Q. You believe that demons are actually spiritual beings but it seems to me closer to the truth to say that they are psychological projections of our own fears. We have the ability to do incredible things with our own minds, even to the point of playing back memories like a movie. If we overcome our fears, won't 'demons' just disappear?
A. If demons are just psychological projections, then why should not angels, Christ and God likewise be psychological personifications of the opposite, namely of love, hope, and goodness? This is certainly what humanists and atheists believe, not to mention most liberal and existentialist 'Christians', occultists and others.
As a deliverance minister who has had much firsthand contact with, and experience of, demons, I could of course simply bear my testimony to you as to the reality of the personality of Satan and demons. Unfortunately if someone chooses not to believe that testimony, there is little I can do to persuade them that I am not fantasising or otherwise. However, if someone claims to be a Bible-believer, then I am obliged to confront them with the very plain teaching of its writers, as well as Christ Himself, as to the literal truth of demons as spirit-entities. Those 'Christians' who claim the demons are not real usually share the same attitude to the Bible as liberals and other secularists, namely, that it is largely composed of myths, that revelation, prophecy and supernatural and related phenomena should therefore either be discounted or seen as psychological projections, etc.. But rather than debate the subjective, let us first of all see what the Bible actually says on the subject. Then the reader can choose whether to believe the Bible or not.
Interestingly, it is the New Testament, not the Old, which furnishes us with the most information the Bible contains on demons. Without exception, the Greek daimón is used in the New Testament to refer to spiritual beings hostile to Yahweh and men. Their prince is called Beelzebub (spelled variously as Ba'al-zebub and Beezeboul) (Mk.3:22), so that demons (or devils as they are also called) may be regarded as his agents. Beelzebub (meaning 'lord of the flies' or 'lord of dung') is another name for Satan, and the most commonly used name, in fact. This was the sting behind the accusation that Yah'shua (Jesus) had 'a devil' (Jn.7:20; 10:20). Those who opposed the Messiah tried to link Him with the very forces of evil, instead of recognising His divine origin.
We can start with this passage, for if demons were indeed mere psychological projections, then we would have expected Yah'shua (Jesus) to clarify the matter for us. There is no question that the Jews believed in demonic entities. The evidence is so overwhelming that we need not debate it. What is important, therefore, is what Yah'shua (Jesus) had to say on the subject, for He did not leave error uncorrected.
In the Gospels there are many references to people possessed by demons. Some of the effects of these beings is seen as dumbness (Lk.11:14), epilepsy (Mk.9:17ff), a refusal to wear clothing, and living in graveyards (Lk.8:27). Commentators have long been suggesting that devil-possession is simply the way people had in the first century of referring to conditions that today we would call sickness or madness. The Gospel accounts, however, make a clear distinction between sickness and possession. We read:
"Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them" (Matt.4:24, NKJV).
None of these classes appear to be identical with the other. The Gospels picture Yah'shua (Jesus) as in a continual conflict with evil spirits and to cast out such beings from men was not easy. His opponents recognised both that He did this, and also that it required a power greater than human. Therefore they attributed His success to the indwelling of Satan:
"And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute. So it was, when the demon had gone out, that the mute spoke; and the multitudes marvelled. But some of them said, "He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons" (Luke 11:14-16, NKJV).
You do not "throw out" a thought-projection of someone's fear. You can throw someone out of your house, but if someone has a mental or psychological problem, you heal it through education and love, not an act of expulsion. As we read the conclusion of this incident, we can be in no doubt as to how Yah'shua (Jesus) viewed demons:
"Others, testing Him, sought from Him a sign from heaven. But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and a house divided against a house falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Because you say I cast out demons by Beelzebub. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armour in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters" (Luke 11:16-23, NKJV).
The first thing we note is that Yah'shua (Jesus) acknowledged the way that their sons cast out demons which they viewed as personal beings. He then gives a parable about a "strong man" which can be nothing other than a personal entity. The "strong man" or demon is, in this illustration, described as entering into personal combat. He had the perfect opportunity here to declare that demons were figments of their imagination or projections of fear. Instead, He directly equates them with Satan, a fallen angel, who appears in the story of Job before the throne of Yahweh to challenge the integrity of the patriarch. If we claim that demons are nothing more than psychological projections, then we are at once forced to conclude that Satan is also, since they are his angels. The moment you do that you are forced to "explain away" huge chunks of the Bible, the end of which is, actually, atheism.
There can be no doubt that there is a psychological phenomenon called 'projection'. There can be no doubt that we have unrealistic fears. There can also be no doubt that some of these are misrepresented to be 'demons' by some very zealous Christians who would go so far as to 'cast out' thoughts of others that challenge their own. People are quick to 'cry devil' rather than face up to the responsibility of their own wrong choices. We are quick to shift blame. But the fact that this phenomenon exists does not mean ipso facto that demons do not exist, especially when the Bible clearly states that they do. To insist that they do not will inevitably lead a person down a path whose end is the claim that all religion - including Yahweh, Yah'shua (Jesus), and the Bible - are all 'psychological projections' and that favourite accusation that we believe in God because we are merely in search of a cosmic father-figure in a purposeless universe.
We read in the New Testament that the victory Yah'shua (Jesus) won over demons He shared with His disciples. When He sent out the Twelve He "gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases" (Lk.9:1). And what was the report of these disciples after they had exercised this power? Read it carefully:
"Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name." And He said to them, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:17-20, NKJV).
