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Topics covered in this essay:

bullet Current beliefs of the public
bullet Liberal Christian beliefs
bullet Conservative Protestant beliefs
bullet Roman Catholic beliefs
bullet Is belief in demons rational?

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Current beliefs of the public:

1st century pre-scientific beliefs continued through the Middle Ages in to the Renaissance. Medical, mental and physical sciences have since provided better and simpler explanations to phenomena once believed to be caused by demons. Today, with the exception of many religious conservatives, very few mental health professionals still attribute mental illness to indwelling demons.

Public opinion poll data:

bullet 1996: A survey revealed that only about 1 in 3 adults regards Satan as a living being. Belief is high only among born again adults and Evangelical Christians: The number of people who believe in demons is probably similar.

Satan is only a symbol of evil Satan is a living being
Average of American Adults 60% 35%
65 years and older 49% 38%
Born again 43% 52%
Not born again 68% 25%
Evangelical Christians 47% 49%
Roman Catholics 69% 26%
Mainline Protestants 65% 27%
(N = 1005; 95% confidence limits within 4%, a random sampling of Americans 18 years or older.)
bullet 1997: An identical survey suggests that the traditional belief of Satan as a living being might possibly be slipping: 1,2,3
Group Satan is only a symbol of evil Satan is a living being
Average of American Adults 62% 30%
(N = 1007; 95% confidence limits within 4%, a random sampling of Americans 18 years or older.)
bullet 2001: A Barna Research Group poll showed that belief in Satan had continued to drop:
Group Satan is only a symbol of evil Satan is a living being
Average of American Adults ??% 27%
(N = 6038; 95% confidence limits within 2%, a random sampling of Americans 18 years or older.) 12
bullet 2002: Another Barna Group poll showed a rebound in belief of Satan.
Group Satan is only a symbol of evil Satan is a living being
Average of American Adults 59% 34%
(N = 630; 95% confidence limits within 4.1%, a random sampling of Americans 18 years or older.)

The data shows a wide gap within Christianity concerning the existence of Satan: 75% of Roman Catholics reject Satan as a living being'; only 55% of Protestants do. 13

Data from other countries show that only the Irish believe in a living Satan at levels approaching Americans. Belief in Satan is much lower in other Christian countries.

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Liberal Christian Beliefs:

According to one Baptist source: "Religious liberals do not believe in the literal reality and actual personality of Satan...The devil or Satan is not at all a real person, but only an impersonal evil force present and operating in the world." 4The same source estimates that 75% of American clergy agree with the liberal belief.

Many liberal faith groups view Jesus, his disciples and the general public during the time of Christ's ministry as having deriving their beliefs about demons from their pre-scientific culture. Many suspect that people's faith in Jesus' healing powers and personal charisma were so great than many sick persons were cured. We see the same phenomenon today in Christian healing crusades.  Some believe that the gospel accounts of healings are not of real events, but were fictional accounts, added to increase Jesus' credibility among Christians and potential converts to Christianity.

Most would regard the concepts of Satan, demons, spiritual warfare, demon possession etc. as being totally divorced from reality, a left-over belief from ancient times that cannot be supported with today's knowledge. The extreme liberal position might be summed up by a quotation from the writings of G. Messandé:

"We live under the sign of a nonexistent deity cobbled together twenty-six centuries ago by power-hungry Iranian priests. We live under the sign of Satan. Is this our destiny - are we to let an imaginary monster devour us forever?" 5

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Conservative Protestant beliefs:

Many Fundamentalist and other Evangelical faith groups teach that the Old and New Testaments are inerrant. The writings were composed by authors who were inspired by God. They view the Bible is completely free of error, as originally written. The Bible is infallible and authoritative. It contains dozens of references to Satan and his demons as living entities. Bible literalists can only conclude that both must exist. Biblical inerrancy and authority is such a foundational belief, that it cannot be abandoned, even over one topic.

