Demons, Powers, Principalities and Healing

Panorama from Lake Chatuge Dam

This is from a Chapter in Paul Tillich’s New Being that has been posted online. Tillich writes after returning from Germany where he witnessed much brokenness:

But we read that in this nation almost 40 per cent of all those young men who are rejected by the Armed Services are unacceptable because of mental disturbances and maladjustments. And we hear that of all illnesses mental illness is by far the most widespread in this country. What does this mean? It is a symptom of serious danger for our health. There may be something in the structure of our institutions which produces illness in more and more people. It may, for instance, be that the unlimited, ruthless competition which deprives everybody of a feeling of security, makes many in our healthy nation sick; not only those who are unsuccessful in competition, but also those who are most successful. And so something surprising occurs: We have fought victoriously against many forms of bodily sickness. We have discovered drugs with an almost miraculous power. The average length of our lives has been stretched beyond any former expectation. But many in our nation cannot stand this health. They want sickness as a refuge into which they can escape from the harshness of an insecure life. And since the medical care has made it more difficult to escape into bodily illness, they choose mental illness. But does not everybody dislike sickness, the pain, the discomfort and the danger connected with it? Of course, we dislike our sickness with some parts of our souls; but we like it with some other parts, mostly unconsciously, sometimes even consciously. But nobody can be healed especially of mental disorders and diseases who does not want it with his whole heart. And this is why they have become almost an epidemic in this country. People are fleeing into a situation where others must take care of them, where they exercise power through weakness or where they create an imaginary world in which it is nice to live as long as real life does not touch them. Don’t underestimate this temptation. The basic insecurity of human existence and the driving anxiety connected with it are felt everywhere and by everyone. It is human heritage and it is increased immensely by our present world, even in this country full of vigor and health. (

Tillich wrote these words druing the Cold War in 1955. I dare say the forces in our country that foster mental illness as an escape from reality are even greater today. I need just cite the partisan political discord that is shredding our society before our very eyes.

Tillich’s thought segues right into the reading about the Gerasene demoniac in Mark’s Gospel. The man is unclean—he lives in a tomb and among pigs; therefore, he is doubly unclean. Ched Myers, whom I rely upon to give me a socio-political perspective on mark, paints a picture of a man gone mad because he could not handle the Roman occupation. Military language and symbols abound when we analyze the passage carefully. Our first big clue is when the man calls himself “Legion” in a land occupied by the Roman legions. Jesus confronts “Legion” and drives the pigs into the sea below. This is not unlike Pharaoh’s armies being drowned in the Red Sea. The man who had been made whole and restored to health begged to go with Jesus as a disciple. Jesus had other plans for him:

As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed pleaded to remain with him.
But Jesus would not permit him but told him instead,
“Go home to your family and announce to them
all that the Lord in his pity has done for you.”
Then the man went off and began to proclaim in the Decapolis
what Jesus had done for him; and all were amazed.

The people who had been afraid were now amazed. It is interesting in terms of Tillich’s thought above, to focus on the fact that “they were seized with fear.” The cure was worse than the illness. The same holds true for us. If we are cured and healed, we will have received a Kin-dom calls to wholeness, to healing, to justice and peace. We have to leave the learned helplessness and insecurity generated by the first half of life priorities in order to go beyond the boundaries of self. This is indeed risky. The Gospel call to love so that healing can occur among individuals and in our society is daunting and scary.

Richard Rohr helps us understand the second half of life behavior associated with health and wholeness:

To live in the first half of life is largely a matter of survival. All it takes is what some call the reptilian brain, and like any good reptile it is largely concerned with reproduction, food, and survival. All that is important at this stage is my private, moral superiority which was supposed to make me pleasing to God for some reason. First half of life morality is largely concerned with various “purity codes.” As one monk said to me, you could be “pure as an angel while still proud as a devil.” I am afraid that is as far as first half of life values can get you.

Identity, security, and boundary questions are basically concerns of the ego. That does not make them bad, but they are just a starting point. The soul has different concerns. Our politicians continually assure us that they will keep us safe, and this is usually enough to get them elected, because most people are not yet asking higher questions in the hierarchy of needs—things like education, affordable housing, earth care, justice, the arts, immigration, penal reform, and the morality of war itself. (Adapted from Loving the Two Halves of Life: The Further Journey (CD/DVD/MP3). See also Fr. Richard’s latest book, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life)

Do we want to be healed? Do we want to leave the demons of security and power behind? Do we want to challenge double-speak politicians who promise the security only God can give? Do we want to go out into the community, like the healed demoniac, and proclaim the wonders God can work? Do we want to challenge the false values of our society? Do we want to confront the powers and principalities of power, pride and possessions? Do we want to confront our own comfort with the false values we hold? Do we believe that the Living God can make us whole?

Tillich and Rohr are asking basic questions. Are we hearing them?


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