Haunted and Blessed Lives

December 15, 2008 | 13 comments
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Ross Douthat believes in angels and devils. Me too.

The early church grew because of its manifest spiritual gifts, because of its manifest interaction with the unseen world. But there were downsides, people speaking gibberish in tongues, bizarre and unedifying manifestations. I’ve been to some pentecostal services where the dangers of too much interest in the unseen world, I would even say the spiritual dangers, are real.

I believe that our missionary work could benefit a lot from increasing the focus of our missionaries on the power of the priesthood to cast out devils and invoke the angels. In Africa, sure, but even in places like Spain some of the strongest members I knew were those who had turned to the missionaries to cast out literal evil powers.

But even in today’s church, which downplays this sort of thing, this can go overboard. I’ve seen it. And it can be dangerous. I met a man who lost his soul.

The risks are as real as the rewards. I’m glad this is the Prophet’s call, not mine.

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13 Responses to Haunted and Blessed Lives

  1. Tom Rod on December 15, 2008 at 1:18 pm

    Yep. Happened a lot in my mission in the Philippines. Makes for some interesting stories, to say the least.

    Missionaries receive all the training they already need in the subject. Only proscription of priesthood I’ve ever heard or some across concerns dusting the feet. Never on casting out devil, invoking angels, healing, imploring the Spirit, dedicating anything and everything, rededicating area, etc.

    My personal, anecdotal experience has always been that when the priesthood is respected and used, the area grows in copious ways–inactive members return, people receive baptisms, families go to the temple often.

    The reverse I’ve seen as true too.

  2. Dave on December 15, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Funny how we speak of possession by demonic spirits but not by angelic spirits. Why? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that it is evil events or desires that get repressed and, for an unfortunate few, develop into alternative personalities. When those emerge to trouble and haunt afflicted individuals, religious observers see demonic possession. No one needs to repress good acts or desires, so there are no repressed angelic personalities to “afflict” people. People are happy to wear saintliness on their sleeve, and we feel no need to ascribe a good person’s saintliness to angelic possession.

    So I’m inclined to think there are good reasons today’s LDS Church “downplays this sort of thing.” But if you like “this sort of thing,” go read Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist’s Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption, by M. Scott Peck. Or this old BCC post.

  3. Tim J on December 15, 2008 at 4:46 pm

    There was also an excellent thread over at BCC a couple of years ago on demonic possession.

    http://www.bycommonconsent.com/2006/01/mormons-and-mental-illness-demonic-possession/

  4. Adam Greenwood on December 15, 2008 at 5:16 pm
  5. Adam Greenwood on December 15, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    I suspect it has something to do with the fact that it is evil events or desires that get repressed and, for an unfortunate few, develop into alternative personalities. When those emerge to trouble and haunt afflicted individuals, religious observers see demonic possession. No one needs to repress good acts or desires, so there are no repressed angelic personalities to “afflict” people. People are happy to wear saintliness on their sleeve, and we feel no need to ascribe a good person’s saintliness to angelic possession.

    An explanation that is more consistent with scripture is that possession is evil, so the angels don’t do it.

  6. Timj on December 15, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    I think there are a lot of mental health issues out there, and if church leaders taught more about casting out devils, we’d see a lot of church members trying to heal those health issues by casting out devils that aren’t there.
    Not exactly a good situation.
    Having said that, I think possession does occur, although fairly rarely.
    And most missionaries (because I think missionaries, more than anyone, have these experiences), having encountered something truly this evil, don’t stick around. They get out, instead. Quickly.
    I met someone like this on the mission. We left, and quickly. No way we were going to put our hands on him to cast out spirits.
    And an investigator manifested some clear signs of this after I left an area. I think he went from speaking to these spirits to possession. The missionaries, including my trainer and a future AP, ran, again, and within a week that man’s apartment had burned down.
    I’ve met a lot of crazy people, and a lot of people that aren’t crazy that still have mental illnesses. These people don’t have evil spirits. I don’t get a bad feeling when I’m around them. They’re just ill, and need love and understanding, not hatred and people saying “devil, get thee hence!” towards their general direction.
    I think the best approach is to ignore it, for the most part, so those with mental illnesses don’t get persecuted by well-intentioned but less-intelligent members who think they’re casting out devils.
    And if you encounter true evil, don’t be afraid to run from it.

  7. Bookslinger on December 15, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    “The early church grew because of its manifest spiritual gifts, because of its manifest interaction with the unseen world.”

    Adam: Whether you’re talking about the 1st century church or the 1830-1844 church, I disagree with that. You’re essentially giving credence to the Protestant reasoning of why New Testament style miracles don’t happen today, that “God did those things back then just to get the church started.”

    Moroni said that those gifts and miracles pretty much automatically follow faith; and that if they don’t exist, then faith doesn’t exist. It follows that if spiritual gifts and miracles are less frequent, then perhaps faith is less common or of a lesser degree too.

    Perhaps a better question to ask ourselves: are we living up to receiving spriitual gifts such as discernment, prophecy, tongues, miracles, healings, power over unclean spirits, etc. ?

