The Problem with Demons

One of the perks to life among a university community is the special programs that come to campus. As an adjunct instructor with a schedule so confusing that even Escher would get lost, however, I do not often have the opportunity to take advantage of such programs. More’s the pity since next week Montclair State University is hosting an event called “The Real Exorcist.” One of the very few authorized exorcists of the Catholic Church will be speaking on campus. The event overlaps with a previously scheduled class at Rutgers.

A little disappointed, last night I sat down to watch Paranormal Activity, the indie movie that made such a splash last year. Assuming it was a ghost story, I wasn’t too concerned about watching it alone on an October night. When I discovered it was a demon story, however, I wasn’t sure watching it alone was such a good idea. You see, in the hands of paranormal investigators the demon has undergone a transformation. Ancient Mesopotamians believed in a set of lesser gods who caused misfortune, although they don’t seem to have been pure evil and they didn’t call them demons. By the time we reach nascent Christianity, demons are cohorts of the Devil and are utterly malign and capable of possessing a person making them do the bidding of their dark lord. That’s where they remained on the divinity scale until modern day investigators using scientific equipment found them. I confess to having watched Ghost Hunters a time or two. Here the demon has morphed into a non-human disembodied entity – the very antagonist of Paranormal Activity.

Being aware of the origin of concepts is often a comforting place to be. When I realize that no special revelation has suddenly validated the existence of a baleful creature set to do me serious harm, a relief encompasses me. The problem with demons is that they don’t evaporate so easily. “Invented” by the Mesopotamians to explain misfortune, by the change of the era they had evolved into (largely) an explanation for epilepsy and mental illness. Now today they are back as haunting entities that have no human sympathy since they were never human. Paranormal investigators take them very seriously, despite their checkered theological pedigree. I guess I side with Shakespeare on this one: “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio…” After all, it is October and the nights are growing noticeably long.

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