Conservative Christian beliefs appear to dominate the Internet's religious web sites. A search phrase "exist satan" on the AltaVista search engine showed that all of the first 12 articles were written from a conservative Christian perspective. According to a Baptist source: "Any system of religious belief that denies the literal reality and actual personality of Satan is radically unChristian and unBiblical in nature and clearly under the dominion of the very devil whom it denies." 4 This opinion probably extends to beliefs in demons as well.

Many Fundamentalist and other Evangelical denominations teach that Satan is supported by hordes of demons. Although the origin of these demons is not clearly defined in the Bible, most conservative Christians believe that demons are the fallen angels who were exiled from heaven with Satan.

Many teach that Satan and his demons are either the leaders of, or a major influence on, all non-Judeo-Christian religions. One Fundamentalist writer believes that "The great ethnic faiths of India, China and Japan major in demonism, as well as the animistic religions of Africa, South America and some Islands." 5 Some look upon Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Native American spirituality, etc. as forms of Satanism. The Gods and Goddesses of other religions are often viewed either as Satan himself, or as demons under his control.

Some conservative Christians believe that demons:

bullet Are spirit beings, without a material body.
bullet Are invisible.
bullet Have individual personalities
bullet Are sometimes "territorial spirits:" in charge of oppression over specific "geographical areas, as well as national, ethnic or tribal, religious, and even generational groups. According to this view it is necessary for Christians to identify these spirits and expel them." 6 That is, there are demons associated with each of the non-Christian religions and with many of the "cults" (new religious groups whose theological beliefs differ from traditional Christianity). There are demons who are attached to specific families and who indwell each newborn. Other demons are attached to different countries, regions, cities, ethnic groups, etc.
bullet Specialize in oppressing individuals with specific behaviors. e.g. some propose a "demon of homosexuality," demonic spirits "of sexual abuse...a specific demon of adultery" or a demonic spirit of alcohol." 6
bullet Act as spirit guide during Shamanism and New Age channeling, as the driving energy behind Ouiji boards, Tarot cards, Runes, crystal gazing, etc., and as the communicating spirits in séances.
bullet Have male (incubus) and female (succubus) forms who attack and sexually molest their victims - generally at night.
bullet Are one cause of mental illness. They can enter and possess a person's body and control it in many ways:
bullet they can give the body superhuman strength;
bullet they can simulate physical disabilities and sicknesses, like blindness, deafness;
bullet they can speak through the vocal chords of the person that they posses, often in a language unknown to the individual;
bullet they can cause the person to become mentally unstable and even suicidal;
bullet they can drive a person to sinful behavior, such as adultery, lying, idolatry, etc.;
bullet they can cause a religious leader to preach falsehoods.
bullet Can be sometimes driven from a possessed person by a ritual of exorcism. Unfortunately, this ritual often involves physical abuse that results in about one unintended death per year in North America.

Most conservative Christian faith groups teach that a "born-again" believer cannot be possessed by a demon. The rationale most often given is that when a person is "saved", they are filled with Holy Spirit. Thus, there is no room for Satan or a demon to enter their body. 7 Essentially all believe that a saved individual can be influenced, tempted, and/or harassed by Satan or a demon. Thus the Christian must be continuously on guard. James 4:77 promises that if one resists Satan, he will flee. Satan is not to be feared by the born again Christian, because Christ will protect him/her. "...greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4).

Harvest Ministries has an excellent, clearly written essay on Satan, as seen from an Evangelical Christian perspective. 8

Conservative Christian beliefs are also seen in a quotation from the writings of Richard Lee and Ed. Hindson: 9

"Today people are experimenting with astrology, witchcraft, Ouija boards, divination, channeling, Tarot cards, fortune-tellers, mediums, crystals and shamans. Mankind has come to the final conclusion of disbelief in God and has turned to belief in the very opposite! Satan has cleverly convinced the modern mind that he is not to be taken seriously until all other spiritual options are exhausted. Then, when empty souls turn to him in desperation, he can take them over completely and totally.

