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Recently I invited some colleague students over to an evening called Questions to Christians at my student association. Two of them came (both (almost) completely unfamiliar with Christianity/faith/God etc.) and we discussed several topics and read the story about the Good Samaritan. I gave both of them a copy of the new testament and one said we would read the story of the Good Samaritan with our project group. Today one of them was browsing the bible and read some pages. He found the following sentence in Luke 11:

Jesus and Beelzebul

14 Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute.

He also found some other parts but this one made him laugh really hard. To quote: "Are you serious, you really believe this ****?" After this question I took the bible and imagined how it would be as non-Christian, unaware of a God/Devil/sin and could only come to the same reaction. Now I'm wondering, how can you explain such a text to a non-christian? In this case, how can you make driving out demons reasonable (acceptable) for non-Christians?

Note: this question may seem close to a pastoral advice question, however I'd say this question fits into this description in the FAQ: understanding the Bible from the perspective of a specific viewpoint.

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It's worth explaining the cultural context. Greek and Roman cultures were very spiritual and that's at least part of why we see so much about demons being driven out in the New Testament. –  wax eagle Dec 4 '13 at 17:50
    
Possibly related: Mental illness vs demon possession. –  Ryan Frame Dec 4 '13 at 18:01
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Interestingly enough, secular western culture seems to allow for ghosts and spirits, especially in our movies. The Sixth Sense, Ghosts, and most horror movies are based on the presence of spirits, however fanciful they may be. I actually knew a secular person who went on ghost hunts. The Bible is an explanation for these things where no other explanation exists. –  Narnian Dec 4 '13 at 18:55
    
@2pietjuh2: I think it can be answered simply, in that the way it is written may no convey HOW he is thinking this may have happened. What you can explain to him is that someone was sick (mental/physical) and that Jesus was able to heal that person via spiritual means. In other words, Jesus could heal beyond means that we are aware of. That should be the take away. –  Greg McNulty Dec 4 '13 at 20:24
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Putting yourself in his shoes, how many times have you seen something like this happen? How many time as the clouds parted and you heard God's voice? Faith is something that you can't sell. You either believe or not. –  The Freemason Dec 4 '13 at 20:45
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5 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

First, at the question : "do you really believe all of this ?" you can confidently answer "Yes". We can have faith in our faith, because it is utterly compatible with reason and science.

Regarding your question, I should decompose it in 1/ possibility of existence of such a thing as demonic possession 2/ necessity (or probability) of it happening 3/ spiritual meaning

1/ Possibility

If it is deemed not possible there must be some authority standpoint that says so. Logically we cannot rule out a possibility just because we did not witness it actualised. So there should be a sound proof that it is not possible - or a sound belief that it is not possible.

The premise of rejection is a miscomprehension of science - which is widely believed to hold the truth about the universe in general and in all its aspects. Hence it is first necessary to return to actual science :

  • modern science only emits hypotheses and temporary "best solutions"

To illustrate the point, this is why science could change radically (and several times) its view of the universe, life, existence of aethers, etc. For example, the existence of black holes is widely accepted as a scientific fact while no one has ever detected one. True scientists remain aware that scientific "truth" is methodological, not actual.

So the possibility of existence of such a thing as demonic possession would actually be a valid scientific hypothesis. However, even with direct observations of the phenomenon in controlled environment, this could probably never turn into a science object.

The truth criterion in modern science is renewable material experience - same conditions, same results. So modern science is only capable of providing "truths" on material matters. There is absolutely no possibility (outside downright abuse of the science mantle) that science can bring freedom-related questions into its scope, and demonic possession is freedom-related (more accurately loss-of-freedom-related).

Side note : when science enquires the human mind it's often depressing because it only sees the mechanical part of our psychology. It is a built-in feature of science that it can only establish material causality - otherwise the best it can do is recognize that there is none (but this translate to "not a scientific fact").

So science

  1. has not ruled out the existence of such things as demonic possession
  2. is intrinsically incapable of apprehending matters that are outside its (very efficient but very narrow) scope of material causality - so it won't ever rule on the question

You can only discuss such matters outside modern science - which does not mean outside reason or logic. So another step is to accept that it is possible to state something true about the universe (material or spiritual) outside the scope of modern science.

The scientific method is to remain logically consistent, establish some accepted principles that constrain the possibilities, and specify which kind of facts fall within the scope of the questionning. Different sciences can exist, leading to knowledge of different natures.

2/ Necessity / probability

Anthropology for instance is a field that brings a lot of knowledge, none of it being hard science. Through observation of customs, the belief in universal patterns and structures (family etc.), anthropologists have brought some useful self-knowledge. I mention anthropology because all primitive cultures have spontaneously fostered belief in the invisible world. If it was an error, then it should happen in some specific cultures- why all of them ?

The christian faith is not an explanation of the material world, nor of our social world, but the tale of a relationship between Man and God, which existence we know indirectly - through the testimony of saints, first of all Jesus, - through intuition that we get contemplating life, nature, the universe etc.

Theology is the science of this relationship. Instead of renewable experience, the truth criterion is the scriptures, which hold both testimonies and intuitions. Those scriptures have not been randomly put on paper: wisdom accumulated, meditated and worked upon for centuries, starting with the intuition that God is.

Demonic possession would not be mentionned so clearly and repeatedly in the Gospel, especially as a subject upon which Jesus acts, if it wasn't essential to our understanding of redemption. So the existence of demonic possession is not necessary per se (it is wrong), but you have to admit its reality in order to fully understand the Gospel. Nothing happens by chance in the life of Jesus, as showed by that in these occasions Jesus always frees people.

