At the seminary where I teach, there is a continually replenished supply of donated books that are not needed in the library or library books that are no longer needed. I like to browse these and last week I picked up one whose title interested me: The New Demons by Jacques Ellul. The title alone was enough to get me thinking.
When Jesus walked the earth, he sometimes cast out demons. Seldom were the demons described, but most of us have, in modern times, come to think of these demons mostly as psychological issues. When Jesus is said to have cast out seven demons from Mary of Magdala, we wonder if today she would have been confined to a mental ward with seven coexisting mental health diagnoses. I have to say it would be hard to imagine any modern person with seven distinct mental health dysfunctions, but I guess it’s possible. Or maybe Mary had both physical problems blamed on demons as well as mental problems to add up to seven.
Ellul, being a modern man and not given to acribing mental illness to demons, has another idea about modern demons which I find compelling. He names the “new” demons that individuals may face as: wealth, power, reliance on science (and by extension technology), and unbridled sexual expression. I think I would add to this an out of control sense of entitlement which I see as driving most if not all these demons. A question this raises for me is whether these are truly new, or are they just becoming more widespread?
I ask this because I’ve been re-reading a history of the papacy. I won’t go into detail, but the bottom line is the papacy from the 4th century on in almost all its popes exhibits the demons of wealth, power, and unbridled sexual expression. As one pope, aptly demonstrating the historical sense of entitlement that went with the office, put it immediately after being elected, “Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.” [Leo X in the 16th century] He did too in ways most of his contemporary historians were too modest to graphically describe.
What I think is different is this: while popes and other clergy clearly lost their way as spiritual leaders during most of the history of the Church, the average person could never have felt entitled, wealthy, or powerful. They were lucky if they were simply left alone to manage a bare living. Today, it seems to me, it is not only those in positions of power, but the average Jane and Joe whose sense of entitlement drives much of their behavior. Feeling entitled generally means you feel as if you are somehow special, more deserving. Is that a demon?
I’m not suggesting that pursuing financial security is, per se, demonic. I am suggesting that it can become all consuming, that is, it can take control of your life. Losing a $2B dollar market bet seems to be over the top. The force driving that seems to meet the definition of demonic.
I’m not suggesting that the enjoyment of our sexuality is bad. However, the evidence today is that involvement in the use of pornograpy is more widespread than at any time in history. This is true largely due to ease of internet access to pornography, but the fact that it’s more available doesn’t require people to make more use of it. Sounds like a demon at work.
Here’s something to think about: is Ellul on to something when he describes these modern demons and do you think I can make the case they are very widespread? Let’s say you agree. Seems to me the most helpful response each of us can make is to do our own little personal inventory. To the degree we find these demons creeping into our lives, we can excise them, as we often say, “I will with God’s help.” It may be that lots of us needed healing. I know I do.