    The apostle Paul also said it’s okay to righteously seek spiritual gifts, and he encouraged people to seek the best gift, prophecy. http://scriptures.lds.org/en/1_cor/14/39#39

    “I believe that our missionary work could benefit a lot from increasing the focus of our missionaries on the power of the priesthood to cast out devils and invoke the angels.”

    I think you’re getting closer. But if I were in a position of influence, I would direct the missionaries’ minds and hearts to be more open to all the spiritual gifts, and that the administration and operation is much varied. Gifts and opportunities for those gifts may come in unexpected ways.

    Spencer Kimball gave 3 keys to miracles in his book Faith Precedes the Miracle:

    1) Faith. You have to believe it can happen. At least be open to the possibilities, or you won’t recognize them when the opportunity presents. A common item of anti-faith is thinking “Oh, God would never do that” or “God would never tell me to do that” and we rationalize away promptings and impressions that would eventually lead to greater gifts and miracles..

    2) Humility. Realize God is in charge, and that outpourings/gifts/miracles happen at His will, not ours. Petitions for gifts or miracles need to be done very carefully and in accordance with scriptural teachings and examples.

    3) Devotion to righteousness. To clean ourselves so the static of sin doesn’t interfere with the channel by which we receive promptings and directions of the Spirit.

  8. Preston on December 15, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    I love your site. What a great way to build the kingdom! I recently started a site called AboutTheMormons.com in which members of the church can share testimonies etc and those who are curious can ask questions to the members.

    I was wondering if there was any way to get exposure here on your site so that people can be aware of the new site. I would be happy to include links to your site on AboutTheMormons.com. Let me know if you can help and Thank You!

  9. Ken on December 15, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    Dave (#2): “I suspect it has something to do with the fact that it is evil events or desires that get repressed and, for an unfortunate few, develop into alternative personalities.”

    Hmmm … I would be hard-pressed to say that Dissociative Identity Disorder is a good thing, but I’m not sure I agree with your hypothesis. In the very few genuine cases of Dissociative Identity Disorder that exist, multiple “personalities” tend to develop in early childhood, often as a response to horrific emotional and psychological trauma. I don’t think that has anything to do with “repressed … evil … desires.”

  10. It's Not Me on December 16, 2008 at 1:47 am

    I had one experience on my mission with this. I do not know if the member truly was possessed–he claimed he was. What I do know is that, as a missionary in Japan for barely a month and hardly able to understand the language, I was able to understand 90% of what the man said to my companion and me. Before and after the experience I could understand about 15-20% of the language. My senior companion continually asked me during this event to tell me what the man had said. No bad feelings, but no question there was a spiritual element to what was going on. That was 25 years ago, and I’m still not sure how to interpret my experience.

  11. Ed on December 16, 2008 at 8:53 am

    I had a missionary companion who claimed to have been visited by evil spirits. None of us could figure out why the devil would waste his time on this guy. He seemed to be on the wrong side as it was.

  12. Rameumptom on December 17, 2008 at 11:47 am

    I think that New Testament belief was that strange behavior in an individual was caused by devils possessing the individual. I’ve seen people today with severe psychological/mental issues that do many of the things described of Legion and others in the NT.

    Personally, I believe there are levels of possession. I do not think complete possession occurs frequently, at least not among educated people. I do think that influence of devils is strong in conjunction with many mental illnesses.

    Now, as for righteous beings possessing humans, while we do not know of angels doing so, what about the Holy Ghost. Have we not occasionally been extremely filled and moved upon by the Holy Ghost? King Benjamin’s people were so moved that they no longer desired to do evil: is this not akin to a form of possession by the Holy Spirit? Although I’d admit that it is a possession that is requested of the individual, rather than one that is imposed upon the person through deception.

  13. Tatiana on December 18, 2008 at 11:12 pm

    All I know to do is say “A Elbereth, Gilthoniel” in a clear voice, and shine my flashlight. If further verses of Sindarin or even Quenya come into my head I’ll say that too.

    I totally believe in the possibility of demonic possession, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen it.

    I think brief possession by angels or good spirits is possible too, but only when it’s welcome, of course. Possessing people against their will is probably one of the most horrible sins that could possibly be committed.

    Once when I unaccountably stepped into the middle of a fight and stopped it, I did it by putting my hand on the angry one’s shoulder and saying quietly in his ear “listen to me”. I didn’t know either of these people, I just was walking along feeling happy and stumbled into a fight that I stepped in and stopped without even thinking twice. Anyway, not long after that I read again about Athena taking Achilles by the beard and saying “listen to me” when he was quivering all over with ruinous wrath and about to kill Agamemnon (who seriously had it coming, imho). Anyway, I used to wonder how Athena did stuff like that, if she just jumped into a passing cowherd girl or what. I mean, if she had a body it might be a little strange for her to be popping into and out of our three dimensional space, and you’d think it would make more of a commotion than it did, and other people would probably notice and stuff. So anyway, if Athena decided to jump into me that night and stop that fight, she was welcome. It gave me a huge lift to have done that, and I was absurdly happy for the rest of that night.

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