I believe in the existence of Satan and demons

And this is part of the reason why:

Male Rape Victims in the Congo

Oh, but that's not all the article talks about. You want to know the meaning of hell? How about toddlers thrown on open fires, men being castrated, gang rapes, village burnings, massacres...the list goes on and on, right out of the worst cannibal gore B-movies of the 70s. As Greg Boyd says in his work on spiritual warfare, if this world resembles a war zone, that's because it probably is.

I know that such behaviors are also observed among other primates in the wild. In his book The Lucifer Principle, Howard Bloom documents in gruesome detail the atrocities that apes, gorillas, orangutans and our other simian relatives engage in. But human beings have a moral sense and reflective intelligence. We do not have to succumb to such vile impulses. That we get caught up in this behavior anyway strongly suggests to me demonic influence.

In contrast to many other Christians who have had a crisis of faith, I never felt that my spiritual journey fit the standard 'conservative to liberal' trajectory that John Loftus talks about. And even in my moments of gravest doubt one conviction that I have never been able to give up is that there are dark spiritual forces at work in the world that go beyond biology. And now that I've been doing a little more research into the captivating power of ideology, healing and deliverance ministries and even parapsychology I feel much less embarrassed about affirming this. Of course there are abuses and of course there are people who will attribute just about anything to demonic influence. Faulty memory can distort and amplify ordinary happenings. But the fact remains that there is credible witness to demonic oppression that cannot be accounted for through standard medical conditions like depression, schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder. (For a good introduction, see Philip Wiebe's God and other spirits, pp.7-58)

I think it's time for Christians to become less embarassed about the fact that their worldview is based on the reality of spiritual warfare. At least one important (and perhaps the most important) New Testament conception of the atonement is that of the defeat of dark powers. The Christian mission is all about the defeat of the Kingdom of Satan by advancing the Kingdom of God.


Jason Pratt said…
{{At least one important (and perhaps the most important) New Testament conception of the atonement is that of the defeat of dark powers.}}

I certainly don't disagree with this.

But I will also point out that even most Christians who believe in the existence and operation of Satan and other rebel angels--including Gregory Boyd still, last time I checked (though he's been edging this way for a long while, and may have crossed over while I wasn't paying attention {s!})--don't really believe in a conception of atonement (at-one-ment in the original English meaning of that word; reconciliation or conciliation as St. Paul puts it) that involves the dark powers.

No atonement/reconciliation for them. Despite St. Paul bluntly stating (one of the few times he uses the term in his epistles--and he's the only NT author to use the term) that all the fullness (i.e. of Deity) was pleased to dwell in Christ and through Him to atone all things to Himself (i.e. all created things, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities), having made peace through the blood of His cross--through Him (St. Paul emphasizes) whether things on earth or things in the heavens. (Col 1:19-20, with sidenotes to 1:16 and 2:9)

Reconciliation is only necessary for those who are alienated and hostile in mind, engaging in evil deeds (as the Colossian readers once were, 1:21-22). So, which things in the heavens (thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities) are alienated and hostile in mind, engaging in evil deeds?

I'm sure Gregory Boyd knows! {g} (I'm a fan of his God at War, too.)

And God knows, I wish other Christians did, too.

But spiritual warfare without atonement in mind as the goal...? I'm frankly just as glad that this has become less popular among us in recent centuries and decades. {s} (Though I can't say I'm very happy, either, about most of the ways in which it has become less popular... {lopsided g})

(Meanwhile, I recently learned a new friend of mine has known and studied under Gregory Boyd for years. They're due for another round of cigars and discussion on the porch this month, if I recall correctly: God willing, maybe Greg will start integrating that atonement in with the spiritual warfare soon...)

J.L. Hinman said…
I don't understand that Jason. I mean all the pentecostal and Charismatics I've known who believed that demons are rule certainly believed in Christ's atonement.
Jason Pratt said…

Do (or did) they believe in Christ's atonement for the demons?

I would be very glad to hear that they did; but that sure isn't the impression that I've ever gotten from pentecostals (of various sorts) over the years.

