Digital Demons
by Francois Tremblay (e-mail: [May 26th, 2000]

     We are all puppets of evil demons, beset by malevolent forces, hell-bent on making us plunge in irreversible depravity, blasphemy and appreciation for Calvin and Hobbes comics -- or so do some religionists think.

     The belief in evil supernatural beings that attack us is very old. The Christian Bible refers to stories of Jesus casting out demons. The Talmud states that not only do demons exist, but they are counted: there are supposedly 7,405,926 demons in existence. Ancient occultists seem to have come to a slightly different conclusion, since they counted 7,250,000, with an elaborate court of higher-ranking demonic authorities. The reason for this discrepancy between both counts is unknown. Perhaps the writers of the Talmud counted some of them twice -- you know these demons, always on the run. Other accounts give similar numbers. Modern Lutherans disagree with these prior estimations and have counted more than 2.6 trillion devils, although one wonders how long it took.

“After hearing the complaint of one of his parishioners, he logged on her computer himself. What followed horrified him: 'The program began talking directly to me, openly mocked me...'”
     Even in modern times, belief in demons is prevalent. In 1972, Pope Paul 6 said: "Sin (...) affords a dark, aggressive evildoer, the Devil, an opportunity to act in us and in our world... Anyone who disputes the existence of this reality places himself outside biblical and Church teachings." While the Devil, or Satan, is the leader of the evil hordes, he is also a demon himself. And since he seems to be able to effect many places at the same time, one may surmise that Satan is simply doing overtime. Other theologians believe that the one-third of "fallen angels" in the Bible compose the demonic corps led by Satan. Since we do not know how many angels God created (all that the Bible says is that their number is "very great"), we cannot confirm either the Talmud or occultist numbers. Theologian Paul Eymann believes that the number of angels is greater than the number of humans beings that have ever existed, which would definitively put it in the billions.

     Today, 38% of people believe that Satan is a real being, and 48% of born-agains believe this also. This may explain the seriousness with which the media treats stories of exorcism and demon-possession. The latest advance in demonic studies was made on March 10th with the announcement and upcoming publication of the book The Devil in the Machine. A certain Reverend Jim Peasboro wrote this book. His denomination is not noted, though.

     Peasboro's thesis is that computers are yet another opening for devils to exploit in order to corrupt man's soul. Anything with a brain can be possessed, and that includes the modern computer. However evil spirits, for some reason, need some hard drive space. Why disembodied spirits need hard drive space is not mentioned, but the Reverend, who surely knows what he is talking about, says that only computers made after 1985 have enough space to host demons. These must be extremely uncomplicated souls, perhaps in accordance with their ethereal nature.

     Peasboro explains how he got to this surprising conclusion. "I learned that many members of my congregation became in touch with a dark force whenever they used their computers," he said. "Decent, happily married family men were drawn irresistibly to pornographic Web sites and forced to witness unspeakable abominations." I can explain this "dark force" very easily; it's called testosterone.

     He also claims the following: "Housewives who had never expressed an impure thought were entering Internet chat rooms and found themselves spewing foul, debasing language they would never use normally." Now, there is an interesting phenomenon of change of personality on text communication, but it's also easily explained psychologically without having to use the excuse of demons.

     Yet the reverend goes on to explain one of his own experiences. After hearing the complaint of one of his parishioners (a woman, may I add), he logged on her computer himself. What followed horrified him: "The program began talking directly to me, openly mocked me. It typed out, 'Preacher, you are a weakling and your God is a damn liar.'" Supposedly the computer then started to show garbage. He proceeded to print this content and "later had an expert in dead languages examine the text. It turned out to be a stream of obscenities written in a 2,800-year-old Mesopotamian dialect!"

     He estimates that one in ten computers in America are host to evil spirits, and advises anyone suspecting that their computer is possessed to consult a clergyman, or, if the computer is still under warranty, to have the hard drive replaced. The mind boggles: can't the evil spirit know in time the intentions of the technician, and go on to possess the new drive? Maybe these demons are just really stupid.

     It goes to show how someone with no knowledge of psychology, and victim of a funny prank, can elaborate theological theories and be taken seriously. These claims in themselves are so absurd that they are not worthy of consideration. But that never stopped believers before, I suppose. So let's start with the biggest problem. Not only is there no evidence of demons, but all that they reportedly do can be, and is, explained materialistically. And how do these demons act on our environment? First they are supernatural beings (immaterial) and then they take some place in a computer hard drive (material) to print demonic messages. That's as absurd as saying that a human (material) can change into a soul (immaterial), exteriorize, and "wander" in the ether.