C.S. Lewis wrote in 'The Screwtape Letters,' 10 'There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. they themselves are equally pleased by both errors.'."

Another impressive conservative Christian resource is the web site End-Time Deliverance Center. 11 Their goal is "to teach the every day normal 'true worshiper' (John 4:23) (Christian) how to take authority over the devil and his demons, using the name of Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, thereby training an army of DELIVERANCE ministers to defeat the works of the enemy." Some samplings from their web site are:

bullet Satan has assigned two specific demons to cause malfunctions in electronic equipment. They are named Boyce and Boice. One of their tasks is to prevent viewers from opening the web site or printing hard copies of their material. We have not observed these demons in action on our office computers.
bullet There are also lying, fear, temper, suicide demons who make people lie, be afraid, have a temper and want to kill themselves.
bullet They claim that Roman Catholics can only be fully delivered from demons if they first renounce all "promises made to, oaths taken and rituals performed in the Catholic system by me, my parents, my husband/wife and their ancestors on both sides of the family."
bullet Witchcraft is listed as a demon. They claim that the "leader of all witch covens are commanded to make human sacrifices." (This belief appears to have been subsequently altered, as they now believe that Wiccan leaders do not engage in human sacrifices.)
bullet Other demons' specialties include pornography, blood transfusions, Valium, fantasy, bankruptcy, greed, oral sex, scorpions, divorce, four-leaf clovers, Rubik's cube, frogs and many dozens of others. Yoga, Halloween, country music, self-help programs, men's and women's lodges, World Council of Churches, psychiatry, and the Hippocratic oath. All non-Christian religions are demon associated.
bullet Karate or Judo causes the student to become demon possessed.

Exorcism and belief in demons show no sign of abating. According to the Toledo Blade, Bob Larson said in 2006-FEB that he has performed more than 6,000 exorcisms in 90 countries over the last 20 years. They wrote:

"Mr. Larson has spent the last six years setting up teams around the country who can perform exorcisms and spiritual healings. He has trained 100 teams thus far, including the Toledo team at Oasis Christian Fellowship led by the Rev. Louis C. Roy. The exorcist is looking to build a national training center in Phoenix at a cost of around $1.2 million." 14

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Roman Catholic beliefs:

The church teaches "of the creation and fall of the rebel angels, and of the various ways in which these fallen spirits are permitted to tempt and afflict the children of men" through possession. 15  During the Renaissance and the Reformation periods there was:

"...a fresh outbreak of old superstitions and evil practices, and for a time both Catholic and Protestant countries were disturbed by the strange beliefs and the strange doings of real or supposed professors of the black arts and by the credulous and cruel persecutors who sought to suppress them."

This led to the persecutions of tens of thousands of people who were believed to be witches in league with Satan and his demons.

The Church continues its belief in demonic possession to this day. However, they often stress that very few of the cases where possession is suspected are caused by demonic activity. The vast majority can be explained as mental health problems.

Father Gabriele Amorth is the president of the International Association of Exorcists, and is the Catholic Church's current chief exorcist. He has allegedly conducted over 30,000 exorcisms during his lifetime. During an interview on Vatican Radio, he said:

"Of course the Devil exists and he can not only possess a single person but also groups and entire populations. I am convinced that the Nazis were all possessed. All you have to do is think about what Hitler - and Stalin did. Almost certainly they were possessed by the Devil. You can tell by their behavior and their actions, from the horrors they committed, and the atrocities that were committed on their orders. That's why we need to defend society from demons."

According to secret Vatican documents recently released wartime pontiff Pope Pius XII attempted a "long distance" exorcism of Hitler which failed to have any effect. Father Amorth continued:

"It's very rare that praying and attempting to carry out an exorcism from distance works. Of course you can pray for someone from a distance but in this case it would not have any effect. One of the key requirements for an exorcism is to be present in front of the possessed person and that person also has to be consenting and willing. Therefore trying to carry out an exorcism on someone who is not present, or consenting and willing would prove very difficult. However I have no doubt that Hitler was possessed and so it does not surprise me that Pope Pius XII tried a long distance exorcism." 16

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Is a belief in demons rational?

