Demons or Delusions?

by Josh Fults

demons-or-delusionsThe Bible is rife with accounts of supernatural activity. One can read about encounters with demons, along with angelic host. Scripture clearly promotes the idea that there is a God and angelic beings, and conversely, Lucifer and demonic beings. Many argue that modern psychology has done away with the demonic. Can we really believe demons exist? Are the accounts in the Bible accurate that describe people being possessed and under the control of dark spiritual forces? Were the writers just attempting to make sense out of what they experienced? Could these accounts be describing people with psychosis rather than possession? Is belief in the demonic akin to believing in fire-breathing dragons, elves, and unicorns?

Only meager amounts of information can be found on this topic. There is a lack of credible evidence put forth against demonic possession, we instead simply find  musings that mental illness must surely account for what has been labeled as the activity of demons. Why must this be the case? Is there any evidence to the contrary? Having an extensive background in both Psychology and Theology I feel somewhat qualified to put forth some thoughts about this issue.

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It is certainly understandable that demonic possession could be confused with psychosis, especially the more severe schizophrenia. Often, psychotic episodes are religious in nature. I have had dealings with people experiencing delusions of grandeur who believe they are Jesus Christ. I have also worked with people that claim they see demons and angels or have communicated with such beings. It is tempting to read the accounts in scripture of demonic activity through modern eyes and attempt to psychologize the text, but we do so to our detriment.

First, we must lay the groundwork and understand what psychosis is. It is a break from reality where the individual has a distorted picture of what is real and lacks the ability to ground himself with an accurate picture of his world. When we examine the DSM-IV’s (Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders) criteria for schizophrenia we find that the following symptoms may be present…


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