The Bible was Just Kidding About Demons ... Right?

I have just finished a book entitled 'An Exorcist Tells His Story' by father Gabriele Amorth.  Amorth is a Catholic Priest and a sanctioned exorcist.  The first time I heard about this book I must admit that it brought back memories for me, specifically regarding the film adaptation of William Peter Blatty's novel 'The Exorcist.'  The first time I saw the film I must have been around 10 years old.  My parents had left for a night out, and I was with a babysitter.  Somehow I managed to persuade her that it was no problem if she let me stay up and watch this horror movie.  I hid behind the couch the whole time.  I think I may have been psychologically scarred by this.  Why did I insist on watching this film?  Why is our culture so fascinated by supernatural evil?  Blatty's novel spent something like 57 weeks on the New York Time's best seller list back in the early 70's.  Even the title alone of Amorth's book - I admit - drew me in.  The premise was fascinating.  He spends 200 pages detailing the strange things he has seen during his long career as the local parish exorcist in Italy, and doesn't pull any punches when chastising the Church in Rome because they have forgotten the Biblical roots of exorcism.  That horror film I watched when I was 10 was just a movie though, right?  And that was just based on a book, right?  Amorth's book presents the topic in an interesting light.  Basically, that it is all real.  I wondered if I would have to read this book from behind my couch as well.

It is interesting that Amorth reminds us that the Ritual (the Catholic Church's official set of norms and guidelines for priests to exorcise individuals) was written in 1614.  He says it is still as effective today as it was then.  Amorth does not quote the Ritual word for word, probably because (as he warns us later) the average lay person ought not try this at home.  In the Bible, Jesus does grant the power to expel demons to anyone who believes in His name.  Amorth does realize this, but he adds that the average person must be careful - because things like blessing a home are entirely different than practicing the removal of evil spirits from another human being.  But I am getting ahead of myself here.  Aren't demons, ghosts, and spiritual evil the stuff of fiction?  Isn't it safe for me to come out from behind my couch after all?  People today don't need exorcisms because now we have the ability to diagnose schizophrenia and a host of other mental maladies without the need for religion - right?  But 'An Exorcist Tells His Story' was published in 1994!  Not necessarily ancient history.  Often times Amorth describes taking a psychiatrist with him during some of his exorcisms.  Apparently the Church also concedes that it is important to go to the doctor first.  So what, then, are we to do with the things that he is saying in his book?  That people today are attempting to erase supernatural evil from reality?  That many people have a tendency to divorce the Bible's teachings on evil from its teachings on God and Heaven?  It is this strange paradigm that I will discuss in the next paragraph.

It does fascinate me how many of us (including even some people of great faith) can read the Bible and take certain truths seriously, but reject wholesale the other things it mentions.  Speaking for myself, I was always of the camp that it was okay to believe that some guy named Jesus lived a long time ago, and that Moses may have heard from a higher power in the desert outside Egypt.  But as far as demons and the devil were concerned - that was just metaphor and symbols.  Things were easier that way, less embarrassing.  One of the most difficult things in the Bible to defend today may just be the doctrine on Satan and his demons.  You would have better luck selling snake-oil at Sears.  But there is a catch.  Without a literal devil, the story of the Fall of Man in Genesis makes no sense.  Without literal demons, who was Jesus expelling half the time in the Gospels?  If we are made fun of for believing in the Bible, then we might as well go the whole way, and believe ALL of what Jesus said - not just the happy stuff about God and Heaven. 

But if our culture doesn't believe in the literality of demons, they sure do seem eager to watch movies about them (The Rite, The Exorcist and its sequels, Paranormal Activity, etc).  Not to mention the onslaught of books and T.V. shows about them.  We may not believe in the devil, but we are still worshipping him a good portion of the time.  But none of this matters of course, if demons are merely symbolic.  I won't spend too much time mentioning the popularity of psychics, mediums, astrologers, and the like.  I think they are all part of this cult fascination as well.  Amorth warns against visiting these people, and so does the Bible.  We are to trust God only.  There are no shortcuts to spiritual fulfillment.  So if spiritual evil is real, then why don't more of us witness things like demons on a semi-regular basis?  Why is it necessary to get our "scare fix" by going to a movie theatre or visiting the public library?  Well I believe many of us have witnessed these things, and probably more of us than we would like to admit.  I can't blame people for wanting to relegate this area to the realm of fiction.  It's more comfortable that way.  Less embarrassing. 

I will recount a story for you now.  I am mentioning this from personal experience.  Feel free to read it and either ignore it or accept it - the choice is always yours.  When I attended a small church a few years ago, I had a good friend who I was very interested in inviting to service.  After some discussion, he agreed to meet my family and I one Sunday.  My wife and I were very excited - he was a good friend and a good man.  The Saturday night before the church service, my wife and I put the kids to sleep and got ready for bed like normal.  About 2:00 in the morning I woke up to feel my dog squeezing up against my neck; whining incessantly in fear.  I looked over and saw my wife wide awake as well.  We both sat up in bed and came to the conclusion that we were not alone in the house.  I got up and grabbed an old police baton that I keep under my bed (I don't do guns) and began checking the doors and windows to make sure there wasn't any forced entry.  The entire time I was doing this, both my wife and I felt a palpable presence of evil in our home.  It's interesting to describe, but we both felt it from the moment we woke up.  The air felt very still and heavy, and it was as if "something" hated us vehemently.  It was to say the very least, frightening.  After finding that the house was closed up safe and sound, I returned to bed. 

The next morning it was gone.  My wife looked at me plainly and said, "we were not alone last night."  I nodded in agreement.  Whatever visited us that night did not want us to meet my friend for church the next day.  It wasn't pleased that another soul was being set in motion to encounter God.  Things went well at church on Sunday morning.  I think we may have even taken my friend out to lunch afterward.  I know for certain that I am not the only one this type of thing has happened to (and this is not my only story either).  I have spoken with pastors, Christian friends, and a few others who have had similar or even more graphic stories.  My point is this: the Christian walk is worth fighting for.  By choosing not to believe in accounts by people like father Amorth, I think we do a dis-service to the Bible.  If Jesus warned us to be mindful of demons and to stay away from modern-day psychics and astrologers, we probably should.  We don't need them.  God is our best resource and greatest protector.  It's fun to talk about Heaven and happy things, but in doing so we cannot erase the darker spiritual component.  All the more reason to stay in line with Christ, and to invite Him into our lives at all costs.  

Amorth concludes his book by upholding Jesus as the centerpiece of our salvation.  I will echo that sentiment here.  The last sentence in his book is a paraphrased quote by a writer named Manzoni.  He says that writing "one book at a time is sufficient, and at times, is one too many."  And so it can be with blog posts as well I'm sure, so I will stop here.  But at least I have come out from behind the couch.  I hope the same for you.



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