A few months ago after mass I was talking to the Priest and mentioned I’d bring him some vials of salt to be blessed, a fellow parishioner overheard and asked why I would need salt blessed. I replied that I would place them around my home to spiritually protect it from demons. Immediately her expression revealed her incredulity and she said “I didn’t think people believed in that stuff anymore” before walking off.
It’s a strange phenomenon I’ve seen around for a while. Even people who say they believe in God, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the annunciation of Gabriel to Mary, the ascension of Christ into heaven and all the miracles of Christ, will still seem to struggle with the idea that demons are real and influence us in our day to day lives. From my perspective it seems bizarre. They’ll believe that Mary was visited by an angel to announce her being the mother to the incarnation of the Son of God yet demons are a bridge too far? It makes me wonder why in Christianity today we have so many people who will staunchly profess their belief in God and yet immediately distance themselves from the idea that there are nefarious spiritual forces that need to be fought and exorcised.
It’s not as if the presence of demons is a hidden aspect of the Christian faith. One of the most common miracles of Jesus is liberating people from demonic influence. Demons are ever present in the New Testament, from Satan tempting Jesus in the desert to the exorcism of “Legion” from the Gerasene demoniac to Peter telling his flock to be vigilant against the devil who “prowls like a lion seeking someone to devour”. The existence of demons is not only a matter of Christian faith, it strikes right to the heart of Jesus claim of being the messiah since his liberation of people from demons was one of the indications that showed people he was who he said he was.
So why do so many Christians these days have such a strong reluctance to admit that demons are real? Instead choosing to say that the demons depicted in scripture are some metaphorical account of the evil that lurks within people, or that it was simply mental illness in an age where it was not properly diagnosed (leaving aside the issue of how a mental illness goes from a person into a herd of pigs causing them to drown themselves). It’s no surprise this is occurring in a time when Christian doctrine is increasingly being watered down into secularized platitudes. I believe the simplest explanation is that people don’t want to acknowledge the spiritual truths of Christianity simply because many of them don’t really believe in the spiritual, instead viewing Christianity as more of a life philosophy rather than divinely revealed truth. When you view God as something not much more than an abstract concept, and Jesus resurrection more of an inspiring fable of overcoming the world than an actual historical event then of course you will start making compromises to please the world. There aren’t many more Christian doctrines that are as “embarrassing” in the modern world as what it teaches about demons. A higher power who loves you and wants you to do good? Who could have issue with that? Jesus teachings about being humble, charitable and devote yourself to love? Great teachings to live by. The existence of malevolent spiritual forces who can influence people to act immorally and cut them off from God? Superstitious nonsense of course.
The fact is that acknowledging that demons exist in these days is deeply unfashionable simply because so many secularists, while appreciating a lot of the inspiring aspects and moral philosophies of Christianity, view the idea of demons as backwards. However when you start picking at that thread things start unraveling. If demons don’t exist then do angels? They’re both spiritual beings, why believe in one and not the other? Did Mary really receive revelation from Gabriel, and if not then did she even conceive as a virgin? A lot of Christians decide that the talk of demons is simply superstition, from a time where they didn’t have as good a grasp of science as we do today.
Ironically there isn’t much better evidence for the real influence of demons than the fact that even Christians no longer seem to believe in them. Of all the doctrines for people to deny, it is the one that would allow themselves to seek spiritual protection from the forces that want to cut them off from God and damn them. If Christians believe that demons exist then they take far more seriously the obligation of prayer, to pray the rosary for protection, to go to adoration, to go to mass, to seek God more eagerly and earnestly lest we be dragged down by the spiritual forces of darkness. On the flip side what characterizes many Christians who deny the reality of demons? Lukewarmness, a lack of urgency in seeking God, living a mostly secular lifestyle while peppering some Christianity on top for flavor. If demons want to separate humans from God they couldn’t have picked a much better strategy than making Christians feel ashamed to continue to believe in them, and thus protect themselves.
As James said in his epistle:
“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
An honest question we need to ask is how do you resist that which you believe doesn’t exist? The easiest prey for the lion is the prey that doesn’t believe the lion is there.