(I mean the groups; I've read and know of some charismatics who go this route.)

JD Walters said…
I think that whether or not the Bible ultimately envisages salvation for the demons, it is clear that the atonement involves their defeat. What happens after that defeat is an open question, just as the ultimate fate of prisoners of war may still be undecided at the time they are captured or neutralized.
Jason Pratt said…
{{it is clear that the atonement involves their defeat}}

True enough.

{{What happens after that defeat is an open question}}

Not if what we're talking about is "atonement", though. {g}

Unless you think it's an open question, biblically or any other way, what atonement/reconciliation involves.

(Insofar as the term is used in the NT: Mt 5:24; Ro 5:10-11, 11:15; 1Cor 7:11; 2Cor 5:18-20; Ep 2:16; Col 1:20-21; Heb 2:15. Possibly some others. Which of these do you find to be an open question, at least in what's being aimed at, much moreso in what's being achieved? Are there uses in the Greek OT where you find the goal aimed at or achieved is an open question?)

J.L. Hinman said…
I didn't get the full rarefactions of the issue. No Pentecostals don't normally believe in redemption for demons. sorry I didn't get that.
Jason Pratt said…
I will add, that if the meaning of the atonement (per se) is too clear to feel comfortable (or even outright wrong) to apply to demons, then one option would be to remove the term from the paragraph and substitute something else; or else to clarify that the victory of the atonement is only some kind of competitive victory versus the demons (as in a fight over who gets human souls).

I don't think the latter meaning can be feasibly even read into (much less read out of) the relevant EpistColoss verses; nor the more agnostic stance either. (Not counting various other hints of God's reconciliation even with Satan, going back to Job.)

But the latter meaning (where God's atoning only with human sinners counts as victory over dark forces--which would still be true if that was the mere extent) wouldn't conflict (directly anyway) with most of the term use examples in the list I just gave, to be fair. {s}

Jason Pratt said…
To which, however, I will further add: if the latter meaning is applied, then your paragraph amounts to saying, "At least one important (and perhaps the most important) New Testament conception of the atonement is that God beats devils in winning at least some souls away from them."

I have trouble, though, seeing this as being even a conception of atonement per se, except in the venial sense of recovering (at least some) stolen property: the thieves stole several hundred billion dollars from me, but hey I managed to recover a few billion--so even if the thieves take the rest of my cash to prison for life or the rest of my cash is burned up with the villains, hey I had that much of a victory over them. The few billion I got back are 'at one' with me again. Go me!

A slightly better notion, perhaps, would be God starting a marble game with Satan and bringing all the marbles. Satan manages to win all the ones on the ground. Then God pulls out His best marble (Christ), and manages to win some back from Satan before kicking Satan out of the house permanently with however many marbles Satan manages to keep from losing back to God. But God does at least get to have some of His marbles back 'at one' with Him.

This notion of the 'atonement' may be found in the NT, perhaps; but it sure doesn't seem to be what is most often being talked about in the verses I reffed (where the term is actually used). And I'd be kind of sad if this was even an important concept of the atonement in the NT; I'd sure be leery of suggesting that this concept is the most important concept of the atonement in the NT. (Or the OT either.)

John W. Loftus said…
Read Walter Wink's book, Unmasking the Powers, and see if you can still affirm the existence of a satanic personal being.

Try to find a passage in the OT that shows us that such a being is evil. He's not. He is best described as an over-zealous prosecutor in the heavenly court. Prosecutors are not evil. Reflecting the ancient barbaric thought police they were just doing their job. Some were over-zealous though.

Then read the intertestamental literature around and subsequent to Antiochus IV Epiphanes and you will see they invented an evil being because of the same reasons you posit in this post of yours. Since we see horrendous evil committed by human beings then there must be a supernatural evil force behind them, was their logic. But that logic doesn't follow. We and we alone are responsible for these acts. Psychology confirms that we can all act badly under the right circumstances. We have met the devil and he is us. And so does the behaviors observed among other primates in the wild, as you noted.

