One of my most memorable moments as a senior in a catholic high school was when my theology class spent 45 minutes discussing the danger of the devil and other evil spirits. I had already been an atheist for the past 4 years or so and was not enjoying the discussion. There were two major claims in the class that stood out to me the most. One student claimed that she encountered a demon when she was spending the night at her friend’s house. She claimed that there was a brief appearance of a “Native American looking man” staring at her shortly after waking up to get a glass of water. The teacher then advised her to “have her house blessed by a priest”. It doesn’t seem very hard for me to believe that she actually did see some kind of figure watching her. This is because that waking up to get a glass of water indicates the completely plausible possibility of her experiencing a hallucination due to her being half asleep. Researchers have stated that brief hallucinations can occur when were half asleep or even if were merely lost in thought.
When this circumstance is coupled with her mentioning of the figure appearing for only a moment, were left with a very weak supernatural claim. Circumstances like this are often the reason for why I immediately find supernatural claims to be so hollow. Despite this reality, there was an awkward hush and series of disturbed expressions that descended over a decent sized chunk of the class. The other memorable moment within those 45 minutes was the teacher claiming she witnessed someone being possessed by a demon. The basis for this belief was her witnessing someone “screaming in an unknown language” and violently moving her body as she was being held down by 3 other people. The fact that a decently educated adult was genuinely convinced that this seemingly mental breakdown was a “demonic possession” was truly ludicrous. It’s frankly the kind of discussion that belongs in the middle ages, but beliefs like this are much more common than people realize. The current pope of the Catholic Church is often perceived to be unusually liberal, but he is just as convinced in the existence of the devil then any of the other popes in the past 100 years. He has stated that common critics of the church were “the friends, cousins and relatives of the devil”.
Life is sometimes already troubling enough. The last thing anyone needs is to be psychologically tormented by beliefs that are so easy to debunk.
If this topic interests you, check out this recent article by Vice about the growing trend of exorcism around the globe.