     Even if we solve the modus operandi problem, there are still many absurdities with this belief. Supposedly it goes like this: somebody sins, then the devils find out about it and "possess" this person to make her sin more. But that's not very sensible. Presuming their goal is to make everyone sinners, it would be much more efficient to leave people who are already sinning and try to attack Christians. Surely such scient, supernatural beings could see that easily. After all, they know how to make people sin.

“Exorcism is by no means a recent practice. It seems reasonable to believe that it came to existence after demons were invented.”
     Another problem is how they exist at all, and why does God let them do such a thing. After all, God is omniscient, so he knew that this would happen. He is also omnibenevolent, so he obviously would want no one to suffer a sinful nature and its consequences. So why did he create these defective angels?

     The usual answer is that God is testing us -- however that does not hold water, for the same reason than before. Being omniscient, God has known our holy or sinful nature long before we were born. It sounds to me more like God is trying to hide that Satan is as powerful as he is, by covering it with a PR campaign in the Bible.

     A more prosaic explanation would be that every authoritarian organization or idea needs an enemy to make the ranks tighter, and Christianity is no exception. The notion of sin itself also fulfils this role, in the convenient (albeit more abstract) form of sinners. In theory it's "love the sinner, hate the sin," but in practice you can see that it's impossible to oppose an idea without opposing the proponents.

     For the curious who wonder what kind of demons would haunt computers, I consulted the End-Times Deliverance Center manual to verify this. According to the manual, the two demons assigned to get into electronic equipment are called Boyce and Boice. Nothing is said about the character of these two demons, but one may guess that they are as sociable as your average webmaster. You can even try to exorcise them yourself, by binding them up in the name of Jesus and telling them to leave your equipment. This is accomplished by saying: "I bind up all the demons in this computer and cast them out, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." You will find that it works all the time.

The Demon Inside
     Exorcism is by no means a recent practice. It seems reasonable to believe that it came to existence after demons were invented. If these evil beings exist, or so goes the reasoning, and yet our gods are very powerful, then they might help us get rid of these creatures.

     The character Jesus himself fought with demons on numerous occasions. The first time, he was tempted by Satan himself, during his desert pilgrimage. In Mark 3:15, he appoints his apostles with the authority to cast out demons (although Luke 10 contradicts this and proposes that in fact seventy people were chosen as having power over demons). In Mark 1, Jesus casts out a demon, which had possessed a passer-by and was shouting in opposition against him. He also casted out many other demons.

     Modern-day exorcists have much less luck than our favourite Nazarene hippie does. In June 1998, exorcist Baron Deacon stood in front of the US Congress and tried to exorcise the demons residing there. According to the news report, "[h]e soon quit and acknowledged that the job was too big for him." In France, the Roman Catholic Church employs more than a hundred exorcists, perhaps in reaction to the arrival of the new millennium.

     There is also a job similar to this called "entity release therapists," who believe that ridding the patient of "entities" erases the patient's troubles. Scientology falls into this category, since they believe that most problems are caused by what they call "body thetans," which are nothing more than little spirits that attach themselves to the person, and that these thetans must be "blown" away (removed) from the body. Sometimes secular therapists also use false, imaginary memories as being "cast out." There seems to be some good associated with these various practice, as long as the patient himself has some charge on these entities or memories. If he feels freed to a certain extent, then the treatment will have an effect on his mental health and well being. It is not as efficient as real therapy, of course.

     To come back to our computer demons, this updating of theology to modern technology is not new either. In 1998, a Catholic priest called Ignatius McDermott was the first to bless a laptop computer (a Dell, to be precise).

     As I said before, the phenomenon of feeling one's personality change when engaged in textual conversations is not difficult to explain, and it has little to do with evil demons. In text mode, everybody is communicating with the knowledge that nobody else can see them, and this can be a great release for some people. Furthermore, it must be considered that housewives are prone to be in average less self-confident. Freed from any physical apprehension, they are in a situation where the most dramatic personality changes can occur.

     Add to this the fact that most people do not consider text communication as being significant in emotional terms, yet with the knowledge that they are talking to real people, and you have the perfect outlet for expressing one's bottled-up emotions. And indeed we observe in this peculiar context that emotions fly high. No demons have ever been observed, however. Perhaps Boyce and Boice are getting some entity release therapy.

  • The Salt Lake Tribune: Kirby: If Your Computer Tells You to Get a Chicken and a Knife, It Could Be the Work of ... SATAN
  • The Salt Lake Tribune: What does the Bible teach about angels?
  • Biblical Studies Foundation: Survey of Bible Doctrine on Angels, Satan, Demons

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