Sunday, February 01, 2009

An Unclean Spirit

"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight."
C.S. Lewis-"The Screwtape Letters."

"The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn."—Luther

"The devill . . the prowde spirite . . cannot endure to be mocked."—Thomas More
(Preface to "The Screwtape Letters")

Today's sermon was a real stem winder from Fr. Foss. Is it just me, or do Super Bowl Sunday sermons really tend to run into overtime? Because of the length, and because my foot went to sleep around halftime, I will focus on the first quarter of the sermon where I wanted a challenge flag thrown out.

We started with the problem of demonic possession. This stems from the Gospel lesson from Mark 1:21-28 where Jesus casts out an unclean spirit from a man in the synagogue. Charlie assumes that we post Enlightenment humans can no longer believe in demonic possession (score one for Screwtape), and judging from the sounds of approval from the congregation, most in attendance feel likewise. Charlie was right to bring out the cultural and historical context of this miracle, and that people of the day certainly believed in unclean spirits, but to not provide a counter argument to the discredited demon puts the weak among us in danger. I come to this conclusion from the second reading, 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 which bears repeating,
"Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him."

"Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘no idol in the world really exists’, and that ‘there is no God but one.’ Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist."

"It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. ‘Food will not bring us close to God.’ We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling-block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall."

In my opinion, when your preacher has got that demon thing figured out, and feels that this is like the food sacrificed to idols, an ancient belief, long discounted, a table from which no harm comes, he should:

1. Be very careful when expounding about this liberty.
2. Don't let us weaklings see you biting into that meaty subject.
3. Better yet, swear off of it.

How did these readings affect you? Did they raise the following questions?

1. Could demons exist?

2. Did Jesus cast out demons?

3. Do Episcopal Bishops perform exorcisms without crossing their fingers?

4. Is evil just in the mind of man?

5. Does God or the devil care who wins the Super Bowl?

6. Shouldn't demons rejoice in negative answers to questions 1, 2, and 3, and a positive answer to question 4?

My guess is that the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment thinkers have done Wormwood's work for him.

Let the game begin!


  1. Screwtape has always been one of my favorite Lewis works, primarily because I think he's spot on with respect to the subject.

    I'm afraid I'll stand in the "primitive" queue on this issue and say that that Satan and his minions do exist. They are constantly probing our sinful nature seeking to draw us away from God. It's what they do.


  2. Over the years, I have vacillated back and forth on the subject of demons, in part because of having spent most of my life in the mixed up world of the Episcopal Church, and in part because of the difficulties the issue presents to both the current world view and theology. Wormwood may be at work in preventing me from working through the difficulties. Thank the Lord that we were given C.S. Lewis.

    Now, I shudder when references to Satan are the subject of derision, and are even considered for removal from our baptismal vows. ((See this proposal at the recent N.C. convention (p.4))

    I agree with you R.

    It has been quite a journey thus far, and happy birthday!

  3. Anonymous10:04 AM

    What does the Pewster think is evidence FOR the existence of demons? That is, what event(s) is/are best explained by positing the existence of demons?

  4. Not to dodge the question, but you have to be prepared to answer the following: what is evidence for the existence of Angels? What is the evidence for Christ's resurrection? What is the evidence for God?

    As an ignorant pewster, I defer to the wisdom of Pope Paul VI who in 1972 said,

    "It is a departure from the picture provided by biblical Church teaching to refuse to knowledge the Devil's existence; to regard him as a self-sustaining principle who, unlike other creatures, does not owe his origin to God; or to explain the Devil as a pseudo-reality, a conceptual, fanciful personification of the unknown causes of our misfortunes. When the problem of evil is seen in all its complexity and in its absurdity from the point of view of our limited minds, it becomes an obsession. It poses the greatest single obstacle to our religious understanding of the universe It is no accident that St. Augustine was bothered by this for years: 'I sought the source of evil, and I found no explanation.'"

    "Thus we can see how important an awareness of evil is if we are to have a correct Christian concept of the world, life and salvation. We see this first in the unfolding of the Gospel story at the beginning of Christ's public life. Who can forget the highly significant description of the triple temptation of Christ? Or the many episodes in the Gospel where the Devil crosses the Lord's path and figures in His teaching? And how could we forget that Christ, referring three times to the Devil as His adversary, describes him as 'the prince of this world'?"

  5. Anonymous1:17 PM

    Just a quick change of subject - or maybe just a commentary on the subject of Demons -

    WHAT PART OF "RESERVED" don't some of the parish members understand?

    The poor youth choir had to struggle to find seats because others choose to ignore the RESERVE signs posted on both ends of the pew. (Kudos to the kids and their teachers - they sounded wonderful and were very well behaved).

    Maybe the folks who were so obtrusive were influenced by a "Demon"? As good an excuse as any for being inconsiderate and self-centered!

    This question and comment is posted by an inquisitive parishioner.

  6. Good point anon.

    Perhaps, the eldsters thought the signs were left over from an earlier wedding.

    The little Angels and their guardians handled the situation well. This may indeed be evidence supporting the existence of both angels and demons.

  7. Jim Workman3:29 PM

    [posting a second time; how long does moderation take?]

    Two thoughts:

    1) Jesus is represented talking about demons in certain passages ("This kind comes out only by fasting" [Mk.9:29], etc.). He is not just doing healings of what some now say is unrecognized mental illness; he is taking a position about demons. If Jesus didn't do what the gospels say he did, then we are in big trouble.

    2) Even if it were mental illness, the episodes with voices other than the sufferer would be dissociative personality disorder (multiple personalities), which is an extremely difficult condition to see healing in. One point of the gospel accounts still stands--Jesus effected immediate healings of maladies beyond treatment in his day. People who deny demons generally deny miracles too. I'll take the miracles by faith.

    (The Rev.) Jim Workman
    St. Michael's Episcopal Church
    Easley, SC

  8. Welcome, and I apologize Father, but perhaps your first comment was diverted into cyberspace.

    These are important stories, and should not be assigned to the rubbish pile. One of the important issues they raise is that of Biblical interpretation.

    I considered that miracles involving demons might actually be the curing of the presently incurable disease schizophrenia which of course is a miracle in and of itself, but as you correctly point out, Jesus was "casting them out" and these are presented quite differently from healing the blind or lame. If someone has a problem with the story as presented, then one must deny 1. scripture, 2. tradition, 3. Reasonable authority and he is left standing on half of a one legged stool.

  9. Anonymous8:58 AM

    The Pewster asks for evidence of (1) the existence of angels, (2) Jesus' resurrection, and(3)God's existence. (1) There is no evidence for angels, which are mythical beings in the same class as demons. (2) Jesus' resurrection is in the inner life of believers. There is no evidence for any other kind of resurrection. (3) The existence and order of the universe and the religious experiences of many people.