Spiritual warfare

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Preach to the choir
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Crux of the matter
Speak of the devil
An act of faith

The concept of spiritual warfare is currently popular with large parts of evangelical Christianity. It is especially associated with Pentecostal, Dominionist, name-it-and-claim it, and certain fundamentalist groups, and with many megachurches and televangelists. Even less-nutty Christians acknowledge that spiritual warfare is sometimes based on anecdotal and unscientific material.[1]

The concept is a muddled one, as its practitioners take a lot of language from the Bible out of its original context and redefine it to fit a spiritual-warfare frame of reference. For example, "stand in the gap" from Ezekiel 22:30 ("I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none"), which is a reference to intercessory prayer for the sake of others and thus joining them in fighting against spiritual enemies through prayer, has been redefined to mean engaging in offensive spiritual warfare. Promise Keepers especially popularized "stand in the gap" — they have used it as the name of their gatherings.


Generally, proponents of spiritual warfare suppose the phrase to mean using prayer and other religious activity to oppose Satan and his legions of demons who are purportedly active on earth. Such proponents often cite Ephesians 6:12: "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." "Principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness, and spiritual wickedness in high places" are interpreted as demonic spiritual forces or beings. Using prayer to oppose them, or using other tactics such as anointing with oil (for "protection" against Satan), fasting, and mouthing the right words in the right order (such as Pat Robertson's practice of saying "Satan, in the name of Jesus I take authority over you and bind you"), is commonly done. Some also interpret the verses from Ephesians 6:13 to Ephesians 6:17 as a sort of spiritual gear for protection against demons, up to identifying it with the equivalent physical protection used by Roman soldiers — instead of, say, Renaissance-era plate armour or the stuff carried by a modern soldier, while others claim demons are invisible and finally others cite Hebrews 9:12 as proof of the blood of Jesus protecting them from demons.

Note that unlike in Dungeons & Dragons or in video games that feature demonic forces, where a demon/devil of high enough challenge rating power (not to mention several of them) can mop the floor with low-level character(s) with little to no effort, spiritual warfare practitioners never face a single agent of Hell (or rather a lot of them, since some Fundies claim they attack in droves) that curb-stomps/kills them or worse (they end up mind-controlled, feebleminded, in a coma, etc).

Spiritual mapping[edit]

Some people regard spiritual mappingWikipedia as an integral part of spiritual warfare. Spiritual mapping involves culturally evaluating areas for otherwise unwanted influence, such as opposing religious views, liberal philosophies, atheism, drugs, sexually provocative influences, and/or crime. The process aims to identify "demonic hotspots" — which, in reality, are simply areas which are culturally opposed in one way or another to Fundamentalist ideology — and then to attempt either to pray or to perform other acts that will cause people in the areas either to change their behavior or to leave.[2] Spiritual mappers at times use common demographic information-gathering methods to identify those areas in most apparent need of spiritual warfare.[3]

One of the most popular proponents of spiritual mapping and warfare is the witch-hunter and pentecostal preacher, Thomas Muthee,Wikipedia a member of the New Apostolic Reformation and a personal friend of Sarah Palin.[4] Whereas spiritual mapping and spiritual-warfare tactics tend to play out relatively benignly in the United States, they are very common in cities dubbed "character cities" wherein the administration has taken efforts to bring members of the city into alignment with theocratic rules and to expel dissidents and other undesirables.[5] In contrast, when implemented in South American and African countries, such tactics have somehow become associated with open death-squads,Wikipedia witch-hunts,Wikipedia and political oppression.Wikipedia[6] Spiritual-warfare networks may operate according to the Seven Mountains Mandate, wherein members loyal to the cause capture top positions of power,[7] like administrative positions in business, media, schools, and government — and then actively work to punish people who do not openly subscribe to the "correct" ideology.


