1. Religion & Spirituality
Scott P. Richert

The Devil and James Holmes

By July 27, 2012

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In "Blaming Batman, Forgetting God," I raised the possibility that James Holmes, the man who committed the horrific massacre at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, was not "driven" to do so by outside forces but simply chose to do so. In other words, James Holmes exercised his free will, not as God wishes us to—to love Him and our neighbor—but as both Satan and Adam did, to place himself above God.

Americans find any discussion of human evil profoundly uncomfortable; even Christians, I noted, tend to cope with such evil by discussing the possibility of demonic possession. In saying this, I did not intend to downplay the reality of possession—far from it. I know missionary priests in Africa who perform exorcisms almost as frequently as they say Mass. The devil and his fellow demons are quite real, and we ignore that fact to our peril.

But many Christians who are quick to chalk up acts such as those committed by James Holmes to demonic possession sometimes—often—see this as mitigating the responsibility of the presumably possessed person. As disturbing as the thought of demonic possession is, it's more comforting to think that James Holmes did what he did because he wasn't fully in control than to consider the possibility that he wanted to do what he did—and, indeed, probably wanted to do much worse.

Our understanding of demonic possession has been shaped by popular culture, which almost always gets it wrong. Novels, TV shows, and films present good people who suddenly and inexplicably find themselves possessed by a demon. In this view, when the demon enters in, the person, for all intents and purposes, disappears. In the language of the popular teen/young adult TV show Supernatural, the possessed are simply "meat sacks."

The reality is much more terrifying. Demonic possession requires our active participation. We have to let the demon in.

That doesn't necessarily mean that those who become possessed have sought out possession. Rather, they have engaged in behavior that allows a demon to find a home in their soul. Here, the faithful Catholic Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, got it exactly right, and to his credit so did William Friedkin, who directed the film version. As I have mentioned before (see "The Exorcist, Horror, and Faith"), the pivotal scene in the movie is one of the most simple and understated: Regan finds a ouija board in the basement and begins to use it. And in that simple action, she starts down the road to demonic infestation.

Infestation, not possession: As Fr. Dwight Longenecker explains in an insightful article on "The Aurora Murders and Demonic Possession," there are four stages of demonic influence, and the one that we normally think of as "possession"—when "signs of preternatural strength are seen, horrible alien voices come from the person, vile blasphemies are heard and perverted and violent actions are witnessed"—is really infestation. "This is the stuff of exorcism movies," as Father Longenecker writes, because true possession, the final stage of demonic influence, is much more quiet:

The person will appear to return to normal, but there is a shadow within. Even if they do so in a respectable and "normal" manner, they will live only for themselves and the darkness within.

In other words, those who are truly possessed are no longer fighting the demon (if they ever did); they are now cooperating with him. The terrifying reality is that they are exercising their free will in seeking to do the evil that the demon, too, wants them to do.

We need to understand this: If James Holmes is possessed, he did not get that way against his will. And if James Holmes is possessed, it wasn't the demon who purchased the weapons and ammunition, booby-trapped his apartment with bombs, and pulled the trigger—over and over and over again—in that theater in Aurora, Colorado.

It was James Holmes who did all of that, even if he is possessed. And that is the terrifying reality that we so desperately wish not to face, because it reminds us that we, too, have free will, and all too often misuse it.

More on the Dark Knight Shooting:

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July 27, 2012 at 11:39 am
(1) tom walmsley says:

Thanks for this. I’m a relatively new Catholic and you’re making very plain a phenomenon that has always confused me. You write some wonderful pieces.

July 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm
(2) Kevin O'Brien says:

Scott, what about “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”? In the film (based on a true story), the victim is not shown doing anything to invite the demon in; she seems to be infested entirely against her will.

July 27, 2012 at 12:57 pm
(3) Scott P. Richert says:

Kevin, I still haven’t seen The Exorcism of Emily Rose, but I remember at the time of its release some criticism from actual exorcists for precisely this reason. As I recall, they praised the film for the most part, but pointed out that the movie failed on this point. I’ll dig around and see if I can find some of those criticisms.

July 27, 2012 at 1:51 pm
(4) Seriously? says:

You have a better imagination than most five year olds, but without the ability to understand that what you’re talking about is a complete fabrication.

July 27, 2012 at 1:58 pm
(5) Joke says:

so irresponsible to pepper this tragedy with your fictional, fantastic, superstitious rhetoric. in the minds of crazed christians, there is no debate of gun control x personal freedom, but of the devil x god. i really wish that christians would sometimes just learn to shut up about some affairs.

