Spend even a few minutes listening to an evangelical/fundamentalist sermon and it’s almost inevitable that you’ll hear about angels and/or demons. It is a topic our more conservative brothers and sisters are not afraid to embrace. I, on the other hand, usually get uncomfortable when it comes up. I don’t have a problem talking about “powers and principalities”, but angels and demons another story; in the past, it was something I met with rolled eyes and shaking head. But, if I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that angels and demons do exist. They just don’t look the way I thought they did.
My problems with angels and demons stemmed mostly from things I learned in the crazy, cult-like charismatic atmosphere in which I grew up. I was taught that angels existed, but that existence was rather ethereal to me. Demons, on the other hand were real and they scared the shit out of me . The Exorcist (the book and the movie) kept me up at night before I ever saw it. And, when I had problems concentrating in school, it wasn’t because I had attention deficit disorder, it was because of demons or evil spirits. Angels, though? I believed they were around and (supposedly) protecting me, but I was never really sure how. If you think that sounds fucked up, you’re right.
During my season away from religion, any mention of angels or demons usually went into the “nut case” category; an intellectual level, at least. That’s not to say they faded into the background, though. Well, angels did; to be honest, they never made much of an impression on me and it was rather easy to let them go. But, demons? Oh, those little bastards were a different story. Demons and, most especially, demon possession continued to be the stuff of my nightmares. I’m guessing it says a lot about the religion I grew up with that, while the things of God and goodness drifted into the mist of the past, Satan and his pals were busy keeping up the skeer.
Later, as I got older and wiser (the jury’s still out on the latter), I realized these were real things. Conversations with friends and mentors (Michael Usey and Kelli Joyce among them) showed me they weren’t what I thought they were. In those talks/sermons/bullshit sessions, I heard that an angel was someone or something working for good and demon was someone or something who working for evil. These definitions dovetailed nicely with my own experiences; on the angel side of the equation at least. In my post Why Doesn’t God Answer Every Prayer? (about a particularly rough experience with cancer and chemotherapy) I said “My family and friends took care of me and made sure my needs were met. My father, who had just finished a rough bout of chemo himself, gave me the emotional support I needed to keep going. None of these people had wings, but they were most definitely angels.”
Demons are a little harder for me to characterize, though; partly because I don’t want to refer to anyone as a “demon” or “demonic”. I prefer to reserve that description for actions and attitudes. Things like passing a farm bill that cuts food benefits for people in need while providing huge subsidies for big corporate farmers, actively working against policies and initiatives that would raise the standard of living for people with lower incomes, degrading another person’s humanity through sexual objectification, disowning a child because they’re gay or gender-nonconforming, physically abusing another person (especially a child), these are all actions I consider demonic. And, in my opinion, a system that perpetuates them could be considered a demon.
For too long, I’ve seen demons and angels written off as the stuff of fairy tales, that the accounts in the Bible were the result of misunderstandings about mental illness. While that the latter fact is true, it doesn’t mean that angels and demons don’t exist. They are out there and they are all too real.