12 The Devil and all his works

I have mentioned on one of the blog posts that one of the weapons of Christian abuse is the Bible itself.  Verses which have the effect of putting another person down are quoted to enhance an existing sense of shame or guilt in the victim.  Other verses to emphasise the position of the leader and his (normally a his) authority are trotted out so that the Bible, as I mentioned before, has become used as a powerful bludgeon against which the recipient has little or no defence.

While a discussion of these issues of the Bible as a weapon will come up again, no doubt, there is another weapon used by Christian abusers that I want to discuss.  The weapon is rhetoric that mentions the Devil.  An individual who may disagree with an authority figure in the Church, can easily be accused of being afflicted with the devil.  Anything that challenges the person of power can be interpreted as caused by a devil of deceit or devil of ignorance.  The literature that describes the way that the devil operates conveniently allows a leader or powerful Christian to belittle an opponent by making this accusation.  If you live in a universe where the Devil goes round corrupting anyone who speaks against power and influence in the church, then you will be able to see that such an accusation is a very telling one indeed.  To be accused of such a thing, and to believe it, is to be cast into a very dark place.  It is indeed a kind of blasphemy to suggest that a person with a different perspective on life has in some way been taken over by a devil.  I am not sure whether there is any way that you can humiliate them or beat them down more, especially if they actually accept in any way the truth of this accusation.

The devil’s power in the imagination of Christian evangelicals has waned somewhat over the past fifteen years.  There are in fact some factual historical reasons for this.  The roots of the modern phase of interest in demons, Satan etc among evangelicals finds its origins with the publication of a particular book in 1981, Michelle Remembers.  This book was a lurid account of the recovered memories of a young woman called Michelle who claimed that she had been abused as a child in Satanic ritual.  The book was fairly quickly shown to be a tissue of fantasy and lies but the impact of the book was enormous.  If a story is a good one it will be believed regardless of whether it is true.  Evangelicals on both sides of the Atlantic started introducing satanic and demonic rhetoric into their preaching and the situation soon got out of hand.  By the early 90s in Britain ‘satanic panic’ had gripped other institutions beyond the church and there were always ‘experts’ who could brought be brought over from the States to teach the signs of the devil’s influence within the domain of social work and education.

The UK government was alarmed and commissioned a study by a retired Professor of Anthropology . Jean La Fontaine.  Her report, appearing in 1995, concluded that there was no evidence for satanic abuse or any other demonic infestation.  The panic subsided very quickly and one could claim that the devil had been found in the paranoia created by the rhetoric and the need for many evangelical preachers to preach against something, using military imagery.   The damage caused by this ‘demonic abuse’ was massive and still today there are people who were genuinely convinced that they had been possessed by demons and then had experienced the abusive practice of exorcism.  The whole process was encouraged by certain Christian centres who ‘taught’ ordinary Christians to be involved in spiritual warfare as it was called.  Every form of distress, especially psychological, was interpreted as an incursion of the devil.  It is hard to see how you can do anything worse than tell a disturbed person that they have a devil inside them.

No doubt I shall return to this theme again in the future as I feel quite deeply on the folly and cruelty of telling a mentally vulnerable person that they are possessed.  It would be interesting to know if anyone who reads this blog has experience of this particular expression of spiritual abuse.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

One thought on “12 The Devil and all his works

  1. I have had experience of people asking for help in what turned out to be a deliverance issue. A young couple. They were very frightened and a bit weepy when spoken to. The issue was dealt with entirely seriously by both the priest I called and myself, which I believe to be the correct response. When something seriously bad happens, abusing babies for example, people make very free with the word “evil” without considering it to be a theological concept. I am not entirely persuaded that the existance of the devil is the best explanation for evil. And there is always the problem that if evil comes from outside it is not your fault. But neither am I completely prepared to reject out of hand any thought of supernatural sources of evil. After all, we worship a supernatural God. My training suggests that even those who believe in a personal devil, believe possession to be very rare, and would say that the safety and dignity of the one being prayed for is paramount.

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