If demons are no more than thought-projections, then what has actually happened here is that the disciples were given authority over human psyches and thoughts. This violates entirely the sanctity of free thought and agency which everywhere saturates the Bible. If demons are but human projections of fear, then without any agency on the part of those doing such things, believers can "cast out" such fears without any volition on their own part.
Then you must ask yourself an equally impossible question: at what point does a 'fear' become a 'demon' which can be cast out? Does that mean that all wrong thinking is demonic? Where is the boundary? The question cannot be answered because the question is wrong in the first place. Demons are not thought-projections but, as the passage says unequivocally, they are "spirits" - for "the spirits (demons) are subject to you" (v.20). This word "spirits" translates the Greek pneumata, a word used of demons, angels, rational souls, mental dispositions, and the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). If we are in any doubt as to what the original Hebrew or Aramaic text said, then we may consult it and discover that the word here is shadim meaning "destroyers", "robbers" or "spoilers".
Even those who were not Yah'shua's (Jesus') disciples were casting demons out which as you will recall upset His followers somewhat (Mk.9:28ff). Now if demons are merely projections of the human psyche, and specifically man's fears, then they will not behave like independent beings who can make choices. James the Apostle said:
"You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe -- and tremble!" (James 2:18-19, NKJV).
Notice that the demons are contrasted with 'you' - "You do well" to believe in Yahweh but then so do the demons - as persons - and as persons, they "tremble". Again, the demons are called shadim - the destroyers. And a destroyer is a person who destroys - it is not merely a destructive thought.
As L.L.Morris, a theologian and principal of Ridley College, and Anglican Canon of St.Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia remarked: "There seems no reason a priori why we should reject the whole concept of demon-possession. When the Gospels give us good evidence that it did take place, it is best to accept this." Most people in Canon Morris' position would, because of the watered-down Gospel that Anglicans believe, probably not have occasion to deal with demon-possession per se. But once you have had "hands-on" experience with demons as I have, there is not the slightest doubt that the Bible accounts are literal and of great seriousness. Some demons, Yah'shua (Jesus) said, were so strong that only much prayer and fasting could expel them (Mk.9:29). Neither does one give a psychological projection a personal name, as one would a living being.
I conclude with the classical example of demon-possession in the Bible and that is the story of the Gadarene swine. I reproduce the whole account so that at the conclusion of my essay nobody can be in any doubt as to the truth of who demons actually are:
"Then they came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gadarenes. And when He had come out of the boat, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones. When he saw Jesus (Yah'shua) from afar, he ran and worshiped Him. And he cried out with a loud voice and said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus (Yah'shua), Son of the Most High God (El Elyon)? I implore You by God that You do not torment me." For He said to him, "Come out of the man, unclean spirit!" Then He asked him, "What is your name?" And he answered, saying, "My name is Legion; for we are many." Also he begged Him earnestly that He would not send them out of the country. Now a large herd of swine was feeding there near the mountains. So all the demons begged Him, saying, "Send us to the swine, that we may enter them." And at once Jesus gave them permission. Then the unclean spirits went out and entered the swine (there were about two thousand); and the herd ran violently down the steep place into the sea, and drowned in the sea. So those who fed the swine fled, and they told it in the city and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that had happened. Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region. And when He got into the boat, he who had been demon-possessed begged Him that he might be with Him. However, Jesus did not permit him, but said to him, "Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you" (Mark 5:1-19, NKJV).
Now although no comment really needs to be made on this clear-cut passage I will state the obvious in case any one may still be clinging on to the delusion that demons are mere psychological projections of fears. We have already established that demons are personal beings knows as shadim or 'destroyers'. But answer me this question: can a thought-projection be cast out of someone and be placed in a herd of pigs? Would a mere thought projection beg to be placed there? If I have a wrong thought I do not ask someone who is counselling me to place it in my pet cat, and certainly my thought does not 'ask' this. What would be the point?
Finally, we must recall the origin of demons as recorded in the Book of Revelation:
"And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Rev.12:7-9, NKJV).
If this is a big battle of thoughts, whose thoughts are they? God's? Was Yahweh in some sort of self-doubt that He had to project Michael, Satan, and angels? And what does it mean to have such thoughts "cast to the earth"? Indeed, what does the rest of this chapter mean? We are told that Satan is the "accuser of our brethren" (Rev.12:10) and that the only way he could be overcome was through the blood of the Lamb (v.11). Are our personal psychological fears so great than we cannot overcome them except through the atonement? Or is this, in fact, a very clear reference to angelic beings who went into rebellion, were fought by Michael and his angels, expelled to earth, and have been plaguing human beings ever since? Which, logically speaking - taking the plain sense of Scripture - is the more likely explanation?
The only person who would not wish to believe the truth of Scripture would be one who is either defending a preconceived doctrine, is an atheist, a liberal, or is under the influence of a demon who does not want to be identified. For if the person thus deluded concludes that a demon in him is a mere 'thought-projection', what will he do? Have a deliverance minister cast the thought out of him, or try to obtain psychotherapeutic treatment? What will happen is that the 'fear' will certainly be treated but the trouble is the demon - an enemy of Yahweh - will be regarded as himself and in so doing he will make himself an enemy of God!
Demons are not 'fear'. They are themselves afraid of their judgement (they "tremble") and they feed off human fear. It is human fear which they use - a fear which always comes from doubt - that they exploit to knot up their human victims psychologically.