There has been increasing talk these days about demons and spiritual warfare. The woes of our country, especially sexual abuse and gang violence, are seen as the work of the devil. We should find this analysis hasty and questionable.
One does not at all doubt the existence of the devil. The gospels are replete with exorcisms. The problem is not the devil but how much we think the devil is responsible for. And he is probably feeling quite nice that he is being blamed for more than his fair share. What we attribute to the devil may have purely socio-economic roots with attendant psychological dysfunction.
The writer of this editorial spoke to a trauma counsellor who said there was a boy in front of him behaving as if he was possessed by demons. He did not take the bait. He probed and probed and found the boy had enormous trauma in his life. He made many sounds like animals but he also discovered that the boy was treated like an animal in his everyday life. After much counselling the ‘demons’ left.
Veteran exorcist deceased Bishop John Mendes used to say that all-out demonic possession is quite rare. He also said in his experience most cases of “possession” were really psychological disturbance.
Additionally, we must approach the Bible with faith, yes, but armed with the social sciences as well. While it is true there are many stories of demonic possession in the Bible, we must not forget all ancient societies had their cultural folklore or taboos.
That Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted made a lot of sense to Jews and Gentiles for the wilderness was where the ‘jumbies’ were—at least so they believed. That Jesus came out of the wilderness meant He vanquished the evil spirits. Furthermore, not all possession stories in the Bible were actually demonic possession but many of them could equally be psychological disturbance mixed with social depravity.
In today’s gospel, Jesus says to the adulterous woman: “Go away, and don’t sin any more.” Sin is the problem, not just the devil. We need to cast an eye of pragmatism over our society. To look more penetratingly at our society and discover the circumstances under which too many of our people live.
This pragmatic and merciful eye will not only discover spiritual troubling but socio-economic troubling. As the late Rev Indris Hamid pointed out, we must be in the business of “troubling the waters”—the waters of the status quo, the lack of housing, poverty, unemployment, failed hopes in education, noise pollution, lack of community centres and sporting facilities, and not enough green spaces to enjoy the blessings of nature.
If we really want to bring healing to our land, if we really want a more humane way of life, we need to be less devil-centred and more confident about the power of grace, wisdom and the social sciences.
We need to discover the roots of personal and systemic/structural evil and little by little expel them. We will find many demons leaving when we do.