2 Corinthians 10.3-5:
Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.
There is a common portrayal of demons that is diffused throughout Christian thinking as these spiritual entities who torment people by taking them over and possessing them and making them think bad thoughts. Demonic possession and attack is the primary way we have been trained to think about demons.
However, I would put forward that the realm of the primary realm of the demonic is in the intellectual and expertise than it is anywhere else. In apocalyptic literature such as 1 Enoch, the demonic forces of the Watchers are said to have revealed knowledge and skills to humanity. More importantly, when we see the serpent’s seduction to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil leading to the fall of Adam and Eve that then contributes to human life diffusing various skills and crafts that overlap with the rise in violence. Far from just simply being figures who possess and emotionally torment people, it seems the demonic in the Old Testament and apocalyptic work through the knowledges and skills that are propagated through human society that lead people astray from God’s purposes.
The Fall narrative actually encodes one way knowledge leads people away from God. When God commands Adam to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 2.17, the command can be taken as one of at least two ways: 1) the day one eats is the day one will die or 2) the day one eats one’s fate will certainly be to die. As the narrative and the logic plays out, the second options is shown to be the meaning. Then, the serpent comes along to Eve and says “You will not die.” On one level, this statement is true if one is referring to the specific day they eat, but is false as it pertains to the realization of mortality.
This is how misleading knowledge works. It provides a truth that is not otherwise reliable for what it is taken to be about. This is different from other falsehoods, such as half-truths, rationalizations, etc. With the serpent, everything he says is absolutely straightforwardly and experientially true: they did not die the day that they ate. Yet, what gets left out is that they sealed their fate with mortality. Eve believed a truth that marked out the eventual end of their lives.
What happened is that the words of God and the serpent can be framed differently so that both can appear to be true and both can appear to be false. God speaks about the very thing he created, but the serpent seduces with a truth that simultaneously seems to be saying the same thing at the verbal level but yet this is only true with a different way of framing it from God’s warning. Yet, for the relationship of God with Adam and Eve, it is His word that is the important truth to consider. The deceptive seducer manages to speak a truth that frames it differently from the intentions of God and thereby becomes a death-dealing truth that takes people away from God’s life giving and sustaining purposes.
We see something similar happen all the time in communication. A person says one thing that is true for what they intended it to mean and another person interprets another way that makes what the first person said seem to be false while they also give their account that may seem to be true. We readily shifts the frame of realities and perspectives of what is spoken to suit other interests and purposes rather than the one who spoke. This is what is happening with the serpent.
So, with the serpent’s deception, a whole array of knowledges gets unleashed into the world that contributes to its spiral into widespread violence and evil. With the acceptance of one truth, but not God’s truth, God’s life-giving purposes are resisted and the world is plunged into evil and chaos.
I tell this story to set up the story of the Enlightenment and how it produced a similar form of seduction that set up our global society towards widespread violence, chaos, and disorder that threatens the whole of human life: cogito ergo sum. With this simple idea, the world of interior, navel-gazing to find truth was unleashed into the world, whether it was through gazing at our reason, at our emotions, at our desires, etc. There is a certain, apparent truth to cogito ergo sum, our thinking really does seem to suggest that we really do exist. But yet it misleads us to think the betterment of our life can be found from within ourselves, by looking inward. It has lead to the presumptive entrenchment of the idea of cognitive internalism, where we understand the world by reference to our own internal experiences. It has become diffused into all the ways we think and talk about ourselves, as the truth of our own internal experiences does seem to give us some short-term ability to better our lives. Yet, at the same time, it has left us focused inwardly into a mortal body whose fear of death controls the way we think, feel, and act. Cognitive internalism has lead to the entrenchment of the fears of death, along with the host of the desires of the flesh as our persisting look inward only reinforces within us what we observe of us over time.
Yet, it is this cognitive internalism that has made us more hardened to other people by making us less attentive to others and, in the case of religious experience, rather presumptuous that our experience of God is had primarily in our own, internal experiences. Furthermore, it has created a form of religiosity within Christian circles that has taken the focus away upon the Triune God who creates, sustains, redeems, and restores and onto the way we try to relate to God and live out our lives before God. We have developed all these schemes about religious experience and the person by reference to our own internal experiences and how we have come to understand them, with the assumption that God leads us through this.
However, what if Descartes’ cogito ergo sum was a truth with something lurking underneath that made room for the devil? Descartes reasoning towards cogito ergo sum was in part built upon the argument that there was no decieving god who could mislead him on this basic point of his own existence. Descartes though that from this point of knowing that he existed, he could then develop a sure knowledge of everything that follows. Let’s suppose that Descartes was right, that cogito ergo sum is true. What if Descartes’ “deceiving god,” whom we can also refer to as Satan, works best from our own internal experience and beliefs? What if cogito ergo sum and the entrenched practices of cognitive internalism became the basis for a widespread deception of the world? This is something to think about, as a little bit of internal self-awareness may be fruitful, but regular and persistently deep inquiries into the self leads us into the realm of inner mental ambiguity and chaos where there is no real sure ground to set oneself upon: it is here that we are most susceptible to suggestion and seduction.
So, if this is the case, what is to be done? As the Apostle Paul says, we take every thought captive for Christ. The death-dealing truths of the world are not to be denied or overlooked. Jesus Himself commended being shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves in seeking to know how the world does things and yet using this knowledge for righteous purposes. Instead, we find where the ideas are true, but then seek to cut the carrot off from the stick that is pulling it, for it is the devil who uses truths to pull people away whereas it is God who gives His truths that are reliable on their own terms because of how God created them to be.