It was certainly easier to believe in Satan and demons in the 1st century CE then it is today. Educated folks then believed that the world was flat, with a Heaven up in the sky and Hell under the earth. Angels pushed the sun, moon, planets and stars across the sky. Satan and his demons were seen to possess the bodies of a few unfortunate people. Thunder, lightning and other weather disturbances were seen as the workings of the evil ones. But 2 millennia later, it is much more difficult to maintain that ancient belief system. Most of us no longer believe in a mythical cosmology; we no longer live in a pre-scientific culture. With the exception of the United States and Ireland, most Western Christians have almost abandoned their belief in Satan and his army of demons.

We can now explain weather phenomenon; gods and spirits are no longer needed to move the sun, moon and stars across the firmament each day. Mental illnesses have been found to have chemical, electrical, and emotional origins. But, just because most of the activities of Satan and his demons have been explained away by scientists, one cannot logically conclude that these beings do not exist.

Philosophers have tried for millennia to prove the existence of God, without success. They have not been able to prove that God does not exist either. With the present stalemate, both belief in God and a disbelief in God are rational alternatives. So too are belief or disbelief in Satan and his helpers. It is not readily possible to prove or disprove the existence of a incorporeal being.

Belief in Satan does solve one of the thorniest of philosophical problems: how an all-good God resides in a universe that contains so much evil. However, belief in Satan and demons has a downside:

bullet It can generate fear and paranoia as believers feel helpless in the path of a supernatural being
bullet It can motivate people to not accept responsibility for their actions. This is "the Devil made me do it" defense.
bullet It can motivate a person to seek relief from mental or emotional problems through exorcism rather that from a mental health practitioner. As noted above, this results in about one unintended death in North America each year.

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. G. Barna, "The Index of Leading Spiritual Indicators," Word Publishing, Dallas TX (1996), Page 22.
  2. George Barna, "What Americans Believe.", Regal Books, Ventura CA (1991), Page 206
  3. Gust Niebuhr, "Poll Indicates Diminished Role of Devil", N.Y. Times News Service, 1997-MAY-10, at:
  4. "Does Satan Really Exist?," Our Baptist Heritage, 1993-MAR/APR. Text published at:
  5. G. Messandé, "The History of the Devil", Newell, London, England, (1996)
  6. M.F. Under, "Demons in the World Today," Tenderly House, Wheaten, IL, (1971), Page 8
  7. Eric Villanova, "Territorial Spirits and Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical Perspective," Christian Research Journal, 1992-Summer, Page 38 at:
  8. Greg Laurie, "Foundations for Living: Who is the Devil?" at: and
  9. R. Lee & Ed. Hindson, "Angels of Deceit," Harvest House, Eugene, OR, (1993), Page 118
  10. C.S. Lewis, "The Screwtape Letters," Macmillan, New York, NY, (1961), Page 3
  11. The "End-Time Deliverance Center" maintains an extensive web site on demonic oppression at:
  12. "Religious Beliefs Vary Widely By Denomination," Barna Group, 2001-JUN-25, at:
  13. "Americans Draw Theological Beliefs From Diverse Points of View," Barna Group, 2002-OCT-08, at:
  14. "Toledo gets visit from 'The Exorcist'," Toledo Blade, Toledo, OH, 2006-FEB-11.
  15. "Demonology," Catholic Encyclopedia, at:
  16.  Nick Pisa, "Hitler and Stalin were possessed by the Devil, says Vatican exorcist," Daily Mail, 2006-AUG-28, at:

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Copyright © 1999 to 2006, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Originally published on 1999-JAN-27.
Last update: 2006-AUG-30
Author: B.A. Robinson

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