The NT, as an evolutionary set of documents, merely accepts the conclusions of the intertestamental literature. There is no cosmic war. There is no Satan. Such a belief can easily be traced to a barbaric and superstitious people unwilling the see the source of evil for what it is: human beings.

All this takes is a bit of reading, not much.
John W. Loftus said…
Logic supports what I say too. If a heavenly being rebelled against an omnipotent, omnibenelovent God then it makes him pure evil and stupid as a box of rocks. Who in his right mind would want to knowingly rebel against perfect love except someone who was evil personified? No one can be that evil. Who in his right mind would try to rebel knowing such a rebellion would be futile against an omnipotent God? No one can be that stupid.
Jason Pratt said…
Well, I could certainly agree that someone who has only done a bit of reading, not much, might get the impression from the NT (not to say the OT) that the authors are unwilling to ascribe personal responsibility for evil to human beings.

A very very little bit of reading. Which by accident happened not to include the vast amounts of material in the NT (as well as the OT) on personal responsibility in evil, the need for persons to repent from evil and do good instead, etc.

Those who have done a little more reading than that, would be more likely (by proportion) to run across those things.

(May I recommend John Shelby Spong for starters? I recall that even he thinks the texts have quite a bit to say, especially in the New Testament, about human responsibility for sin etc. He doesn't always agree with what the texts say about human responsibility for sin, but he does acknowledge it's there. Sometimes he likes it and agrees with it, sometimes he doesn't. He even wrote a whole book once about how much he doesn't agree with what the texts say about human responsibility for sin. It had a clever title, too. The Sins of Scripture or something like that. Though considering how sloppy and rhetorically overconvenient he can be, as well as inaccurate about what the texts are and are not saying sometimes, I wouldn't say he was all that worthy to read. But some people think so. Your mileage may vary. He's pretty safe for atheists to read, too. {shrug}{s!})

Jason Pratt said…
Meanwhile, speaking as someone who recognizes and admits that I sometimes willfully do that which I don't believe to be ethically right: I have no particular problem believing, that someone who in fact believes in an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God might knowingly rebel against Him.

Even if I didn't believe in such an entity (and so in such a rebellion) I might still believe in ethics (somethow) and so still believe in a willfully knowing transgression against those ethics.

And even if I didn't believe in that, I expect I could still believe in such a thing as willful stupidity--especially from self-critically watching my own behavior.

But even if I didn't self-critically believe in my own willful stupidity, I might still believe that other people can be (and even occasionally are) willfully stupid: intentionally acting against what they themselves believe to be true for purposes of their own selfish gratification, and deluding themselves in the process so that they won't have to face what is true. (Completely aside from questions of morality or immorality in doing so.)

I thought I recalled you believing that persons can be willfully stupid, too, John, even nominally intelligent ones who are in fact acquainted with the facts. I even thought I recalled you being rather vociferous about it, on occasion. But perhaps I'm misremembering that?

If so, sorry; my memory is faulty sometimes. {s}

But those of us who do believe that persons can be willfully stupid, can still believe persons can be willfully stupid when we're thinking about persons other than the persons we're normally thinking about when we're thinking about persons being willfully stupid. We don't have to restrict it in principle to only the people we normally think about doing willfully stupid things.

In my case, for example, I typically keep watch on myself being willfully stupid; but this doesn't prevent me from acknowledging that other people can possibly (or even actually) be acting willfully stupid, too. Though for charity's sake I try not to presume, assume or hastily infer that they're being willfully stupid.


Consequently, completely aside from whether I believed in such a person as 'Satan', I still wouldn't have any trouble in principle believing that such a person could act in a willfully stupid fashion, regardless of his intelligence.

steve said…

Thanks for the fine post. It's a pity that Jason chose to derail your post so that he could ride his hobby horse on universalism. That deflects attention away from the point you were trying to make.

