In 1998, four psychologists interviewed twenty hospitalized psychiatric patients from the Hebei province in China.
Chinese physicians diagnosed these patients as hysterical.
The patients, however, believed their bodies were invaded by alien spirits.
In other words, possessed.
Samples of Spirit Possession
One woman spoke of her dead aunt walking through her house as “a white person, but without a head.”
At times she actually believed the spirit occupied her body.
Another women–a 40-year old peasant women with five children and a Buddhist background–complained of chronic possession (some one suggested by a turtle) in which she blacked out and couldn’t remember the episode.
Here’s the million dollar question: Are these patients really possessed? Or severely psychologically disturbed? Let’s explore.
Dismissing the Doctrine of Demons
In today’s world, belief in demons is usually brushed aside as primitive–in company with elves and a flat earth.
In fact, one of the conclusions from the study above was that individuals who lacked education were more susceptible to folk beliefs.
They also raised the question of “whether the possession experience is a socially sanctioned mechanism that allows individuals in an oppressed social role to act out intolerable socio-psychological conflict.”
Both interesting points. Then this shouldn’t come as a surprise: While possession is a common experience in many cultures, in Western industrialized cultures such experiences are not the norm.
As Christians, then, what are we to do when skepticism about angels and demons is contrary to biblical testimony? Let’s see.
Biblical Testimony to Demons
Satan appears in the first book of the Bible and his activity doesn’t let up until Revelation.
And while demonic activity is somewhat subdued in the Old, the frequency of demonic appearances increases during Jesus’ ministry.
We even have a demonic proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah.
But outside the biblical assumption of demons, we have other reasons to affirm their existence.
- Science ultimately can’t answer this question. Science seeks to observe and describe natural phenomena. Like it’s inadequacy in answering questions of morality, science isn’t fit to answer the spiritual.
- Purely natural explanations of evil in this world are not adequate. The horrors of the Lord’s Resistance Army or a mother roasting her child in an oven imply a powerful force at work–not a mere chemical imbalance.
- Learn from the broader sweep of history and culture. When you explore the cultures in Asia, Africa, Haiti and the Pacific Islands, you see a belief in evil spirits is a deep part of their culture. We need to respect that native soft knowledge. They may be on to something our science can’t reach.
In the end, this topic deserves a LOT of sensitivity. We certainly don’t want it to lead to uncritical views on demons. Nor do we want to open the door to bizarre practices of extreme individuals or groups.
Instead, we need to carefully craft a complete view of reality–one that balances both the natural and spiritual.
C. S. Lewis warned in the Screwtape Letters that we can give the topic too little attention–and too much attention. Both are mistakes.
The goal is to seek balance. Let me know what you think.
By the way, got a question you’d like me to answer in a post? Email me.