Q: Is demon possession a real thing?
The Rev. Duke Tufty, pastor, Unity Temple on the Plaza, Kansas City, Mo.:
If we define “demon” as an evil spirit or devil that possesses a person, my belief is demons are a mythological or superstitious invention and do not exist in reality. There is no unworldly, devilish entity outside an individual that can invade, reside in and overpower them.
At the same time, demonic behavior does exist as dark, evil and hurtful thoughts and actions that are uncontrollably expressed by a person.
The only way we can experience life is through our thoughts. Our thoughts come forth from a realm of consciousness within our minds. The realm of consciousness within us can generate the darkest, demented thoughts, which we could refer to as demonic or a state of great imbalance.
The realm of consciousness within us can also generate thoughts of the highest, purest form of love and kindness, which we could refer to as angelic or perfectly balanced. The nature of the spirit that permeates our very being is one of peace, harmony and love. When this natural state is disrupted by the darkness of demonic thought, there is something wrong, such as psychosis, chemical imbalance or other physical maladies.
Even though the body falls ill, the power of the spirit within can heal the illness. In the same way, if the mind falls ill, the power of the spirit within can heal it.
The Rev. Pat Rush, pastor, Visitation Catholic Church, Kansas City, Mo.:
Demonic possession is the phenomenon in which an evil spirit inhabits the personality of an individual so completely that the person no longer acts voluntarily. The possessed person often exhibits bizarre and destructive behaviors.
In the ancient world, the diagnosis of demon-possession was widespread and was treated with exorcism, a religious ceremony of prayer and symbolic action.
The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) portray Jesus exorcising several possessed people, and the Acts of the Apostles describe the disciples as continuing this ministry. There are, however, no specific cases of possession or instances of exorcism in St. John’s gospel or in the writings of St. Paul. Modern biblical scholars often interpret the phenomenon as caused by psychological or physical illness.
Today the Catholic Church is cautious about demon possession and exorcism. The person claiming to be possessed must undergo physical and psychological examinations before the church will consider an exorcism. Although I’ve spoken with several people who have self-diagnosed demon possession, I have yet to meet someone who was professionally diagnosed.
An exorcist must either be a bishop or someone appointed by a bishop for this specific purpose. I’ve never met one and would have to search hard to find one.
The ceremony of exorcism is conducted in accord with a specific, detailed Church ritual. Actual demon possession may be real, but it is certainly rare.