July 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm
(6) Scott P. Richert says:

Joke, what part of “free will” do you not understand?

July 27, 2012 at 2:13 pm
(7) John says:

Dude, you are crazy.

July 27, 2012 at 2:14 pm
(8) Anon says:

So…not guilty by reason of demonic posession. That’s what this article says to me.

July 27, 2012 at 3:52 pm
(9) Scott P. Richert says:

Then, Anon, you apparently have problems with reading comprehension. Because the point of the article is exactly the opposite.

July 27, 2012 at 2:33 pm
(10) Patricia says:

“The devil made me do it” was used by a comedian to get many a laugh. That is an excuse for not exercising free will. But Isn’t it true that at the root of all evil is the devil and his cohorts, seeking to devour souls and bodies. If someone opens the door to evil, in one or more of it’s various forms, the evil will enter in some form, and depending on the person, bring evil tendencies, evil actions, or some other harassment. Maybe this is the case with Mr. Holmes. He is still responsible for his actions, but obviously, is not in his right mind. With all of the evil that has penetrated our society in so many venues, maybe we need to exorcise our homes, our neighborhoods, our movie theaters, our schools, our hospitals, our highways etc. Maybe I am overreacting, but it sure couldn’t hurt. St. Michael the Archangel defend us in battle.

July 27, 2012 at 3:09 pm
(11) Amanda Schmid says:

I have no doubt that James Holmes was not in his right mind, whether he was possessed by demons or not, he has mental issues. You say “he did not get this way against his will”, but I don’t think that’s a completely accurate statement, or more so a misleading one. Are you saying that before people let demons in, they think to themselves, I’m going to do his so I can be possessed by demons and go commit some horrific crime? No (at least not for the majority of people, the ones who aren’t just truly evil, which I don’t think Holmes is). So although people such as Holmes might let demons in with their free will, if they are not knowing about this field than I would say they don’t really quite know what they’re doing wouldn’t you?
My other question for you that I would really like to know the answer to, is do you think all mental illness= demons? Or would you say one comes before the other? People with mental illness are more prone to let demons in, or demons cause mental illness? Because whether or not Holmes was possessed, he had mental illness. There is already so much evidence which makes that completely obvious.

July 27, 2012 at 3:14 pm
(12) Christopher Michael says:

Scott, excellent commentary on the John Holmes case. You are precisely, scientifically, and medically correct on all of your points on demonic possesion, psyche, and personal will and responsibility. (Unlike some of the ignorant, i.e. uneducated, people who commented here protesting you. Just shows how stupid they are.)

July 27, 2012 at 3:17 pm
(13) Patricia says:

“The devil made me do it” was a line used by a comedian on TV to get many a laugh. Obviously, it was an excuse. But isn’t it true that Satan is at the root of all evil, even if we use our free will. Fallen human nature and the onslaught of evil in today’s culture is a deadly mixture. Many, unfortunately, living without God’s grace to uphold them, are prime targets for the devil seeking to devour body and soul. Maybe this was the case with James Holmes. He exercised his free will to seek human sacrifice, so he obviously is not in his “right” mind, or should I say his mind is so darkened that he is driven to this horrific violence without remorse. Yes, he is responsible for his actions. The devil didn’t make him do it, but I believe the mystery of evil had a big role to play. It scares me to think how many more like him are out there. Maybe I am overreacting here, but, it couldn’t hurt to have something of an exorcism on our homes, theaters and places of entertainment, Hollywood, neighborhoods, schools, hospitals and other places. In the meantime, St. Michael the Archangel defend us in battle! Amen

July 27, 2012 at 3:41 pm
(14) Matthew George says:

Another religious wing-nut empowering the mythology of Christianity once again…what else is new?

July 27, 2012 at 4:00 pm
(15) Tim says:

It seems to me more and more that to be a religious nut, one must lack all ability to reason and think logically. This is a ridiculous piece of crap article. You mean to tell me that the man went on a shooting rampage while possessed by the devil? use your head. He is obviously mentally ill, and despite all advancements in science and medicine, nutcases like you believe it to be due to urban voodoo. Yet you people judge others. And people wonder why I don’t go to church. Perfect example right here.

July 27, 2012 at 4:27 pm
(16) Scott P. Richert says:

Tim, I agree: “use your head.” Go back and read the article–it’s only 700 words–and you’ll notice that I never said that James Holmes is possessed. Wrap your head around that, and you might finally understand what the article is about.

