“The Devil Made Me Do It”: Religion and Psychology

Eddie Ejjbair
4 min readOct 29, 2023

‘For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers’

(Ephesians 6:12)

What we used to ascribe to supernatural spirits, we now ascribe to diseases of the mind. The possessed, in this modern perspective, is a patient, and instead of holy water and prayer, there’s pharmaceuticals and therapy. If there is a difference between the two (the possessed and the mentally ill), it is not in the symptoms (which are just given different names), but in the treatment, which focuses exclusively on either the spiritual or the physiological at the expense of the other.

Since we live in a world in which the physiological view predominates, a case must be made for reintroducing the spiritual. The form in which this case is usually made takes Baudelaire’s oft-cited statement as its starting point:

The devil’s greatest trick is convincing you he doesn’t exist

Denying the devil (and spirituality as a whole), leaves you susceptible to demonic influence. The problem with this is: if you don’t believe in the devil, then his increasing influence is just as imaginary.

Netflix’s ‘The Devil on Trial’ (2023) sees the question of possession settled in a courtroom. Unsurprisingly, the judge dismisses the defence as ‘unscientific’.

What we need to return to is the notion of the individual — not as the source of their affliction, but — as the site of a battle between good and evil forces. Addressing the physiological aspect alone, neglects the ultimate cause of a lot of mental health problems. This is Mark Fisher’s issue with the ruling ideology and its ‘chemico-biologisation of mental illness’:

Considering mental illness as an individual chemico-biological problem has enormous benefits for capitalism: first, it reinforces capital’s drive towards atomistic individualisation (you are sick because of your brain chemistry), and second, it provides an enormously lucrative market in which multinational “pyscho-mafias” can peddle their dodgy drugs (we can cure you with our SSRIs). It goes without saying that all mental illnesses are neurologically instantiated, but this says nothing about their causation. If it is true, for instance, that depression is constituted by low serotonin…

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Eddie Ejjbair

‘Gradually it’s become clear to me what every great philosophy has been: a personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir’