Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Fighting Demons

Having addressed sin and original sin, I now move on to much less solid ground. While sin in its different forms is something most theologians have some thoughts about, the demons is much more elusive. It seems that there have always been people who believe that demons are some evil monsters that have a personal will and intelligence. It is not difficult to find such people today. Interestingly enough these are not the ones that really use this symbol in their understanding of the world. This is most obvious when studying the ascetic movement within Christianity during the fourth to sixth centuries.

The most well-known text from this period is probably the esteemed bishop Athanasios biography of Antony the Great. In this we see Antony do battle with myriads of demons. They have bodies (although different from ours) and they talk, fly and attack. Antony fights them by beating them at games of logic and with great courage.

However, when we turn to the letters of Antony, where we (probably) hear Antony himself (see Rubenson’s great study on these letters), a very different picture emerges. There is still a lot of talk about demons, but the demons that Antony teaches about are not flying monsters. Instead he uses the word demon almost interchangeably with the word passion. There is a demon/passion of pride, fornication, slander and so on. In other words, for Antony demons represent forces that tempt the individual to give up his quest for communion with God. Another genius ascetic, Evagrios of Pontos, talks of demons in much the same way.

Demons, then, have a similar role in Christian theology as original sin: both describe the forces outside the individual that have an impact on the individuals freedom and identity. The difference is in the way one uses these symbols. While original sin is a description of a situation one cannot do much about, demons are there to be fought!

When reading the ascetics discussions on the war against the demons a pattern emerges. The various demons usually have a common goal. Not, as one could suspect, to drive the ascetic to sin, but what they are attacking is the ascetics faith in the self-understanding as an ascetic. The demons all try to make the ascetic give up an return to society.

While I am slightly optimistic about the possibility to use the symbol original sin in a constructive way today, it is probably impossible to use the symbol demons with a wider audience. It is just to difficult to get images from The Exorcist and similar popular notions out of people’s heads! It is a real pity, because I think this kind of language is really useful.

Who haven’t felt that we are up against some inhuman forces when we try to address how the media works, how large corporations function, how university administration… You know what I mean. There is also the notion that demons possess people and make them do things they would not do otherwise. This is exactly what happens when normal human beings make choices to run down profit-making factories and move the production to third world sweat shops, because “the market demands it”. There are dark forces at work.

So, how do you fight demons? Well, the key is truth. It will, as you know, set us free. The thing demons do is they interfere with our senses (this is why the ancients always pointed out the danger of believing the senses). They make us believe that, for example, the global system called “the market” is something that exists by itself and that its rules are somehow “natural” and not made up by people. To fight such demons we must look deeper into the structures of reality. Only this way can we expose them for the liars they are.

The ascetic fathers also recommended asceticism as preparation for the battle. Now, asceticism is about putting distance between oneself and the things that affect us, to help us see clearer. It is about stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.

But in order to fight the demons of our time, we need ascetic practices suitable for our time.


joshua said...

An interesting discussion of demons, it reminds me a bit of Walter Wink's take. What is even more interesting is your claim that ascetic practices are needed to counter the power of inhuman powers. Do you see these as some of the traditional practices, reinterpreted? Or do you have something else in mind?

Patrik said...

Yes and no. I think some of the traditional ascetic practices can be of value today too, especially living away from the society and maybe silence. But more important would be to try to interpret the traditional ascetic practices and find new ways of communicating the same ideas that the ancients did by fasting, sleep deprivation and chastity. Interpeting ascetic practices is what I do in my thesis for the doctorate, so I am slightly hesitent to talk too much about that right now. You'll have to wait a couple of years for that.. ;)

Modern forms of asceticism I think have very similar meanings as fasting and so on for the ancients are not watching tv, avoiding certain forms of media in general in order to control information input. Also, things like a rule for the day probaly has a value in all ages.

That said, within a traditional framwork, such as a monastic order, the classical forms of asceticism can be meaningful as a part of a tradition.

Shane Clifton said...

It is interesting that you list the key to fighting demons as being truth. I certainly understand where you are coming from, but i am surprised you didn't start with prayer. Even if your concept of the devil is correct, would it not be right to say that truth comes through prayer?

I note your response to Dr Cho's theology of the demonic on my blog - and i guess whatever we make of his concept of the demonic - i think his strenght his is emphasis on prayer as the appropriate Christian response. This reminds us that the solution to evil is firstly in God's hands. I also think that prayer leads to empowered action on our behalf.

In response to your question on "Pentecotal Discussions" about whether Dr Cho would accept your understanding of evil - i cannot speak for him, but think many Christians throughout Asia world would have a more concrete understanding of the devil.

Anonymous said...

Evagrius of Pontus had a very detailed and intricate understanding of 'demons' and how they affect the mind of the asctetic. There is a long e-book on Evagrius by a fellow called Father Theophanes called 'The Orthodox Doctrine of the Person' which talks about Evagrius and his system which is both about fighting demons and also understanding your own mind at the most extensive level.

frankenangel said...

Bottom line is demons exist and and prayer is power. Many Christians don't believe they do exist yet Christ was casting out demons all the time, so were the apostles and Mary of Magdalen was said to have had seven. How Da Vinci, huh?

Their sole purpos is to take us down anyway we let allow by opening any door to temptation.

I've had myriad experiences of intercessory prayer and miracles and not praying and the roof falling in, so to speak because I allowed a breech in the wall and the scorpions got in.

I have had out of body battles with these powers and no matter how we slice it, until Christ comes back we're here to hold down the fort.

Keep the faith and when you feel like you don't want to pray get connected somehow to another source online, online Bible study, leaving prayer requests, you know, a safety net when you feel weak because they're pinching the source of your Holy O2 and we need all the Holy breath we can get! Thanks for the words!

Watch what you're watching on TV!

Sarah said...

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You can email me at sdoddjen@gmail.com
or check out my blog at http://legendoftheprotectors.
The novel is In the Dark.
If you want to know more about me, you can click on my name under Pages.

Viagra Online said...

in the entire history of the humanity, demons has been part of all religions tradition, to Christian demons are the inhabitants of the Hell, in other like Induism the Asuras.

pharmacy said...

Theres no real Demons after all is just a myth!

xlpharmacy reviews said...

It is an interesting topic, I think that we should be open to the possibility that anything can really exist, just like science, they think of something impossible and then the universe shows them that it can be possible.

Jonathan Knight said...

Many people do not believe in demons because they are too arrogant to see them. What do I mean by this?-- The chief characteristic of Satan was pride. If the arrogant possess the same spiritual nature, Satan is in many ways invisible to them. Being cloaked in their very same nature, he can hide right in their midst.

Like an enemy combatant in camo fatigues, he can't be seen when everything around him looks like him.--Just one tree in a forest of the arrogant. Get it?

The very holy and the very wicked have no doubt that demons exist. Those who stand watching, bemused by the spiritual "antics" of others, are the ones who are truly blind.


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nevertheless said...

Personally, I have always believed in demons. I've been batteling my own demons for such a long time that I've lost sight of any self worth that I was clinging to. Even though I have little or no light at the end of my tunnel, I will never breach certain morals or values. Till the end will I take with me, the knowledge, that my word and intentions were aimed true. The Demons inside me and around me may prevail this time but there will always be a part of my soul that will always remain the real me.

I believe that one should never close their mind to any possibility, specially when in a confused state. Confusion and chaos make it easier for the Demons to wreak their havoc. The mind or body, in an already weakened position, is never going to be a good thing when fighting Demons who are looking for an easy target, a tortured soul in which they may encounter an easy victory. I am. Not. That. Staying strong in you're moments of weakness is key, a key not one human possesses.