July 27, 2012 at 4:01 pm
(17) Bowie says:

I believe all he wanted was recognition, his existence to be acknowledge by everyone. Even though this way was not the best way to do it, it was one hell of an easy way. Of course no one would ever believe that a shy and quiet kid like him would do such things. A lot of people died because of it. This shooting event has gone worldwide and been since July 20th. As a person get beyond the limit of quietness, they still want to be loved. No friends. No love. No one to talk to. They end up in the pit of hell. Anger is built inside and no where to go. He and ‘The Joker’ are the same. High intelligence. So what?! People still won’t acknowledge your existence. Only one’s action will tell the world that you are alive.

“To them I’m simply an object from the past that they wish will disappear Then why do I exist? Why am I alive? When I thought about this I could find no answer. But as you live you need a reason otherwise it’s the same as being dead, I then came to this conclusion I exist to kill every human besides myself. Fighting only for yourself living while only loving yourself If you think that everybody else simply exist to allow you to experience that feeling nothing is better then that world. As long as there are people in this world for me to kill and continue to feel that joy of living my existence will not vanish.” –G.of The Sand Village

July 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm
(18) Diane says:

As a registered nurse I worked with patients who have severe mental illness. Is there a possibiliy this patient was developing schizophrenia and with that having a delusional systme where he thought he really was the joker? Many people have there first “break” or episode of schizophrenia in their 20s and are many times very bright intellectually and due to extreme stress sometimes due to academic pressure have a breakdown. There are an abundance of mentally ill people not getting care they need leading to these type of tragedies. He also wrote a letter to a psychiatrist stating his intentions so this was a cry for help left unanswered.

July 27, 2012 at 4:25 pm
(19) response to tim says:

The article is suggesting that the shooter had a choice and made his OWN choices, not stating that he was or is demon possessed! Re-read the article, it actually make a lot of sense.
“We need to understand this: If James Holmes is possessed, he did not get that way against his will. And if James Holmes is possessed, it wasn’t the demon who purchased the weapons and ammunition, booby-trapped his apartment with bombs, and pulled the trigger—over and over and over again—in that theater in Aurora, Colorado.”

July 27, 2012 at 6:13 pm
(20) Logic says:

The point you’re clearly missing is that possession doesn’t exist and therefore the point is moot.

July 27, 2012 at 6:54 pm
(21) Kathy Cochran says:

This is actually a well written article. There are many people “in need” of a simple answer as to how something like this could occur. And the easiest answer to is to say he was possessed by a demon.

Personally, I don’t believe in demonic possession…..and I consider myself to be a Christian. There are just too many cultures throughout history claiming demonic-type possession, but the possession is always in accordance to the personal beliefs of the “possessed” individual.

As this story unfolds, I’m beginning to believe what we’re seeing is a highly intelligent individual, who quite simply, is “emotionally” unstable. He is either incapable of (or has never learned) basic emotional coping skills.

But he’s smart enough to figure out a way to “try” to get out of being punished for the selfish “decision” he made.

He decided “how” he was going to deal with his uncontrollable, internal rage, and he decided “how” he was going to try to cover his butt.

July 27, 2012 at 7:33 pm
(22) mr. underhill says:

how do you tell the difference between demonic possession and mental illness? you cannot, because they are one in the same. we’re far from completely understanding the human brain, but we know of many ways in which a brain can be defective. in many cases we can even see the physical differences using pet scans or fmri. if we can explain these phenomena through science, why muddle them up with religion?

July 27, 2012 at 7:35 pm
(23) Ken Jones says:

Seriously, your ability to fathom what’s in the intellect of another is truly astounding. I am in awe of your prowess.

Actually, the author (as the trite saying goes) prolly has forgotten more about Catholicism than you’ll ever know, but who am I to make that claim. Seriously.

July 27, 2012 at 7:58 pm
(24) Kathy Cochran says:

@ Mr. Underhill….Well said!

And quantum physics proposes there are 11 different dimensions. So who knows. We’re far from fully understanding the workings of the mind, but we should be educated enough to stop blaming such deplorable actions on archaic theological beliefs. Possession = mental illness, in one fashion or another.

July 27, 2012 at 8:35 pm



July 27, 2012 at 10:40 pm
(26) Noname says:

Sometimes an event can be so terrible that our minds can’t grasp the concept of what happened. Because of this lack of understanding our minds fill in the pieces so that it makes sense to us. That sounds like what happened in this article.

