Do More of Us Believe in Demons than Angels?


good vs evil

Do More of Us Believe in Demons than Angels?
(Based on the Supernatural as Depicted in Novels & Films)
by Joyce Elferdink

A while back I reviewed an author’s novel with the understanding that he would reciprocate. When I didn’t hear from him for a few weeks, I asked if he had finished mine. His answer: “No, I can’t read it—there is an angel in your story and I’m an atheist.” I was shocked. In the last few years so many movies and books have supernatural characters that I couldn’t believe one angel would be that disconcerting. Since demons, ghosts, witches, vampires or other spirits deemed evil are the subjects of a great many box office hits (have you seen movie previews lately?), what could possibly make a grown man squeamish about one supernatural being on the good side of the list? 
             We’ve certainly had an abundance of authors writing about the supernatural—both good and evil. When I searched Amazon for “angels in books,” the result was 90,088 books (although some of these are “fallen angels”). The key word demon yielded 22,170;  witches, 28,110; vampires, 37,698; and ghosts, 89,786 for a total of 177,764 on the malevolent side of the spirit world.
             There was a time when angelic beings were more popular than the demonic—or at least more acceptable in movie theaters. The 1947 Academy Award winner was about a man who had given up his dreams in order to help others and whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brought about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody. That same year, Angel on My Shoulder, a film about a deal between the Devil and a dead man  did something unique for the times—it depicted hell—and it didn’t do nearly as well financially.  In those days, angels had the higher approval ratings. Now, while society may not be exactly rooting for the dark side, people are fascinated by tales of the demonic. Consider, for example, the popularity of The DeVinci Code, The Blair Witch Project, and most of Stephen King’s books and movies.    
             These examples of book topics and changing movie popularities are insufficient for a statistical conclusion, but they do support my perception that modern Americans find the evil side of the supernatural more interesting, even more believable, than the good. If you believe in demons, as does the novelist who couldn’t read my book; wouldn’t you have to believe there are good spirits, too? Everywhere we look in our world we find opposites. It is the related concepts which are opposite in meaning, (e.g., up and down, right and left, good and evil) that allow us to use language to distinguish people, places, ideas, and things.             

I believe in the existence of good and evil and research proves I’m not in the minority. Most people, like me, seem to accept its representation in angels and demons.  I ‘ve just never paid much attention to angels, thinking they live apart from my world, in an unreachable place.  And since in my youth I was terrified of evil spirits, I chose to ignore the possibility of their presence.

I still tend to ignore the angelic, even though I made one a character in my novel.  But I can no longer ignore the demonic; stories and images are everywhere. In the first two decades following It’s a Wonderful World, moviegoers’ tastes favored drama but not horror, but then came Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 and the Exorcist in 1973. And the horror has never stopped, only gotten more sensational (a list of movies for rent last Halloween proves this point). 

The question I wrestle with is why the demonic side currently seems more interesting or at least more popular than its opposite. If angels really can intervene in our lives as Clarence Odbody did in It’s a Wonderful Life—and there are written accounts of such interventions—why would we not embrace the angelic realm and seek out angelic help and protection? And why are there only half as many books on angels for sale on Amazon? Could it be that those of us who write about angelic beings are reluctant to describe them as having super powers?  That sizeable portion of the public who claim to be religious have certainly read about angels; they play some major roles in Bible stories. Yet authors downgrade them to benevolent but nondescript creatures. Think of City of Angels (a story I love, by the way): the angel, Seth, wanted the joys of being human more than the powers of being divine.

Demonic beings, on the other hand, are made into super powers (if not super heroes), maybe because they’re like the bogymen of our childhood; we are only temporarily under the spell. The thing that goes bump in the night is deposed by daylight, the off switch for its power.  As long as we audiences/readers are sure there is no such thing, we clamor for the thrill of the chill.

Law professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong who doesn’t believe that spirits exist has a different theory. His explanation is that people’s false belief in angels and demons noted in many disparate human cultures comes from “people’s proclivity to use demons as scapegoats.” Sinnott-Armstrong asserts we don’t want to blame ourselves or those we know for evil acts so we conjure up demons to be the cause of much of the horror in the world.

That seems plausible. Blaming others is a very human trait. But if they’re only figments of our imagination or made up by creative storytellers, why would seemingly sane humans believe they have had encounters with demons and angels? Many professionals who’ve researched the subject also believe. University of Notre Dame philosopher Thomas Flint is one. Flint defines a demon as “a nonphysical finite person who has decided against God to rebel against God.” (He defines angels as the opposite.)

