A version of this post has appeared on the Energion Discussion Network.
A post from Patheos recently talked about exorcism in the New Testament from the point of view that these days we consider those who would have once been called “possessed” to be suffering from mental illness. Meanwhile, I notice that the inimitable Richard Beck will soon be releasing his next book “Reviving Old Scratch” (by which I assume he means Satan).
These illustrate two attitudes I tend to see among Christians styling themselves “progressive” or “liberal”; the first is that references to demons or to Satan have to represent purely psychological matters. There’s certainly some merit in that; a psychologist friend of mine talks about going on retreat as “going to sit down and talk to her demons”. However, the second reflects something with a wider application (as ultimately only I can sit down and talk to my personal psychological demons), and which I increasingly see in progressive or liberal writers, namely a willingness to take “principalities, powers and rulers” seriously.
In doing so, most are drawing on the work of Walter Wink in the remarkable “Powers” trilogy (or in his precis “The Powers that Be”). As Wink states “Every business corporation, school, denomination, bureaucracy, sports team — indeed, social reality in all its forms — is a combination of both visible and invisible, outer and inner, physical and spiritual.” He most definitely includes in this all ideologies, political and economic, and of course, via “denomination”, religious ideologies. They can be named, unmasked and engaged (to use the titles of the three volumes of the trilogy). All, in Wink’s view, can be viewed as “fallen” entities, thus at the same time being demonic and angelic, and being capable of salvation.
But they are definitely something which can, in a sense “possess” us, in that we uncritically devote ourselves to them, whether they be country, political party, economic viewpoint or merely our family (and if you don’t see how that can be a demonic or at least fallen power, watch the Godfather trilogy sometime).
Just as we all (I suspect) have our personal demons, we all (or at least a substantial majority of us) fall often into “possession” by one or more of these ideologies, or spirits; we can therefore, with caution, attempt to engage the spirits of those around us, individual or group, though in doing this it might be best if we have first engaged those possessing ourselves.
I am, for instance, currently seeing a fair proportion of my facebook feed currently possessed by spirits called “Republican” or “Democrat” or “Europe” or “Brexit” (British Exit). I’m on more solid ground with the first two, as they’re distinctively American spirits (though attacks on Sanders seem to engage a bit of that “knee jerk” reaction which I find is a good indication of a possessing spirit; in his case, I think, “anticapitalism” is the spirit in question); I’m on less solid ground with the UK ones, as I find I’m terrified of the possible consequences of leaving the EU, and that’s another telltale – if there are two opposing camps and you’re terrified of one, you may be too much in thrall to the other.
I say “attempt to engage with caution”, because we have just celebrated Easter, and Good Friday occurred first and foremost because Jesus engaged some of the Powers of his day, notably the imperial Roman Empire and the Temple insiders who allowed their own Power to ally itself to Rome. We may well find that in engaging some of the Powers of today, that we have, with Christ, picked up our cross.