Don\’t blame the demon

Dennis Rader, the confessed BTK serial killer, blamed the killings today on a demon inside him.

I don’t know if he was speaking literally or figuratively.

I believe in demons. I also believe in cop-outs.From the story:

“I just know it’s a dark side of me. It kind of controls me. I personally think it’s a — and I know it is not very Christian — but I actually think it’s a demon that’s within me. … At some point and time it entered me when I was very young,” said Rader, who was once president of his Lutheran church.

Rader, 60, said his problems began in grade school, with his sexual fantasies that were “just a little bit weirder” than other people’s.

“Somewhere along the line, someone had to pick something up from me somewhere that there was a problem,” he said. “They should have identified it.”

Let’s dig into this.

What a demon is. A demon is an evil spirit. It’s not a dead person; you don’t have to worry about the ghost of Hitler harrassing you. A demon by definition is a fallen angel. Unlike the Hollywood definition, angels aren’t dead humans. Angels were created before humans were, and although they can appear in human form, they are distinctively not human.

The Bible doesn’t talk a lot about demons; what we can infer from what it does say is that sometime before God created Adam, there was something of a civil war in heaven, led by Lucifer, who was the most powerful of the angels (this may have been a title he shared with the archangel Michael). Lucifer sinned, and a number of other angels–possibly as many as 1/3 of the total number–sinned with him. These are demons. Lucifer is known by a number of other names, among them Satan and the Devil.

Recognizing evil is very easy. Look at the motive. God loves you. Angels love you. They have your best interests at heart. Demons hate you. Their eternity is miserable and they want yours to be miserable too. The best way to recognize evil is to look for hate.

What a demon is not. While a demon can be a very influential force, it’s rare that a demon is a controlling force. The movie The Exorcist is a dramatized version of a true story (it happened in St. Louis) but this is the exception, not the rule.

Why are there more demons in the Bible than there seem to be today? I love this question, mostly because it took me more than 10 years to find the answer. Misdiagnosis is one possibility. In Biblical times, when you were nuts, demons were the only explanation they knew. Today we know about mental illnesses and can treat many of them.

And demons shouldn’t necessarily be the first thing that people blame. If a condition responds to medicine, it isn’t a demon. If the condition doesn’t respond to medicine, it could be a misdiagnosis. Or it could be a demon.

But another reason you don’t see as much demonic influence as Jesus did is sheer numbers. There are more than 6 billion people alive today. Roughly 6 billion people total lived from 4000 BC (the dawn of civilization) to 2000 AD. Humans probably have the demons outnumbered today. At best, the margin was much, much narrower in 30 AD.

Is demonic influence Christian? Yes. This probably surprises you. If you run down your list of the most evil men who ever lived, those men may or may not have been tormented by demons. But some may not have been. They may have been lost causes from the beginning. If you were a demon and your goal was to stir up mayhem, why would you waste your time messing with someone who’s stirring up plenty of mayhem without you?

A few years ago, I counselled someone who believed she was being tormented by demonic influences. I told her this was a good indication she was doing something right. A demon isn’t going to waste time with someone who’s evil. A demon is going to concentrate on somebody it sees as a threat.

She went on to help a lot of people once she shook that away. Now it’s easy to see what that demon was afraid of, and what it was trying to prevent.

So a demon is going to tend to look for someone with a lot of potential that it can knock out, or it’s going to look for someone it can steer to make mayhem.

Dennis Rader was a leader in his community and the president of a Lutheran church. He fits both descriptions. There is no doubt in my mind that he hears voices.

So when I’m tempted, is that the voice of a demon? Maybe. Of course, humans are pretty good at wanting to do the wrong thing anyway. If you see a $10 bill laying somewhere and you’re tempted to take it because no one would ever know, that’s probably you. If the temptation is bizarre and out of character, it’s less likely to be you.

So could a demon have entered Dennis Rader, like he says? Sure. It’s like catching a cold. You’re more susceptible to it if you sin a lot, just like you’re more susceptible to catch cold if you run outside without a coat and with wet hair in the winter. But sometimes these things happen in spite of all the precautions we take. And some people seem to never get affected even if they do all the wrong things.

So should someone have noticed his problem? Maybe. But Lutherans aren’t very comfortable talking about this stuff. It seems like Roman Catholics are more comfortable fixing it than talking about it. There’s a Christian author by the name of Neil Anderson who has done more than anyone else in recent decades to get evangelical Christians talking about this subject and doing something about it, but Anderson’s books were written after the BTK killings started.