But no matter what we believe was the cause, we are all together, united with heavy hearts over the disgust of such an action. It’s terrible that we can’t even goto the movies and feel safe. Please keep all the victims and their families in your thoughts and hearts.

July 28, 2012 at 12:13 am
(27) HAHA says:

Im Catholic and I think everything you said was complete bullshit. He did it because he wanted to. Nothing “possessed” him. He is just a sick individual smarter than most. He knew what he was doing. He didn’t care.

July 28, 2012 at 7:08 pm
(28) Scott P. Richert says:

Perhaps, “HAHA,” you should try actually reading the piece. Then you might understand that I did not say James Holmes was possessed.

July 28, 2012 at 12:26 am
(29) Salvy says:

I saw this goofball on Drudge with his dumb red hairdo and wondered why they even let him get red hair dye in the first place, and then mock everybody , including the idiots who let him inside the court like that. I don’t care if he’s possessed or not–this guy deserves the electric chair.

July 28, 2012 at 3:43 am
(30) Kristi says:

Wow, good points no where in this article. You really want to lower yourself down to the explanation behind his actions being “because the devil made him do it”? That makes as much sense as the idea and belief in the Bible alone. Perhaps you, sir, are in a delusional state with all your talk about this so-called Devil and God.

July 28, 2012 at 4:09 am
(31) lauren says:

If he wanted to do much worse then why did he warn the police about the bombs in his apartment?

July 28, 2012 at 8:40 am
(32) Kathy Cochran says:

Folks, the author is NOT saying James Holmes is possessed.

He’s explaining what possession is, according to his beliefs, and that demonic possession does NOT mean a demon caused James Holmes to do this. Demonic possession still involves FREE WILL of the individual possessed.

Therefore, James Holmes is STILL to blame for the action.

He’s arguing AGAINST the explanation of “the devil made him do it.”

July 28, 2012 at 9:49 am
(33) Salvy says:

A lot of people like Kristi and others who ridicule the idea of God and the spirit world had their brains washed, since early childhood, by their government school commie socialist teachers and the mentally retarded mainstream media of TV and movies, since a very young age. So, I find them amusing–specially when I think about everyone from Jesus to George Washington, and everyone else who built Western Civilization who had a strong faith in God and tried to lead their lives accordingly. But, try explaining all that to the modern day yaks who think maybe life is like one big stupid Hollywood movie.

July 28, 2012 at 10:39 am
(34) Adevarul says:

WHAT !?! The MSM got it wrong and now that may jeopardize the trial? How could that happen? How could ABC name the wrong James Holmes who just *cough* happened *cough* *cough* to be a tea party member? *wink* *cough*
Two words: Competition Agenda
Look up Oxy morons one definition: professional journalists

July 28, 2012 at 11:10 am
(35) Esohe says:

As a Catholic living in Africa and all my life leading a sheltered life not believing in Demons and evil forces. A few years ago, I did come up against an individual who looked for all intents and purposes a very religious person, but was a demon on the inside. When one comes that close to a demonic force, the shock of it is unbelievable and no one in their right mind is quite prepared for that kind of evil revelation. We pray daily for God’s protection against the Devil and all evil forces.
Yes, there are evil and dark forces around us and for those who refuse to acknowledge this, only do so at their own peril. It is a very dark world out there, and the bottom line is that all of us do have the benefit of free will to choose to follow Christ or turn around and allow ourselves to carry out acts that will shock the world into thinking we were not in our right minds when we do something so horrific as Holmes did because we can.

July 28, 2012 at 12:40 pm
(36) TridentineCat says:

Scott, thank you for the concise and accurate article. Sorry about the foolish statements that some have made. You are so right in your responses to their comments…they are truly lacking basic reading comprehension skills. Many of them don’t seem to grasp that the concept of ‘free will’ which is what Holmes carried out. I also have been listening on radio talk shows where the hosts seem to express false compassion towards Holmes by dwelling on his possible mental illness as the cause of the horrific actions he carried out. They are making assumptions and no one seems to accept what you’ve stated in your article in that Holmes simply chose to plan and murder innocent people by free will. The whole idea of using an insanity plea is absurd due to what appears to be a methodically planned murder spree. I pray for all those who choose to resist the truth and also act mean-spiritedly as is evident in the way they respond to your article. God Bless you.