3/ Spiritual sense and return to everyday life

So the reality of demonic possesion is a loss of freedom through sin. Sin makes us slaves, incapable of achieving what we really want because we find ourselves following our "inclinations".

Every sin is a step toward possesion, and it manifests itself as such in its consequence, a greater difficulty to resist it. Finally some people find themselves unable to resist pulses that can lead them to outright horrors - but this was slowly built by progressive consent.

This is a reassuring psycho-fuzzy explanation, no longer is the demon needed... But if you believe that the demon exists (if not please run a consistency check on your beliefs), there is no reason to reject demonic possession as the ultimate loss of freedom down the road of sin.

Actually it gives an account of our freedom, which goes so far as to make us able to rebuke God in everything he gave us, here the soul as the unity of body and mind.

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Good answer and welcome to the site! Could you please add some references is the first part, especially on the premise of rejection and the black hole. –  2pietjuh2 Dec 4 '13 at 23:12
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There's a lot of baggage that comes with belief, but it's simple to explain:

  1. God exists and he is pure spirit
  2. God made Angels which are pure spirit
    1. Some Angels are good
    2. Some Angels are bad
  3. God made the world
  4. God made people with a body and a spirit

Humanity's ability to comprehend this ends at "people with a body". Philosophers can come up with the rest without the assistance of revelation. But all that is directly observable is that we exist because the rest is supernatural.

As G.K. Chesterton wrote

The strange truth about the matter is told in the very word "holiday." A bank holiday means presumably a day which bankers regard as holy. A half-holiday means, I suppose, a day on which a schoolboy is only partially holy. It is hard to see at first sight why so human a thing as leisure and larkiness should always have a religious origin. Rationally there appears no reason why we should not sing and give each other presents in honour of anything—the birth of Michael Angelo or the opening of Euston Station. But it does not work. As a fact, men only become greedily and gloriously material about something spiritualistic. Take away the Nicene Creed and similar things, and you do some strange wrong to the sellers of sausages. Take away the strange beauty of the saints, and what has remained to us is the far stranger ugliness of Wandsworth. Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural.

G.K. Chesterton - Heretics

So, when someone asks you if you "really believe all that stuff", ask them whether it's more likely that Santa Claus conquers mars or that St. Nicholas is a member of the Church Triumphant gloriously giving his intercession to all those who call upon him in the communion of saints.


Specific to driving out demons. Consider what it means, the mission of the Church and the Apostles was and is to go into places where people believed in demons, gave homage to them and worshiped them, and drive them out.

The new kingdom has an eminently spiritual character. To enter it, it is necessary to repent and believe in the Gospel, to be freed from the power of the spirit of darkness, to submit to the power of God's Spirit, which Christ brings to human beings. As Jesus says: "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you"

Pope John Paul II - General Audience 11/4/1987

Whether or not the fellow you're in conversation believes in demons, he or she can certainly believe their absence is a good thing! Maybe that's a place to start.

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There are TV and Radio signals all around us every day. Yet we would be foolish to assume they didn't exist because we can't see them.

Imagine if you were to encounter someone who had no knowledge of TV or Radio like someone from the 16th century. If you were to try to tell them about something they couldn't see they would have a hard time trying to believe. That is, until you were to switch on a TV. The reason they can't grasp it is because they can't see it & hear it. It's all to do with a lack of knowledge and because people are used to gaining knowledge by our 5 senses.

This quote taken from the back of a little book called "Two Kinds of Knowledge" by E.W.Kenyon explains this dilemma.

All the knowledge that is taught in our schools, colleges and universities has been gained through our five senses. It is what we call "Sense Knowledge." Man has never been able to know God through the five senses of his physical body. Sense Knowledge cannot give us the Reason for Creation, the source of Light, of Life, of Motion, of Gravitation, has been unable to explain the obvious design of Creation. When man reaches the limits of his Sense Knowledge, he turns philosopher or guesser. Natural man cannot understand spiritual things. There are Two kinds of Knowledge, sense knowledge and spiritual knowledge. Sense Knowledge cannot find God, can never know Him, but there stands by the side of everyone a Guide to lead him into the new kind of knowledge, the new kind of life. Two Kinds of Knowledge by EW Kenyon shows the contrast between Sense Knowledge and The Revelation Knowledge which we receive only from the Word of God. Sense Knowledge faith is in what man is, and can do, and has done. Revelation faith is in the Word of God, "That liveth and abideth forever." Understand these Two Kinds of Knowledge and strengthen your walk of faith.

So you can talk to them about how God is spirit and can't be seen with human eyes. And that just because you can't see him it doesn't mean he doesn't exist.

Remember these words from Jesus -

It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. - John 6:63.

Note: faith comes by hearing and hearing comes by the word of God. Faith does not come by the word of God, hearing does. Let them hear by continuing to share the Gospel.

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In the eastern cultures today, the existence of evil spirits and its manifestations are not questioned, they are part of life, some people there even try to make a deal with these spirits who promised prosperity, power, etc.

So maybe a further study in recorded spirit-possession in different parts of the world will help those who are skeptical.

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It will be hard, because the fact is that "demons" are not part of a monotheistic religion, nor do they have a place in a monotheistic religion.

As far as I know, demons are nowhere explained in the Bible, correct me if I am wrong. They appear as a recurse to an elder religious system of polytheism, or even animism. You're just supposed to know what demons are.

Of course, as the Bible tells us, since Abrahams times men have somehow a desire for the supernatural - they want witches, demons, saints, miracles, idols, angles flying around and a beelzebub with 2 horns and a cloven hoof.

But is not this why God punished the Israelites many times.

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