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Who can forget the movie The Exorcist? I wish I could forget it! In a very real sense, I already have—allow me to explain.
A Christian pastor recently read my previous BahaiTeachings.org article, Satan’s Epitaph. He took issue with it, and here’s a summary of how I responded:
Thank you for your post on this important topic.
I agree that exorcism is effective only if there is a belief in demon possession.
Generally, the study of religion demonstrates, time and again, that religious experience is conditioned by religious belief.
Take near-death experiences, for instance. Or, for that matter, mystical experiences.
A Christian’s experience will be defined in alignment with Christian expectations and beliefs, which condition the experience itself, whether it be a near-death experience or mystical experience, such as beatific vision or divine audition.
That said, a belief in evil as a reality can exist without an ontological commitment to a belief in Satan, demons, etc.
The Baha’i perspective on demons and exorcism is as follows:
O servants! This nether world is the abode of demons: Guard yourselves from approaching them. By demons is meant those wayward souls who, with the burden of their evil deeds, slumber in the chambers of oblivion. Their sleep is preferable to their wakefulness, and their death is better than their life. – Baha’u’llah, The Tabernacle of Unity, p. 69.
The reality underlying this question is that the evil spirit, Satan or whatever is interpreted as evil, refers to the lower nature in man. This baser nature is symbolized in various ways. In man there are two expressions: One is the expression of nature; the other, the expression of the spiritual realm. The world of nature is defective. Look at it clearly, casting aside all superstition and imagination. If you should leave a man uneducated and barbarous in the wilds of Africa, would there be any doubt about his remaining ignorant? God has never created an evil spirit; all such ideas and nomenclature are symbols expressing the mere human or earthly nature of man. It is an essential condition of the soil of earth that thorns, weeds and fruitless trees may grow from it. Relatively speaking, this is evil; it is simply the lower state and baser product of nature. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 294-295.
This would be contrary to the will of God and according to the will of Satan, by which we mean the natural inclinations of the lower nature. This lower nature in man is symbolized as Satan—the evil ego within us, not an evil personality outside. – Ibid., p. 287.
Therefore, there is no satanic tree whatever—Satan being a product of human minds and of instinctive human tendencies toward error. – Ibid., p. 230.
Endeavor to guide thy mother and confirm her in faith; when the heart becometh confident, the imagination of Satan and evil vanisheth away. If the heart becometh absolutely tranquil, suspicion and imagination will entirely pass away. – Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, Volume 1, p. 104.
In sum, religious experience is directly influenced by religious beliefs.
Speaking for myself, I firmly believed in Satan throughout my childhood and teenage years. Many experiences appear to confirm the reality of Satan.
Later, after I became a Baha’i, I came to the realization that this was a superstition. More than that, it tended to deflect attention away from the primary responsibility for evil, which is the actions of human beings. That’s why I was so struck by this quote from Baha’u’llah:
All that which ye potentially possess can, however, be manifested only as a result of your own volition. Your own acts testify to this truth. … Men, however, have wittingly broken His law. Is such a behavior to be attributed to God, or to their proper selves? Be fair in your judgment. Every good thing is of God, and every evil thing is from yourselves. Will ye not comprehend? – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 149-150.
I cannot adequately express how liberating and sobering it was for me to realize that Satan was a personification of human evil, not a distinct and separate principality.
True exorcism means banishing Satan from our beliefs. True exorcism means becoming free from superstition. True exorcism means liberation from the imagined influence, control and possession by demons. True exorcism means seeing where the source of evil actually lives. True exorcism means combatting evil directly, rather than to perform exorcisms, or wear an amulet around one’s neck to ward off the “Evil Eye.”
True exorcism means recognizing and forever banishing the “Evil I.”
True exorcism means being “possessed” by the spirit of faith, reason, empathy, and a burning desire to do one’s part to lessen the real evil and suffering that continues to afflict this mortal world.