If Jason has to talk about this, he should do it in a separate post (of his own) rather than commandeer yours.
Jason Pratt said…
We're an ecumenical site, Steve; we're comfortable discussing these things in the comments. {s}

Also, I happen to think that soteriology is extremely relevant in several ways to the crimes being perpetrated by humans (at least) and by demons (I would agree) in the atrocities being mentioned by JD. At the very least, trying to consider the goal (or the goals) of spiritual warfare would seem to have some relevance, more or less, with calling Christians to spiritual warfare. (Though I suppose opinions could vary on how important the goal(s) of spiritual warfare are to engaging in spiritual warfare...)

Put a little more colorfully: it might make a difference whether the verb {phimeroo} means Christ is saying "Be strangled!" (which I happen to be most emotionally tickled at imagining, by the way--being rather a child of wrath by nature myself {g}) or "Be muzzled!" when He tells demons to shut up and get out.

What are we to do, then, when dealing with the atrocities JD mentions? Even if we have to pull the trigger (whether speaking of human or diabolical agents), what attitude should we have toward the ones doing the iniquity? That attitude might make a massive difference, too.

To give an immediately relevant example: what attitude do most of the people doing the atrocities in Congo and elsewhere in Africa, have toward their enemies? I don't think it will take much investigation to find out! Shall we have the same attitude and goal toward our enemies (them) as they do toward their enemies? Or not?

If there's a theological ground for having one or another attitude toward those enemies, then that's an apologetic issue; and so falls directly within the stated purview of this site. To which you're entirely free and invited to contribute yourself (if you have any positive contribution to make).

Admittedly, if JD's only goal for the article was to appeal to atrocity as a sort of low-level apologetic for the existence of demons, then my comment was of no direct relevance; nor would I have brought up the topic in that case. I would have restricted myself to tweaking J'oftus. (Which tweaking you apparently didn't notice contained no mention of my "hobby horse" but did contain a rebuttal about the fall of Satan not being so foreign to psychological realism as John was making it out to be. A rebuttal based first and foremost on self-criticism of myself as a sinner against God and man.)

But JD's closing paragraph involved some kind of call to practical action; and also, along the way, seemed like it might be involving JD professing what amounted to a universalistic position. As the local representative on that, and a main site contributor, I have a positive responsibility to comment on it--and to try to suggest some alternative approaches (as well as to caution against others) if JD hadn't meant that.

BK said…
Personally, I have a hard time reconciling the idea that everything will be atoned when the Bible teaches rather clearly (in Revelation of St. John) that the Beast, the devil, the false prophets, "the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars" will be thrown into the lake of fire. But that is for another day....
steve said…
For a universalist, I think the lake of fire is one big hot tub!
Jason Pratt said…
{{But that is for another day....}}

True; that's rather far beyond the scope of my comment. (Which was more along the lines of, 'Did you mean X, or Y? And if you meant Y, then I recommend being careful you weren't meaning Z by accident.')

Not that I couldn't discourse on it at length. {g} But that's what the EU forum is for. (www.evangelicaluniversalist.com, for readers who don't know. I've been busy guest authoring there since Sept last year, when not doing other projects, thus explaining my relative absence here. {s})

{{For a universalist, I think the lake of fire is one big hot tub!}}

Not an altogether bad description! {lol!} Especially if you added a comma ("one big, hot tub"). Though the description leaves out the fear and trembling of Heb 12. Some of us think that that's kinda important. {g}

(But having salt in our hearts, which is the best of things, and so being at peace with one another, is even more important. {s})

JD Walters said…

I had Walter Wink in mind when I mentioned that I was studying ideology and its impact on people. But his work is compatible with a personalistic view of some of the 'principalities and powers' that the NT refers to. Greg Boyd, for example, draws extensively on Wink's exegesis in his own 'trinitarian warfare theodicy'.

And I am familiar with the evolution of intertestamental concepts of Satan and demons. I don't like you using the word 'invented' to describe what they were doing, though. That's question-begging. If you want to say they made an INFERENCE from the existence of atrocities to the existence of personal evil beings then that's fine. But the evidence for demons is not limited to observing horrendous evil behavior. There are also the phenomena of possession and exorcism, such as those documented in the book I linked to and elsewhere, and for which there is credible testimony.

