons, they do not mean in a metaphorical sense, they mean real personal demons – some of whom merit a physical description by those who make the claim that they can see such things.

The second group of Christians does not like to talk about demons quite so much and quietly hopes that the first group would please shut up about it already. I would posit that there are a number of reasons for this. Some of this second group is composed of people who may very well believe similar things to the first group but who are sensible to the fact that talking like this may make others presume that they are crazy. Others may regard the existence of demons as a sort of limited thing of a sort that is much rarer than the first group claims. These people thing that the charismatic approach to demons and the like is an exaggeration that borders on fetishization. Lastly these Christians may fall into a category where they, like Jones, reckon that there isn’t really anything like demons and that this demon-talk was a first attempt at psychology.

So what is going on here with all these demons? I don’t know personally. I’ve never seen or heard any demons, I’ve not witnessed an exorcism (though that’s a more Roman Catholic expression of demon belief). I have not come across an event or an experience that I felt could *only* be explained by the presence of some kind of supernatural bad guys getting into someone’s head. My own tendency is to think of these things as a sort of explanation of various elements of the psyche. Given that the Bible has accounts of physical ailments being healed, it is not a big leap to suggest that it would report psychological ones were also healed. It is worth noting that we still personify various aspects of our psyches (albeit in a weaker form) when we say that we were overcome by grief or that our temper got the best of us as if they were separate agents acting in their own interests. If you stop to think about it, this is a completely crazy way to talk about the self, but we all do it, and we all know what is meant by such things. Our feelings and our ability to restrain them are all still part of us but we talk about them as somehow separate spirits within us.

Thinking of things in this regard doesn’t render the biblical accounts primitive, merely human, and perhaps more helpful than perceiving invisible nasty looking creatures as being a pervasive threat. Thoughts?