I work at a church-based center for the homeless. We work long hours and my
resistance is down so I've been having trouble with colds. A co-worker,
however, suggested to me recently that it is the devil giving me these colds
because the devil wants to interfere with our work on behalf of the homeless.
A lot of people here, in fact, talk a lot about demons being inside of some
of the more difficult people who come here. Can you comment?
First of all, whether the devil is involved in your colds or not, your
overwork doesn't help. One vulnerability for persons working in areas of
social justice is to become burned out. One of the early signs of burnout is
physical illness, so your colds suggest that things are just a little out of
balance for you. Many people in similar situations argue "But if I take time
for myself, no one will do the work."
Perhaps. But if you keep going at a frantic base, you'll get even more ill and
no work will get done! Further, most of us are more effective at what we do
when we take breaks from it, renew our bodies, minds, and spirits, then go
back into action. So, at the very least, take your colds as a warning.
Now to discuss the issue of demons. The concept of demons is quite often
invoked to explain phenomena that have very worldly explanations. Many of the
so-called demon-possessed persons of the New Testament are now understood to
have likely suffered from quite human ailments such as epilepsy or various
forms of mental illness. We are inclined to invoke other-worldly notions to
explain that which we don't understand. Sadly, I have encountered more than
a few persons who were traumatized by the well-meaning efforts of others to
cast out demons from them.
On the other hand, our knowledge of and understanding of the
transpersonal and spiritual dimensions of reality are limited. Further, many
spiritual beliefs acknowledge the reality of objective evil. Such objective
evil may indeed intersect with ordinary life. I think, for example, of a man
I observed in a state hospital years ago. He believed himself to be
possessed by several demons.
One in particular hissed in such a way that it made the man's teeth chatter.
My suggestion that an exorcism be performed was dismissed. Sadly, the man
was medicated, discharged, and then he went promptly to a nearby motel and
The bottom line is to be cautious when dabbling in the realm of the
transpersonal but to also take talk about the widespread presence of demons
with a huge grain of salt. Exhaust human explanations and solutions first. If
the problem persists, then consult with a spiritual authority or director.
And be very careful allowing others to help you by "casting out demons."
Richard B. Patterson is a clinical psychologist
in private practice in El Paso, TX. He is the author of three books on psychology