Ultimately, it’s up to the affected individual to recognize there’s a problem and do something about it. That’s not easy when you don’t know what to look for.

Neil Anderson’s book The Bondage Breaker does a good job of explaining what to look for.

In my very limited experience, there are a couple of things to look for. First and foremost are bizarre and unshakable temptations that seem out of character. Second is the inner voice. We all have an inner voice. But if your inner voice is especially cruel to yourself, that could be an indication.

Can you get rid of these things? Yes. Neil Anderson has made a career of writing books that tell how. Each volume gets more and more specialized. The Bondage Breaker is usually sufficient enough to change someone’s life.

The prescription I was given involved specific scriptures and very specific prayer. Read Psalm 18 and 119 aloud. Psalm 18 is all about victory and deliverance; Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm and it seems to cover just about everything. Maybe it works because it’s all-encompassing, or maybe it just shows that you’re serious. Finally, if there’s another Christian present, read Matthew 18:18.

And after that, the affected person needs to renounce the thing, say Jesus’ name, and tell it to leave. And in my limited experience, this works.

Now, if the problem isn’t demonic in nature, this exercise probably won’t work. God gave us authority over demons; He did not give us authority over disease.

When my pastor’s daughters used to have nightmares, he used to renounce the nightmares and the fear in Jesus’ name. It worked.

Can a demon make a serial killer kill? Well, in theory it probably could. But we’re not puppets; we still have free will. I guess it depends on your definition of “control.” If the idea to do something dropped into his head, and then the demon tormented him until he did the deed and then relented for a while, is that control? But the demon didn’t actually commit the act.

Had the right person recognized something, could the BTK killings have been prevented? If what he is saying is true, yes. But the same thing is true for most things. One is not likely to be cured of this without wanting the help.

But if he had been Roman Catholic, or if he had been born, say, 30 or 40 years later when the subject of demons was a bit less taboo, yes, I believe someone could have helped him.

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5 thoughts on “Don\’t blame the demon

  • July 8, 2005 at 1:35 pm

    "Somewhere along the line, someone had to pick something up from me somewhere that there was a problem," he said. "They should have identified it."

    It’s not his fault. Someone should have stopped him. It’s a shame Ted Bundy wasn’t involved in the church. He could have used, the demon did it , for his defense. Rader’s lawyer should be disbarred. He let Rader plead when he knew the devil did it. If they had went to trial, the jury would have let him go, once they determined he was no longer possessed.
    I truly believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible so I believe in demons.
    Would the Devil waste his limited number of minions on BTK when he can create terrorists to shake the political and religious foundations of our world?
    This is probably your most thought provoking missive in the years I’ve read you.
    Well Done!

  • July 9, 2005 at 8:27 am


  • July 9, 2005 at 10:14 am

    Hmmm…this idea of a “literal” interpretation of the Bible troubles me. I’ve run across so many people who claim to have this as a part of their belief system, and yet it seems to result in so many different belief systems (as well as other, socially problematic behavior).

    I’ve actually come to the conclusion that there really is no such thing as a “literal” interpretation of much of the Bible, using a, well…literal definition of “literal.” Which is not to say that I don’t recognize that many people certainly believe they do such a thing (i.e. I’m not saying that they’re liars, just that they’re not using language in a precise manner).

    This was expressed quite well recently in a blog entry by Br. Thomas Bushnell of the Brotherhood of St. Gregory (an Episcopalian religious order) entitled Meaning What You Say. Worth a look…

    • July 9, 2005 at 2:13 pm

      Like the majority of mankind, I lack the education to argue religious polemics. I believe that one cannot pick and choose what you can believe from the Book. It is all or nothing.
      "it’s just an ordinary human experience of failing to meet one’s own standards" Thomas Bushnell
      This is true but it doesn’t negate the Bible or the need to abide by G-d’s laws.
      Coming from my redneck Texas background, my readings will be different from that of someone with a Doctorate in Divinity unless they are filtered through Faith.
      The Bible, the Holy Trinity, and evil were conceived long before language. Don’t let words come before G_d.

      I’ve always found that arguing religion and politics are a waste of time because no one wants to change to my " the true" side.:}

    • July 9, 2005 at 5:44 pm

      David, good call on the literallness issue. I agree with Dave’s post, and I take the Bible literally. I also recognize that the Bible contains poetry and literary allusions. That’s why, when I read that God shelters us beneath His wings, I don’t start thinking that He has feathers.

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