Pure evil. Is it on the rise? How are churches handling the public’s curiosity or concern about the presence of evil in our world?
Public interest is intensifying. The horror of another mass shooting causes many to ask questions about evil influences. They wonder where God is when evil erupts in ghastly ways.
While events such as the Orlando massacre cause many to ponder evil, research shows that a diminishing number people today believe in an evil being–Satan. A Harris poll found that 58 percent believe in the devil, down 4 percent since 2005.
But the devil and demons continue to fascinate the populace. The exorcism film The Conjuring 2 drew top box office crowds to its opening. The movie’s story is based on “The Enfield Poltergeist,” which allegedly bedeviled the home of Peggy Hodgson in Enfield, England, from 1977-’79. The BBC reported on the Enfield case in a documentary that is now circulating on the internet again. See a clip here:
A YouGov survey found that 51 percent of Americans said people can be possessed by the devil or “some other evil spirit.” And 46 percent believe in the power of exorcism.
So, how is the church responding to these evil and demonic suppositions in the public discourse? “We’re not doing enough,” says Fr. Gary Thomas from the Diocese of San Jose, California. He believes satanic activity is on the rise today, partly due to people’s growing “apathy” toward matters of faith and the church. He says the church needs to address issues of evil head-on.
He has some personal experience in this frightening realm. Fr. Thomas is a practicing exorcist. In fact, his story inspired the best-selling book The Rite, and the movie of the same name, starring Anthony Hopkins.
I talked with Fr. Thomas for the Holy Soup podcast. He mentioned a number of things he’s observed about those who show signs of being overcome with evil or demonic possession. He said, “Satan is more attracted to people who have broken relationships–or no relationships.” This is certainly an area that churches and all Christ-followers can address.
Evil is real. Increasingly the culture senses a palpable darkness surrounding us. But it will not prevail. We are assured in 1 John 4:4: “The Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.”
Fr. Thomas said, “The demons and Satan are gradually dying. Satan is defeated by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.” That’s the hope the world is dying to hear.
And that is the assurance that allows Fr. Thomas to continue his often harrowing work. I asked if he fears the evil he encounters in exorcisms. He said, “I’ve never felt fear. I am not afraid.”