From our childhood the Bible and the Church have taught us that there exists the probability of surreal encounters: for example, witches that can raise the dead by spirit power (1 Sam 28:7-15); visions about disassociated bones reconnecting and being revivified (Ezek 37:1-10); evil spirits inhabiting our bodies (Mark 5:6-13); ghosts (phantasm) perhaps walk among us (Mark 6:49-50), and much more. Of course, a modern worldview excludes such possibilities. Nevertheless revivified skeletons, ghosts, spirits, and demons are still a part of the modern landscape, but not as the Bible or the Church would always have them.
Virtually all of us, if we have lived for any length of time, have a skeleton or two in our respective closets. I define a skeleton as something from our past that we have buried but it still lurks in an out-of-the way corner of our conscious mind being involuntarily recalled at odd moments. That skeleton, if it were rattled about in public, might cause us embarrassment perhaps, but no real harm, except for a slight tarnishing to our egos and reputations.
Then there are our personal ghosts, the demons we have suppressed deep within our subconscious; they cast shadows over our conscious mind and debilitate our emotional and physical health. These ghosts are psychological—that is, they exist only in our minds, but they are nevertheless very real in the sense that they are mental remainders of experiences so powerfully frightening or painful that we deny them, and consequently bury them so deep in our subconscious they are soon forgotten by our conscious minds. But they remain with us. From deep within our subconscious they continually chaff against our consciousness, bringing to the surface feelings of inferiority, depression, excessive negative behaviors, and even more serious personality disorders. We would do well to pay attention to the warning signs that some of us may well be inhabited by "ghosts and demons of the past," and should seek the help of an "exorcist," someone specifically trained in the medical art of therapy. To exorcize them we need the help of a skilled therapist. The run-of-the mill counselor, spiritual advisor, or religious life coach is ill-equipped for this task.
Then there are the metaphysical spirits, ghosts, and demons. By definition metaphysical ghosts and demons are not part of the physical world—that is they do not exist or occupy common space and time like you and I do. They belong to an imagined spirit world totally apart from the physical cosmos of which we are a part. Nevertheless they are very real as ideations of the mind. They and many other such ideations are remainders left over from humanity's superstitious primitive childhood—in our naïve past the natural world was not an "it" but a "thou." Rocks, trees, bushes, mountains, etc., were endowed with mana (a general supernatural force concentrated in objects or persons), and the physical world was populated by spirit beings both helpful and harmful to humans. One learned to placate them by spells, charms, and sacrifices. All religions to some degree have perpetuated belief in such spirits, but in the modern Western world Christianity with its use of the Bible must accept the larger share of the blame for perpetuating such primitive superstitions.
But if they are imaginary what possible harm would it do to believe in metaphysical spirits, ghosts, and demons? I suppose none, unless one equates physical illness, disease, or accidents, etcetera to these metaphysical ideations of the mind, and ignores medical science by resorting to prayer and/or charms as a first line of defense against them. Tragically even in the modern world people have died as the result of misguided attempts to exorcise possessing demons and spirits.
The use of the Bible as an authoritative religious text without proper disclaimers is not only irresponsible but borders on the criminal by endangering the mental health and welfare of the public.
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University