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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

So. Demons.

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Libby Anne has a good post up about believing in demons. She talks about the recent news story where Arkansas state representative Justin Harris "rehomed" his two adopted daughters with a man who then sexually abused them. Apparently, Harris made this decision because he believed the two girls were possessed by demons.

Libby Anne then talks about her own experiences as an evangelical, believing in demons. She says that her parents taught that demons are actively involved in our lives, and her mother even believed her sister's migraine was caused by a demon in her. Throughout her entire childhood, Libby Anne was terrified of demons.

Wow, I'm really glad I missed out on that whole teaching. I can totally see how, as Libby Anne says, it's traumatizing to a child to teach them the world is full of demons. And that it's their responsibility to really really really believe in Jesus, or else the demons might get them. Just, wow, that's awful.

This is an example where evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity teach the same thing, in theory, but the fundamentalists are the ones who actually live like they believe it. (My background is evangelical Christianity, and Libby Anne's background was definitely more conservative than mine, though as far as I know, she refers to it as evangelical rather than fundamentalist.)

In the evangelical Christian culture I come from, we believe in demons, you know, theoretically, but I never heard anyone actually claim a specific event in their own life was caused by a demon. Occasionally someone would tell a secondhand or thirdhand anecdote about encountering a demon, but it was always in a different country not full of white people, or perhaps in the US but in a camp in the middle of nowhere. Apparently some missionaries can sense the "spiritual darkness" when they're in certain cities in Africa or whatever. Lots of wild stories like that. We all believed them- or at least, it seemed to me like everyone believed them. I never heard anyone at church question them. It was common knowledge that in other countries, missionaries sometimes encounter demons.

It was always some bizarre, impossible-to-verify story from a foreign place. I never heard anyone say "I think my illness was caused by a demon." Never that close to home.

(Except one time. At a Christian conference, I met a student from a different college, who told us about how one night, her roommate had been possessed by a demon, and they stayed up all night ordering the demon to leave, in Jesus' name. I listened with rapt attention- wow, finally this was evidence that demons do exist. An actual firsthand account, not some urban legend repeated at church. At that time, I was really really interested because I was looking for evidence that the spiritual world existed. My faith/doubt were always being pulled between two options: conservative "the bible is inerrant" Christianity, or atheism. Yeah. I thought those were the only 2 religions.)

But. People did talk about "spiritual warfare", especially when I was in college and was super-involved with evangelism. Apparently, in anything evangelism-related, the unseen spiritual world plays a huge role. I invited my friend to bible study- God gave me the courage to do it! I felt embarrassed about talking about Jesus- must the the devil trying to make me feel bad so I'll stop! Everything good or bad was interpreted this way.

We used the word "spiritual warfare" a lot, but I don't think anyone ever defined what it was. It seemed to mean God and satan are directly causing these specific events in our lives, but... I mean, that's a little absurd, right? To think satan is actually interacting with us. We were comfortable crediting God with the good stuff, but people rarely claimed that some specific thing was literally caused by satan because that just sounded way too weird.

I remember how uncertain I felt, when my friends kept using the term "spiritual warfare" and I wanted to ask, "Wait, so... do we actually literally believe that the devil- you know, satan, the fallen angel himself- kept people from coming to our evangelistic event?" I don't remember whether or not I ever asked that question, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have received a straight answer. There would probably be some vague language about the spiritual world or whatever, but not "Yes, I literally believe satan does this stuff" or "No, I don't believe that, that just sounds ridiculous."

Fundamentalists don't have this problem. If they say they believe in demons, they really do believe in demons. Evangelicals teach the same stuff but won't admit it, or won't take it to its logical conclusion. This is true for a ton of other topics too.

I remember how I really admired my friend James, when he said the reason nobody decided to get saved at this one outreach event we did could be because of some unconfessed sin among those of us who organized the event. I thought, wow, now that sounds really really out there, but he wasn't embarrassed to say it. It sounds so ridiculous, but it's within the realm of possibility, according to the bible. I admired him for having the courage to actually say it out loud. (Who knows, he may have come from a more fundamentalist background than mine, where people said stuff like that all the time and no one thought it was weird.)

Image source.

So. In summary, the evangelical culture I come from totally believed in demons, but was shy about saying/teaching it explicitly. I always interpreted this as embarrassment over how obviously ridiculous it would sound if you actually said it directly.

Right now, personally, I don't really see any reason to believe one way or the other about the existence of demons. Maybe they do exist. Sure. Whatever. But I would never explain something that happened in my own life as being caused by a demon. So while theoretically I suppose they could exist, in a practical sense I don't believe in them.

For people like Libby Anne, who have been affected in such harmful ways by the belief in demons, oh geez, yeah, quit believing that. Be free. Don't be afraid. (And if that means becoming an atheist, I support that. I believe God wants us to have freedom and not be controlled by fear. For some people, atheism is what gives them freedom. Go for it.)

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