Sunday, August 16, 2015

Demonic Possession: A Sunday Rumination

     Robert Young, Liberty’s Torch’s own Colonel of Truth, has posted a piercing and important essay about a demonic possession to which he was a witness. Atheists and resolute materialists will scoff, of course. Even many a Christian is made uncomfortable by the subject, and will back away from it as adroitly and expeditiously as possible. It’s one of the more abstruse subjects in Christian theology. Skeptics frequently cite it as a reason to dismiss “all that mystical garbage” as, well, garbage.

     As with other phenomena of the spirit and the supernatural, there cannot be proof, on this side of the veil of Time, that demonic possession is real. This is inherent in the world as God designed it and we experience it: that which has no manifestation subject to prediction, experimentation, and measurement can never be proved or disproved. The methods of science are not applicable to it.

     Indeed, over the centuries, there have been many cases of claimed demonic possession for which an alternate explanation – usually physical or mental illness – was later preferred, often for good reasons. The Church agrees that before leaping to the conclusion that some sufferer “must be” possessed, other explanations that would admit of secular remedies must be explored. Also, human emotional frailty can move individuals to manifest what have been called symptoms of possession: most often, a simple desire for attention.

     Yet there have been cases where an exorcism appeared to cure what no secular approach had even palliated. Can we be certain beyond all possible dispute that the sufferer was possessed? No; such certainties are denied to us who live in Time. However, they impel me to advance a theory of my own – and I emphasize that it is my own and no one else’s – that strikes me as an acceptable model for demonic possessions.

     Free will is a double-edged gift. It permits us infinite latitude in our cogitations and decisions, though not in the consequences of our actions. Some exercises of free will can create chinks in our souls: potential entry points through which evil influences can amplify our human weaknesses.

     No one is perfectly armored against the seductions of evil. No one is proof against all suggestions that he excuse himself a departure from what he knows to be right. We are fallible – in theological terms, fallen – and so are capable of being misled, including by ourselves. We simply cannot avert the temptations presented to us by the world.

     If we conceive of a soul perfect in grace – a soul that for the moment is utterly without any burden of sin – as a geometrical object, it would be perfectly smooth. It would offer evil no attachment points, no “handholds.” The introduction of a sin, however small, would constitute a crack in that object, a chink that might avail a spiritual parasite a point to which it could attach itself. Such a parasite would thereafter strive to “burrow inward,” creating a wider, deeper inroad for itself, its fellows, and their progeny.

     Free will implies that no soul would ever be utterly unable to resist such burrowing, however badly cracked and penetrated it might be. However, every advance made by such parasites would make resisting further attachments and penetrations more difficult. Consider the nature of repentance and penance, and how distasteful we find them, in light of this analogy.

     We call certain sins of the will and the emotions capital sins:

  • Lust
  • Gluttony
  • Greed
  • Pride
  • Wrath
  • Envy
  • Sloth

     ...because even though they have no immediate effect on the world outside one’s skull, and are therefore not mortal, they open paths toward which we are tempted whose pursuit would constitute a mortal sin. Thus, they have a capital nature: they’re instrumental in opening inroads for far more serious sins.

     Now postulate that such inroads aren’t merely passive deteriorations but burrowings by active agents – demons – and the outline forms for my model of demonic possession.

     All the above rests on certain premises about sin, the soul, and the supernatural realm that anyone is free to reject. That having been said, if we pursue their implications rigorously, we arrive at a model for possession that conforms to the generally recognized phenomena and also instructs us in how lay Christians should avoid and avert it.

     He who has allowed a chink in his soul, by surrendering to the temptation to commit any sort of sin, has created the beginning of an inroad. Should he undertake the repair effort demanded by repentance and penance, he may succeed in restoring his soul to smoothness. Should he spurn it, a parasite attached to that chink will, over time, widen and deepen it, leading him to commit ever graver sins. Perhaps it will grow wide enough to accommodate other parasites.

     A deep enough inroad will facilitate possession: the intermittent displacement of the sinner’s will by that of one or more demons. The displacement is never complete; anyone still alive must retain the possibility of repentance. For the same reason, the possessing demon is incapable of bringing about the sufferer’s physical death: that must be either willed (suicide) or a completely natural event.

     During those intervals when the possessor is in command of the host’s body, it will exhibit behavior saner, cleaner persons would call bizarre, insane, cruel, or hateful. One particular manifestation that suggests possession rather than other causes is active blasphemy: words and deeds intended to put other souls in jeopardy, perhaps by inducing them to doubt their own consciences or faith.

     I repeat: the above conceptions are mine alone. They do not in any way represent the doctrine of the Catholic Church or any other Christian denomination. Inasmuch as possession has at times been attributed to persons regarded as unusually spiritual or holy, my model might contradict official teachings. Please don’t regard it as anything but an interesting theory – an untestable theory, at that.

     Of one thing I am convinced: demonic possessions do occur, though how frequently neither I nor any other thinker can say. But in this as in all matters of faith and the spirit, our wills are free. Free to believe or disbelieve. Free to attend to our consciences or to disregard them. Free to do as we will...and to take the consequences.

     May God bless and keep you all.


Prester Scott said...

The worst cases of demonic possession are the ones where the human is a willing and cooperative host. In those cases, the bizarre manifestations, aversion to sacred things, etc., will frequently be absent. I suspect there are quite a few such individuals in political office and other high positions of influence.

Reg T said...

Prester, even though I am a heathen, a non-believer, when I look at the bulk of those who actively seek political office - especially those in Congress and those who currently Occupy (and perhaps are themselves "occupied") the White House - I would willingly accept that it is the preponderance, rather than simply "quite a few". I wonder if it isn't indeed a requirement for those who seek power over their fellow man.

Unknown said...

I like the picture you paint of the soul. I heard a preacher a year or so ago that said that pornography (lust) was one such sin that created the opening (chink) and that certain demons associated themselves with different types of sin.

Just think of soldiers or a swat team stacked up at a door - but no need for a battering ram if we open the door.

As Sun Tzu said - know your enemy. As Pogo said - we've met the enemy and he is us.

I thank God for His warning us of and His willingness to make us strong in our weakness.