Friday night is movie night in our home. After a week of work, school, and trying to stay on our diets, I get a movie for my daughters and myself, we pile into our theater room with it and loads of junk food, and enjoy while my wife does whatever she wants.
I usually use Redbox for our movies and recently I noticed something that may have been there for a long time, but it’s escaped my attention until now: the occult has an impressive presence in today’s recently-released movie selections. Row after row had at least one if not two supernatural titles for the choosing.
In a way, I’m not surprised at all. Most everyone is intrigued with the paranormal and the vast majority still believes there is more to reality than just matter and energy. For example, the two-year worldwide study done by the Search Institute’s Center for Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence found that only 7% of the adolescents they spoke with were unsure that a spiritual dimension to life exists.
But from an interest level perspective, there appears to be a very lopsided story regarding where the fascination in the supernatural lies. Rather than focusing on God, the attention appears to be on His antithesis with movies, reality shows, and other media concentrating on the devil and satanically-inspired activities that the Bible prohibits (e.g. Mediumship).
While certainly disconcerting, this fact jogged my memory of something I had read a little over a year ago that demonstrated to me how God can even use interest in the occult to bring people to Him.
October 2011 marked the 40th anniversary of the blockbuster book and movie The Exorcist. An article written at that time by William Peter Blatty, the author of the work, discussed his motivations for creating The Exorcist, which was widely reported to be based on the actual exorcism of a young American boy that occurred in the late 1940’s. However, Blatty said in the article that, in fact, such was not the case. Instead, The Exorcist was produced from Blatty’s research on exorcisms performed around the globe.
Blatty said the key takeaway he wanted folks to get from The Exorcist was, “If an investigation were to prove that possession is real, what a help it would be to the struggling faith of possibly millions, for if there were demons, I reasoned, then why not angels? Why not God?”
What an interesting and unlikely apologetic for God. Proof of the devil is proof for the Creator. Not something I’m sure Satan desires.
The Reality of Demons
Now, when the subject of demonism comes up in secular or even certain Christian circles, there is often the tendency to quickly create as much distance between the person wanting to discuss the topic and the listener. For this reaction, we can thank the extreme fringe of certain Christian denominations that stigmatize the subject with radical teachings of demons being behind everything including a Christian suffering from the common cold.
However, demon activity is very real. The Bible is not shy about discussing the subject and the New Testament is replete with examples of encounters with the demonic. Moreover, there are trusted, Christian leaders today – who are discerning and not known for over-the-top claims – that have described their dealings with demons.
Examples include noted author and pastor Chip Ingram who describes his encounters with demons in his book The Invisible War, Dallas Seminary professor and theologian Merrill Unger who has written widely on the subject concerning his personal interactions with the demonic, and well respected pastor Chuck Swindoll who wrote in his small book entitled Demonism: “On a few occasions I have assisted in the painful process of relieving them [people who come to him for spiritual help] of demons.”
The point Blatty makes in his short article is actually quite a monumental one. If un-prejudicial, carefully conducted investigations verify demonic activity and/or possessions, then the conclusions are devastating for the atheistic and naturalistic philosophy positions that assert there is nothing beyond this physical life. And further, the validation that these spiritual entities behave in a manner described in the Bible and obey the authority of Christ lends great support for the truth claims of Christianity.
A number of years ago, I taught through a series on spiritual warfare and did a fair amount of research on this subject that included material produced by both Protestants and Catholics, as well as from a secular, well-known skeptical psychiatrist that encountered behavior and capabilities in some of his patients that he could not explain with pure science, and who concluded they were true cases of demonic possession. What I looked for in all the case studies that were presented were general commonalities that seemed to appear much of the time. These characteristics included the following:
- An examination from a mental health professional that found no issues with the afflicted person’s mental faculties
- A clearly demonstrable personality change where the individual presents a vastly different ‘person’ than the one they are known for during a time when the person enters what the authors describe as the “demonic state”
- The ability to speak in languages that the person has never learned
- A display of marked voice change where the voice coming from the person is clearly not their own
- The ability to see things contained in solid objects that the human eye could not see
- The knowledge of events and happenings with which the person could not possibly have familiarity
- A violent hatred of the Bible, the name and person of Jesus, and any object having to do with God
- Strong oppression in the person’s thought life with compulsive and intruding thoughts condemning the person and/or urging them to commit terrible acts or harm themselves
- Sudden feelings of great fear or a recognition of evil’s presence with no external reason behind it
- An event that brought the person into an encounter with the occult (e.g. participation in activities such as spiritism, Ouija boards, being gifted with occult objects, etc.)
While people exhibiting the above behavior are certainly not common and routine, neither are they single-digit in nature. Blatty says in his article: “What my research made clear; namely, that in every period of recorded history, and in every culture and part of the world, there have been consistent accounts of possession and its symptoms going all the way back to ancient Egyptian chronicles, and where there is that much smoke, my reason told me, there is probably fire – and a lot of it, if you get my meaning.”
I get his meaning. I am perfectly willing to admit that there is a lot of mental illness in the world and that personality disorders do exist. Such individuals do not have any spiritual issue, but are rather suffering from emotional or chemical problems that can be rectified with the right therapy and medication.
But I struggle to explain the above, repeated characteristics of apparent demonic situations through natural means alone. If we are intellectually honest and follow a philosophical “appeal to the best explanation” approach and do not exclude the supernatural solely because our worldview does not allow for it, then we are left with the best explanation being that such cases present in a manner that is consistent with the biblical account of demon activity.
And like Blatty says, that fire points you in the direction of the Bible and the God proclaimed within it. An unlikely apologetic? Yes. But a pretty good one, though, in my opinion.
 Charles Swindoll, Demonism (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1981), pp. 18-19.