Whether or not people endorse the concept of the demonic, the evil side of the supernatural does sell more books and movie tickets in the 21st century. Maybe it’s because more people are rebelling against God and therefore siding with the demonic. Or is it because worldwide, the multitude of horrendous acts seem to be growing and we need something other than ourselves to blame? It is feasible that stories of demonic behavior and possession are just more exciting. If that is the predominant reason, could it be that the stories we tell are misleading, even causing us to be desensitized to the powers of the supernatural? 


Five years ago I met a wonderful man, whom I learned to love in the four months we had together. When he died after five days in a coma, I sought answers to that old question, “Why do evil things happen?” Why did he die? Where did he go? As I found answers that worked for me, I started writing Pieces of You, an adventure into sacrificial love, social responsibility, and the spirit world. My search continues to discover where he may be—in people I meet, in the Beyond, or both…


You can share that search at by following my blog at

it's a wonderful life


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27 thoughts on “Do More of Us Believe in Demons than Angels?

  1. Martha Love

    Joyce, what a terrific thought provoking piece!

    I think the popularity of demons in books and films is due to our own inner explorations and in time it will balance out . People are exploring their shadow side—the unconscious aspects of the human being we have ignored in our past or felt we had to cover up—far more today than they did years ago when biblical angels were a more popular subject than demons.

  2. Yves Johnson

    As you look around, you’ll notice a lot of people with skulls on their clothing or tattooed. You see a lot of Zombies, vampires, etc. In fact, it seems to be embraced by society at-large. Conversely, “good angels'” aren’t. I think it has a little to do with perception and our gravitation towards the forbidden. From a biblical standpoint, If someone would do a cursory study on angels…they’d quickly lose the image of the cutie little Cupid. Thanks for writing this piece it was interesting and I’m glad you wrote it.

  3. Jon Magee (@JonMageeauthor)

    Joyce, what a great piece you have written, and so very true in terms of much of the western world, not just America. Just the other day I was listening to a young lady speaking of how she was very open minded, and thats how everyone should be. She felt everyone should be like her and be open to all possibilities i we are to get the best out of life. Then, in contradiction, she said she would not open a book if she thought it might be a “Christian” story. I guess there is a lot of sub conscious editing many are doing today, however, the literal meaning of “angel” being a “messenger of God” means that there is quite a challenge for us. Are we prepared to be angels, or do we prefer to look at our imperfections etc. Just a thought.

  4. Monica Brinkman

    A very thought provoking piece.
    So why does a large part of society embrace the darker side of life? Perhaps it is due to this side being ‘forbidden’ to speak of for many years, hidden in dark corners; always there but given little or no mention. Yet didn’t Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Bella Lugosi portray characters of this darker side? Today’s vampires, are a far stretch from the original ghastly, horrific beings of that decade. Somehow they evolved into beautiful, though pitiful entities who may very well entice us with everlasting life.
    So have we forgotten the angels? I think not. In fact if you look at social media, such as Facebook, you will find angelic images in multitude. People may be lured to investigate the demons, devils and vampires, knowing there is that counter part, the angel, silently working their own magic.

  5. E. J. Ruek

    You say: “If you believe in demons, as does the novelist who couldn’t read my book…” If he’s an atheist, would he believe in either demons or angels, either one? I don’t think so. But, then, I find it quite odd that an atheist would object to either demons or angels or talking dogs or anything else in fantasy fiction unless he’s one of those boring purists who think that anything not empirically proven is anathema. 🙂

    I don’t “believe” in angels or demons, don’t believe in “God”, but I certainly write about these phenomena, because, while I don’t “believe” in them, I do know that they exist for others–really exist for others, be they a manifestation of the mind or a Created Evil, the title of one of my pending revision, pending publication novels.

    Angels aren’t boring if handled well, but I think the draw to demons is that there is an infatuation with those who break the rules. Goody two shoes are completely BORING and predictable; those who walk on the wild side aren’t. But notice that the hope is that the demons will come through with a good act in the end…and they usually do. And that touches another fundamental Xtian issue: the ingrained belief that one is flawed and imperfect–a sinner–and, therefore, heading for Hell, unless “saved” by the “Redeemer,” for no good reason except by virtue of the fact that the self-identified sinner agrees to worship and subjugate himself to that self-spoken redeemer.

    All of it is based on human proclivities, but, likewise, it is also firmly reinforced by social programming that’s gone on for generations. Hence, the atheist of today will, in all probability, become the fundamentalist born-again Xtian, when he begins to approach an age when death becomes more likely.