Also common is widespread belief in demonic possession. Depending on their theology, some teach that newly converted Christians can remain possessed by demons because of past sins, and need exorcisms. Some churches for example teach that homosexuality is caused by, or leads to, demonic possession, and casting out those evil spirits through prayer and fasting is a necessary part of reparative therapy. Likewise, past involvement in the New Age, the occult, Wicca, other non-Christian religions, or even being an unbeliever supposedly opens one up to demonic possession. Bob Larson notoriously popularized the practice of performing long-distance exorcisms on new Christians over the telephone on his radio show, perhaps unknowingly following in the steps of numerous New Age practitioners who claim to be able to heal devotees over the phone. This is not universal, and other churches teach that Christians cannot be demon possessed, as either a conversion to Christianity or baptism automagically casts out any demons.


However, there is also a classic bait and switch tactic at work here. To the Religious Right, "principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this world, and spiritual wickedness in high places" can simultaneously mean both evil spiritual forces, and political liberalism and secular humanism. Hence, spiritual warfare takes on a dual meaning, and the religious activity such as prayer to oppose Satan is interwoven with secular political activity in support of the Republican Party or conservative activist groups, and in some cases a conspiratorial worldview in which evil spiritual forces are believed to be in control of world politics, as in the New World Order or in a Satanic control of worldly governments. While this would seem to be in contradiction to the words of Jesus[8] and of St. Paul,[9] this is conveniently ignored.

Spiritual warfare gatherings such as Promise Keepers use a lot of "stand in the gap for our nation" or "stand in the gap for godly government" rhetoric, which deliberately muddles the distinction between spiritual demonic forces and secular politics. Dominionist publishers like WallBuilders (whose name is also taken from the same Ezekiel 22:30) frame their own (in this case, almost entirely secular) political views in terms of spiritual warfare. Another example was the Presidential Prayer Team, which signed people up on their website to engage in spiritual warfare through prayer in support of former President George W. Bush and his foreign policy. (Bush's foreign policy was such a mess that perhaps they felt driven to prayer.) This use of spiritual warfare framing is especially rife within the "pro-life" movement ("pro-life" for fetuses only and not necessarily anyone else), for whom ending abortion is often seen as one and the same as spiritually opposing Satan and his demonic forces.

The Central Intelligence Agency was alleged in the late 1980s to work in conjunction with spiritual warfare groups by the National Catholic Reporter.[10] Whether or not they maintain affiliation is unknown but considerably likely, given many of the primary proponents of spiritual warfare, such as Tim LaHaye and dozens of members of the "Moral Majority", have been major major backers for multiple GOP Presidents, including Bush Sr., Jr., and Reagan, in the past decades.[11]


The concept of spiritual warfare is also a slick marketing gimmick for megachurches and other much smaller ones as fundamentalists as the former. Instead of the boring old church services, converts can now achieve self-actualisation by becoming mighty "prayer warriors" engaged in victorious battle against "the enemy™" and "the world™", "having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the +5 fortification heavy breastplate of righteousness" (Ephesians 6:14) and often mixing in Matthew 11:12, which states that the kingdom of Heaven can only be taken by violent people.

In fiction[edit]

The past few decades has seen an emergence of spiritual warfare in popular film and literature, particularly in the horror genre. Movies such as The Exorcist, The Omen, and (marginally) The Birds rely on the pre-established "rules" of spiritual warfare to set up conflicts and plot points. In addition to secular media, Christian fiction, including C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape LettersWikipedia and Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness, has touched upon themes of spiritual warfare with the intention of edifying believers. Rick Joyner'sWikipedia chicanery "visions" which he has claimed to have had which he published as a series of books called The Call, The Final Quest, among others are some of the lead proponents of this theory.

Though John Bunyan exclusively meant Pilgrim's Progress to be an allegory, contemporary spiritual warfare literature borrows a great deal from Bunyan's allegorical account of Christian theology. Whereas Bunyan would represent various sins as evil figures and/or monsters which would attempt to attack or seduce a person in an allegorical sense, contemporary spiritual warfare fiction takes it a step further and claims there are actual supernatural creatures which attack people in their life, usually each assigned a specific task or "specialty sin" which they use against individuals — e.g. a demon of lust, demon of anger, etc..

See also[edit]