Anyway, I don't have time to go into all these questions now. My own research has led me to believe that the case for supernatural beings, evil and otherwise, is quite impressive. But it's hard to come by within the standard circles of liberal bible scholarship and humanistic psychology. Much of it is found in missiology dissertations and first-hand reports.

I'm not sure where I stand yet on the issue of universalism. But the practical advice I advance in my post seems to be compatible with both.
Steven Carr said…
The world declares the glory of God,which is why christian claim you only have to look at the world and see that Satan is active.

Just look at Christians killing children because they think the children are witches....
A Hermit said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Where exactly is "Satan" in the horrendous actions of some Congalese?

Such folks may have been immature, ignorant, half starved, nutritionally deficient, paranoic, brainwashed by pain and sorrow and torture, and an increasingly desensatized social context, or by long-standing blood feuds, or by cultural and religious divides. But "influenced by Satan?"

Of course medieval theologians as well as early Reformers like Martin Luther apparently found "Satan" lurking everywhere and once boasted about throwing an inkpot at old Split-foot himself. (The following quotations, unless otherwise stated, are from Table Talk, a volume in The Collected Works of Martin Luther):

Snakes and monkeys are subjected to the demon more than other animals. Satan lives in them and possesses them. He uses them to deceive men and to injure them.

In my country, upon a mountain called Polterberg, there is a pool. If one throws a stone into it, instantly a storm arises and the whole surrounding countryside is overwhelmed by it. This lake is full of demons; Satan holds them captive there.

Demons are in woods, in waters, in wildernesses, and in dark pooly places ready to hurt and prejudice people; some are also in thick black clouds, which cause hail, lightning and thunder, and poison the air, the pastures and grounds.

How often have not the demons called “Nix,” drawn women and girls into the water, and there had commerce with them, With fearful consequences.

I myself saw and touched at Dessay, a child that had no human parents, but had proceeded from the Devil. He was twelve years old, and, in outward form, exactly resembled ordinary children.

A large number of deaf, crippled and blind people are afflicted solely through the malice of the demon. And one must in no wise doubt that plagues, fevers and every sort of evil come from him.

Our bodies are always exposed to the attacks of Satan. The maladies I suffer are not natural, but Devil’s spells.

As for the demented, I hold it certain that all beings deprived of reason are thus afflicted only by the Devil.

Satan produces all the maladies that afflict mankind for he is the prince of death.

(Who needs modern medicine or sanitation practices? What we really need, according to Luther, are more exorcists to heal “all the maladies which afflict mankind.” Yet even the “apple” of “God’s eye,” the ancient Hebrews, did not enjoy unparalleled good health judging by the lengthy number of illnesses mentioned in the book of Deuteronomy. And what about Luther and Calvin’s devilishly recurring stomach and bowel problems? Dare I suggest that the early invention of Ex-lax and Pepto-Bismol might have proven more helpful to mankind than some of Luther and Calvin’s teachings?--E.T.B.)

I would have no compassion on a witch; I would burn them all. (Luther, Table Talk)

When I was a child there were many witches, and they bewitched both cattle and men, especially children. (Luther, Commentary on Galatians)

The heathen writes that the Comet may arise from natural causes; but God creates not one that does not foretoken a sure calamity. (Luther, Advent Sermon)

Martin Luther

[For further quotations like those above, see Heiko Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil]
Anonymous said…
Allthough I don't deny the possibility of hell being fire and brimstone and lakes full of lava, I always thought of hell as a place of shame more than anything. To put simply it is a place cut off completely from God, and whether we acknowledge him in this life or not he is our true source of joy. Any place where we are completely cut off from him would be hell.
Anonymous said…
If there are spiritual war-fares there are at least two sides to it. They both are in a struggle to coexist.

Where are these rebels? Are they outside the God's Kingdom? If they are, there is a part of the universe that is not controlled by God. This notion contradicts the premise that God controls the whole universe.

Is there God in hell too? If He is not there who controls it?

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