Jesus does not subscribe to the opinion that our emotions or habits can or should be cast out by exorcism. To attempt to cast out something essential to the self is like performing castration to deal with lust. Great harm is done by well-intended, self-appointed “exorcists,” largely in neo-Pentecostal circles, by exorcising people who are not genuinely possessed (that is, are not possessed by outer personal or collective demons).After giving several examples, the writer cautions:
I once took a depressed friend to a charismatic prayer meeting where the leader offered to pray for her. In doing so he “cast out” her spirit of depression. In her case, however, as we learned somewhat later, her depression was being caused by frustration and repressed anger over the denial of opportunities for creative expression in the new community to which she had moved. To “cast it out” was merely to cast her depression’s causes deeper into the unconscious, denying her the opportunity of gaining insight into her problem. And on top of everything else, it added an additional layer of guilt for not getting better.
It is imperative then that any person dealing with the demonic (that is to say, any morally sensitive human being) learn to discern between inner and outer demons. Inner demons are usually not intrinsically evil but are rendered grotesque from suppression, paralyzed from disuse, or wounded from rejection. They are the parts of us regarded as socially unacceptable. They rob us of our self-esteem. They undermine our ego’s strategies for gaining respect by an outer show of competence or virtue. They are not worthy of fear, yet are a terror to the person who has not entered upon the death of the ego and rebirth to an honest life. Here the aid of psychotherapy can prove invaluable.
Traditional societies spoke of this distinction between inner personal and outer personal demons by contrasting “losing one’s soul” and “being freed from a spirit.” By “losing one’s soul” they referred to the danger of being deprived of some essential aspect of personal identity that all the subpersonalities taken in their totality go together to create. To this they contrast being freed from a “spirit,” the latter being understood as an alien invader that has seized the personality and holds it captive. It is therefore a loss to “lose one’s soul,” but a relief to lose a spirit.
If the demonic manifests itself in such a variety of ways— collective, outer personal, and inner personal— then it follows that a variety of responses is in order. How, in each of these situations, are we to go about dealing with our demons?5
Given the complex and problematic nature of the demonic, what function then does exorcism have? There is no simple answer to this question. Not only is a different response required for the inner personal demonic than for either outer personal possession or collective possession, but within each type we must discern, in each case, what is needed.
The Inner Personal Demonic
In the case of inner personal demons, as I have indicated, exorcism has no place at all. Exorcism is, as the medical people like to say, contraindicated. Inner personal demons must instead be handled the way the father treated the returning prodigal son in the parable: “His father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced and kissed him” (Luke 15: 20).
Traditional Christian pietism has done little to help us embrace these inner demons. It has either denied their reality and projected the evil out on others, whom it has then “demonized” (communists, adulterers, homosexuals), or it has demonized the very emotions themselves, naming and “casting out” a Spirit of Anger, a Spirit of Envy, or a Spirit of Lust.[ 39] Neither solution acknowledges this evil as our own; indeed, as I noted in the introduction to this book, Christians have never dealt well with the inner darkness of the redeemed. The general tendency of spiritual direction over the past centuries has been to lead from strength: to try continually to increase one’s commitment, obedience, faith, love. This high road to God has produced a kind of brittle and self-righteous sanctity whenever significant reserves of shadow simply remained repressed.
It has become our destiny today that the way to God should lead us first down into the depths, to encounter God in the darkness there— not in order to return purified to face God, but as the physicist Alfred Romer put it, because the darkness is where God is.6
Nevertheless, even here it is hazardous to hand down hard and fast advice. Sometimes we need to stand our ground and wrestle the inner spirit to grant its blessing, but at others flight is the only counsel of wisdom, if the power of evil threatens to inundate us. Everything depends on whether the spirit is inner or outer, whether it is a matter of healing one’s own soul or being freed from an alien power.[ 43] At such times there is no substitute for the objectivity and experience of a spiritual guide who can help us determine whether what we face is “ours” or “outer.”So, perhaps some of our anxiety, angst, depression, anger, frustration, sadness, etc. is the voice of God's Spirit trying to break through into our consciousness—to turn us into the purpose and mission of our unique life. If we resist through fear, apathy, laziness, distraction, conformity, or for a thousand other reasons, will that Spirit leave us in peace? Probably not, considering how the Great Creator views the worth of souls.8
Having said that, one must also say its opposite. Excessive fear of these dark shapes encroaching from our depths may stampede us into flight just when we need to summon all our courage to step forward with open hands to embrace them. There is that of God in every one of us which is sovereign over whatever aspects of demonic darkness we encounter. It is our fear itself which gives the demonic its power.
Yes, perhaps everything terrible— or at least most of what is terrible in our own souls— is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. To trust that, not only personally, but in our social world— to see the massive evils of our day as twisted and contorted “goods” that want to be redeemed— takes a certain kind of faith. But those outer evils will not loom quite so terrible if we have already begun to face our own demonic powers within.7
Thus, if we fail to consider and discern the cause of dis-ease, could we be attempting to cast out a Spirit that is essential to our spiritual growth and salvation? Just something to consider? something to discern?
5. Wink, Walter. Unmasking the Powers: The Invisible Forces That Determine Human Existence: 2 (Powers, Vol 2) (Kindle Location 1568-1587). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.
6. Ibid. (Kindle Locations 1635-1651). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.
7. Ibid. (Kindle Locations 1670-1687). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.
8. Doctrine and Covenants | Section 18:10 ~ Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;