July 28, 2012 at 12:59 pm
(37) TridentineCat says:

I have to add that since so far and from what has been reported about Holmes’ background (Neuroscience studies and his level of intelligence), that we shouldn’t discard the possibility that in addition to organizing the killing part of the crime, he had to have planned how to present to the public a “life” he was living the months before the attacks. I wouldn’t be surprised (and as has been reported) if he started seeing a psychiatrist just a bit of time before the killings, as part of his plan to obtain an insanity plea. The whole act of dying his hair, suddenly signing up to be part of an adult website, acting a bit strange at a court appearance, can very well be part of his methodical and diligent plans. I’m shocked at how no one seems to bring this up but instead make excuses for his actions.

July 28, 2012 at 1:08 pm
(38) Kathy Cochran says:

@TridentineCat – you hit the nail on the head. And look at my comment from 7-27 at 6:54. I truly believe he decided how he was going to try to cover his own butt. Yep, no one seems to be discussing that aspect.

July 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm
(39) Diane says:

I stand by my belief this young man is sufferring from a mental disorder probably schizophrenia. From my work as,a nurse with mentally ill. I no longer work in mental health because the,system as a whole does not provide the treatment these patients need. Mental illness still has,a stigma and the liberals believe everyone even the severely mentally ill have a right to live freely in society & you just have to look around you and,see how many are out here,not getting the care they need they are the homeless the incarcerated .Our prisons are now the mentall institutions. State hospitals have mostly closed for the chronically insane as,the govt does not want to pay,for it. Now patients are discharged before they are ready some will never,be,capable of living independently, insurance companies do not want to pay for their care. We used to call it the revolving door in the schizophrenia unit I worked on. They kept coming back as they had,successive breakdowns. The mental health system is broke. And now society is paying the price and innocent lives will continue to be lost until we start taking mental illness seriously.

July 28, 2012 at 7:58 pm
(40) Kathy Cochran says:

By the way Scott, the reason I felt drawn to respond to your article is because you look so much like my oldest brother, Michael. You’re almost his twin, lol. http://metroid.wikia.com/wiki/Mike_Wikan

I’m fascinated by the responses too, and am amazed at how many people simply don’t understand what they’re reading. You write very, very well.

July 28, 2012 at 8:55 pm
(41) Salvy says:

I think some of it is that a lot of people are on drugs these day–legal and illegal–so it effects their brain and their ability to think straight. Others are just plain old cranks who hate Christians and sometimes don’t even bother to thoroughly read the article.

July 29, 2012 at 3:22 pm
(42) Ketter says:

I am more in shock by how many stupid people there are (that are totally unable to comprehend a short article) than I am by the behavior of James Holmes. This is an excellent article clearly stating that each and every person has the choice to exercise free will. In fact, this is the only choice that humans actually have. Yes, demonic possessions is very real, but the the people that are possessed have let these demons in by constantly choosing darkness over light. Little by little, the demons take over.
I do slightly disagree with Scott that in the very end (when the demons have totally takes over) that the person really has no choice anymore. At that point, the person is like a puppet just acting robotically. However, the person is still 100% responsible for their actions because their constant actions of choosing negativity have led them to this place.

August 2, 2012 at 6:57 am
(43) thomas mola says:

Hi Scott:-)))

I am an avid reader of your material. I have to say that I totally agree w/you regarding the horrific event. I think modern day people have dismissed “Free Will” & simply don’t understand it’s cosequences. Temptation to commit evil acts are always out there. it is our job to “Pray” & ask for the Holy Spirit Thru the immaculate Heart of His Beloved Heavenly Spouse. God Bless

August 3, 2012 at 11:29 pm
(44) Kathy Cochran says:

Amen, Thomas. Amen. Beautifully said.

August 7, 2012 at 8:52 am
(45) deboru folrence says:

thannks alot for the ministry you are doing. the problem is that many people do not access such articles because they are taken up in worlddly things or articles which actualy cause sufering to both their phisical and spiritual being. a person acting under free will can not cause such a terriffic acts like that. he is fully possesed and this means that apersons acts are controled by another being which can not be seen by our physical eyes but with spiritual eyes. in to days wold people dont trust god but rather trust in their own strength especialy in the developed world and others trust evil powers and believe that such powers are enough to solve the problems and as such they end up being possesed. i have personally been envolved in deliverence of people who are possesed and i want to tell you that it is reality but not a lie.

September 10, 2012 at 2:36 pm
(46) Tyler McCreless says:

What about the motion to intervene by an eye-witness who was reported shot and has come forward stating he was involved as part of deal offered to him by the Police Chief and District Attorney of Aurora?


It’s an official document, and I could provide the order regarding that motion as well. Don’t let the Devil fool you. Things aren’t as they seem.

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