Monday, July 27, 2015

To Hell with Satan

The following comes from National Review:

Paul Thigpen discusses his handbook for spiritual battle.

Pope Francis has said that “we are all tempted because the law of our spiritual life, our Christian life is a struggle: a struggle. That’s because the Prince of this world, Satan, doesn’t want our holiness, he doesn’t want us to follow Christ. Maybe some of you might say: ‘But Father, how old fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the 21st century!’ But look out because the devil is present! The devil is here . . . even in the 21st century! And we mustn’t be naïve, right? We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against Satan.”

Paul Thigpen, author of many books, including A Year with the Saints, has compiled the new Manual for Spiritual Warfare, published by St. Benedict’s Press. A handy, attractive, resource, it better equips one for spiritual battle. He talks about the book and combatting evil in the world and our hearts. 

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Why is it so crucial for Christians to be prepared “to understand and defeat” Satan? 

THIGPEN: The first rule of any type of warfare is to know your enemy. How can you fight an adversary you can’t identify? Worse yet, how can you avoid being a casualty in a battle going on all around you if you don’t even recognize that you’re in danger? 

I realize that some Christians deny the existence of demons, including Satan, as fallen angels, actual personal beings (having a mind and will, but no body) who want to see us ultimately join them in hell. Such Christians believe that evil — or, at least, moral evil — is exclusively a result of human intentions and activities. So let’s address that issue first. 

It’s reasonable to assume that, for Christians, the teaching of Jesus Christ must be accepted as true and his example as normative. (Why else would we call ourselves “Christians”?) All four of the Biblical Gospels make it abundantly clear that Jesus affirmed the existence of Satan, warned us about his interference in our lives — he’s “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), and more — and engaged in direct combat with demonic powers. The accounts of his exorcisms are too numerous, and too central to his ministry, to dismiss — not to mention Jesus’ encounter with the Devil himself in the wilderness (see Luke 4:1–13). 

Christians must take these accounts seriously. Some would try to interpret them as nothing more than encounters with mentally or physically ill people. But if that’s the case, then one or more of the following must be true: 
Jesus was ignorant of the victims’ real condition and was mistaken about the existence of unclean spirits. But for a believing Christian, how can this option be possible? The divine Son of God, through whom all things were created, was ignorant and mistaken about something so important to his ministry and mission to the human race? And he mistook an inner dialogue with himself to be a conversation with a demon in the wilderness? 
Jesus was trying to accommodate the culture by deliberately misdiagnosing these maladies in accordance with the false ideas of the time, rather than correcting the ideas (which were dangerous if true) and explaining that the illnesses were illnesses, as demons don’t really exist. How could Christians affirm that the holy Son of God would engage in a deception of that sort?
On at least one occasion, Jesus cast a mental illness out of a man and into a herd of pigs (see Matthew 8:28–34). This proposition is absurd on its face, and leaves only one more option: 
The Gospel accounts are historically unreliable. Jesus never taught or did these things. Once again, for the Christian, this option in untenable. If these earliest and canonical accounts of Jesus’ life are unreliable about a matter so critical to his ministry, mission, and even identity (the demons called him the “Son of God,” which is why they had to submit to his authority; see Matthew 8:29), then why accept the testimony of these books about anything else he said or did? 
 In addition to the Gospel accounts, the Bible affirms in many places the existence of demons and their malicious intentions toward us. For Catholics, the Church’s authoritative tradition has continued to affirm that teaching since the beginning, and Church history is filled with countless examples of exorcisms and other encounters with demonic powers. 

For all these reasons, then, I think it’s crucial for Christians to be prepared to understand and defeat Satan. It’s simply not an option to do otherwise. 

 LOPEZ: I know it’s in the Bible and all, but is the Devil really “as a roaring lion . . . seeking someone to devour”? How do you know this is true? 

THIGPEN: Let’s lay aside for a moment the consistent, persistent witness of the Christian Scriptures and tradition. Consider the massive accumulated evidence of confirming testimony. Throughout all history, peoples of vastly different cultures around the globe have affirmed the reality of evil spirits — even when they have disagreed about most other spiritual realities. Many of our contemporaries as well, who by any reasonable standard are intelligent and in their right mind, have testified to having encounters with demonic powers. 

The recent case of demonic possession in Indiana, widely publicized, provides just one example. Extraordinary, preternatural phenomena were observed and reported by objective, perfectly sane witnesses — in this case, not just family members but medical and law-enforcement personnel who had had no previous experiences of that sort or even an interest in such phenomena. They witnessed some of the classic phenomena associated with demonic possession (and infestation of a house) that had no merely natural explanation. We simply can’t dismiss such testimonies as mass hallucinations or hoaxes. 

No doubt, some types of mental and physical illness have been wrongly attributed to demons, today as in the past. Nor can we deny that superstitions and legends about evil spirits abound. But these misguided ideas about the Devil don’t in themselves prove that he doesn’t exist, just as age-old beliefs about a flat earth don’t prove that our planet doesn’t exist. 

Skeptics may demand “scientific” evidence. But what kind of relevant evidence would scientists be capable of measuring? The natural sciences measure matter, energy, time, and motion; the social sciences analyze human behavior. Demons have no physical bodies, and they aren’t human. We can’t put them in test tubes or subject them to psychoanalysis. 

The most, then, that scientists can do is observe the effects of demons on the physical world or on human behavior. But the prevailing mentality among scientists will press them to seek other explanations for such phenomena, even when those explanations are utterly inadequate.

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