Sunday, October 03, 2004

See No Evil?

So I have the privilege for my field education this year of teaching basic Christianity to Princeton students... and I have to discuss creation and fall. To treat the topic without mentioning the devil may be moderne, but it's also incomplete, and I dare say even passe. But how to make a convincing case for Satan to intelligent 21st century-ites?
In her novels, Susan Howatch vacillates between the old fashioned (but time-tested) religious language such as "demon," and contemporary reformulations like "disembodied malevolent psychic entities." This may be of help to some, but what I needed was a reputable source that wasn't necessarily from a Jungian, or even Christian perspective. In my searching, I never thought I'm come up with something as appropriate as this:
"Of course I did not believe that possession existed. In fifteen years of busy psychiatric practice I had never seen anything faintly resembling a case.... But the fact that I had never seen a case did not mean such cases, past or present, were out of the question. I had discovered a large volume of literature on the subject - none of it 'scientific.' Much of it seemed naive, simplistic, shoddy, or sensational. A few authors, however, seemed thoughtful and sophisticated, and they invariably stated that genuine possession was a very rare phenomenon. I therefore could not assume it to be unreal on the basis of limited experience.

So I decided to go out and look for a case.
If you don't mind my interrupting... that was ill-advised. Now back to the quote:
"I wrote around and let it be known that I was interested in observing cases of purported possession for evaluation. Referrals trickled in. The first two cases turned out to be suffering from standard psychiatric disorders, as I had suspected, and I began making marks on my scientific pistol.

The third case turned out to be the real thing.

Since then I have also been deeply involved with another case of genuine possession. In both cases I was privileged to be present at their successful exorcisms. The vast majority of cases described in the literature are those of possession by minor demons. These two were highly unusual in that both were cases of Satanic possession. I now know Satan is real. I have met it.
- M. Scott Peck People of the Lie (p.182-83)
Well Dr. Peck, thanks for the skeptic-busting narrative, but I can't say I envy your experience. I'm happy to take that one on faith alone. But enough interruptions...
"The reader will be naturally disappointed - even skeptical - that I am not going to describe either of these [possession] cases in depth. But there are a number of compelling reasons for my withholding such descriptions... Each case was extraordinarily complex - far more so than usual psychiatric patients. Genuine possession , as far as we know, is very rare. Human evil, on the other hand, is common. Since the relationship between possession and ordinary evil is obscure at best, it would be highly unrealistic to devote half these pages to the subject. Nonetheless, I might be tempted to do so were it not for the fact that there is a book that describes quite well five cases of possession - Malachi Martin's Hostage to the Devil. All of my experience confirms the accuracy and depth of understanding of Martin's work, and a case description of my own would contribute practically nothing beyond his writings.

The skeptical reader is likely to ask, 'How can you hope to prove to me the reality of the devil when you don't even present your evidence?' The answer is that I don't hope to convince the reader of Satan's reality. Conversion to a belief in God generally requires some kind of actual encounter - a personal experience - with the living God. Conversion to a belief in Satan in no different. I had read Martin's book before witnessing my first exorcism, and while I was intrigued, I was hardly convinced of the devil's reality. It was another matter after I had personally met Satan face-to-face. There is no way I can translate my experience into your experience. It is my intent, however, that, as a result of my experience, closed -minded readers will become more open-minded in relation to the reality of evil spirit. (p.183-84)"