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Demonology as a cause of crime: possibility or bunk?

New York Police Sergeant Ralph Sarchie: is demonology a cause of crime?
Photo by Stephen Lovekin

In the 2014 movie "Deliver Us From Evil" New York Police Sergeant Ralph Sarchie (played by Eric Bana) joins forces with Father Mendoza (played by Édgar Ramírez) to exorcize demons from a trio of Iraq War veterans and their families. The movie is based (very) loosely on Sarchie's book, "Beware the Night." The real - life Sarchie is a retired NYPD Sergeant who is now working "demonology cases," participating in exorcisms and joining forces with others to confront Satan and cast out demons. Can demonology explain crime?

Some experts argue "demonic possession" is "mental illness" mislabeled by those who do not understand mental illness. Also, numerous studies have been devoted to medical explanations for behavior during "demonic possession": unusual strength, a new voice coming from the afflicted, self mutilation, tantrums, and the like. Skeptics of "demonic possession" have argued these can also be the signs of schizophrenia, trauma to the brain, drug use, accidental ingestion causing mental breakdown (i.e. chemicals in drinking water), etc. The behaviors have perfectly logical explanations, if investigated properly.

In Ralph Sarchie's documentary, the retired decorated Sergeant explains he knows demonic possession is real and does not care who believes him. He has seen evil in his lifetime, he explains, working New York's toughest, meanest beat: rapes, robberies, murders, and all things people can do. But demonic possession is another issue: true evil, that of outside evil forces. It comes from Satan, or evil demons, set out to destroy. There are countless studies and books dedicated to prove exorcism, possession, and demonic forces are just as real as faith, God, and spiritualism. Many experts agree, although rare, possession exists and exorcisms are real.

Could "demonic possession" be just the presence of pure evil? The law enforcement community understands there is no end to the brutality that human beings inflict on one another. As Security Specialist Gavin DeBecker notes in his work "The Gift of Fear," "If you can imagine (a crime), it has been done." Consider the case of Albert Fish (1870 - 1936) one of the most prolific child killers in history. Fish murdered, tortured, raped, and brutalized. He was a cannibal, a pedophile, a serial killer/rapist, and a masochist. Fish claimed hundreds of victims. He told authorities the voices in his head caused him to kill. Could Fish be a victim of some sort of demonic force that created the monster? He admitted to his crimes calmly and explained in great detail what he had done. As a child he had only known brutality and hard work in an orphanage -- but many children in that time period grew up in the same environment and never committed crime. Along with the theories of crime causation (Labeling, Strain, Rational Choice, etc. see also HERE) could "demonic possession" explain Albert Fish?

A criminal like Albert Fish can be explained in theory: his horrific childhood created a broken man who desired power. Or, with a medical or mental health diagnosis, such as schizophrenia or antisocial personality disorder. Personally, we cannot even imagine how a person takes pleasure from harming children, particularly in such vile degradation. There has to be something wrong, past theories, past logic. Did a true demon fester inside Albert Fish (and others like him) and take over so that Fish saw the crimes as normal and natural?

When true evil appears, could it be the presence of a demon hiding in a human soul? Should criminologist began to study the possibility? It does not excuse the behavior, but helps us understand why the crime occurred so we can, as professionals, recognize and prevent future crimes.

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