    So, ultimately, youth, esp. those who manage to avoid or to break theological indoctrination, are intrigued by demons–those who break the rules–but those who are approaching the precipice called death flee toward the solace that there is a “god” and salvation and everlasting life.

    What is real and what is true? That’s up to each of us. There can be no one right or left answer in a reality where “god” is everything and nothing, simultaneously.

    What can be imagined in the mind….

  6. James L. Secor

    I was horrified at your editor, so like the long-time pharmacists who suddenly discovered they could not do their job–dispense written prescriptions–due to their professed religious beliefs. What the hell does that have to do with editing? Angels are passive; demons are doers (aggressive). We find angels, if you will, in the hero’s helper(s), even though sometimes they are playing devil’s advocate. However, Keanu Reeves did Constantine in which the angel does act aggressively but…
    I tend to think that the rise of the demon is sociocultural: the evils of society are breaking free of the reins of “civilization” and we’ve a mess, both at home and in the world (much, the US’s making).
    As to death: notice that evil is live backwards? Why is death evil? Why “demonize” it?
    Well, homunculus theory is satisfying.
    I think, though, that all of this raises the question–unanswerable, at least at the moment–of what is good?
    I don’t believe in angels and I’ll edit your book, sans bias! I think an angel-believer might miss inconsistencies. Which brings me back to the horrid editor who wouldn’t edit because of his beliefs–and didn’t have the courage to tell you right at the outset. Evil? Bad! Bad intent.

  7. Cynthia B Ainsworthe

    Excellent article that raises a great deal of interesting questions. Today’s society seem to fascinated with the dark side: vampires, zombies, werewolves, daemons, etc. What does that say about our culture? Another form from centuries gone-by?

  8. Trish Jackson

    A great post and some wonderful comments.
    The thing that strikes me about the prevalence of demons in today’s society is the way in many cases we have un-demonized them. Take the success of Twilight and others like it, where the vampires are good and have love affairs with humans. And how about Monsters Inc for children? There certainly isn’t anything scary about them.
    Angels are still around and still as popular as ever. Just walk into an angel store in a mall and ask yourself how many products they have to sell to pay the obviously exorbitant lease.
    As to why someone has to die before their time–it’s a question we’ll never be able to answer.

  9. Bryan Murphy

    I believe in Angels – Tonbridge Angels. My local football club, whom I’ve followed through thick and thin (mostly thin) for over 50 years. They are entirely human. Supernatural beings belong in the realms of fantasy and entertainment. Angels and demons are popular there, I think, because they can be used to personify absolute good or absolute evil. The fact that literary authors are increasingly reluctant to portray real people as absolutely good or absolutely evil perhaps explains the resurgence of such characters in genre fiction and Hollywood films. It’s just harmless escapism, as long as people remember that supernatural beings are not real.

  10. Salvatore Buttaci

    Both demons and angels exist, according to my religious beliefs. The former are doing their best to lure the good folks into their fiery lake while the latter protect us, warn us, steer us towards a life of compassion and love of God. Many seem to think God is too good for demons to exist and that we are all bound for Heaven. Others call every baby they see an angel. Fearing demons makes sense to me. Wanting to one day praise God along with the angels and saints is my number one priority. Demons wave the finite goodies of this world before our eyes, even those goodies that are baddies to keep us far from God. Sadly, many fall for this subterfuge.

  11. Anne Sweazy-Kulju

    Loved the post, Joyce! I found something I could agree with in almost every comment, but here’s my take, and it may be a bit simplistic, but… I like to watch evil demons and such in the movies because that is where I prefer to keep them (abstract.) I don’t feel the need to “lock up” Angels in that way. Instead, I like to keep my belief system about Angels and such close to my heart (but angels have enjoyed some good box office, too: Ghost, Michael, City of Angels, for instance…)

  12. Micki Peluso

    Wonderfully enlightening post, Joyce and some fantantic and diverse comments. I always ‘saw’ black around my bed at night and feared it was the devil. I think religions foster ‘good and evil’ from childhood. I think Anne’s comment was most asture, saying we like to keep evil in fictional ways so we don’t face real demons. I have personally, like Bryan, met two ‘angel unaware’s’ in the form of humans. Basically, it all goes back to the erternal war between good and evil–we can’t have one without the other.

  13. Harmlessjoyce (Joyce Elferdink)

    The interaction displayed here in response to my article is all that I’ve hoped for! Sincere, thoughtful comments, even those that represent the opposite of my beliefs and theories, are the best reason to write for more than an audience of one. Isn’t respectful dialogue about important issues the beginning of understanding? ( (And yes, our perceptions of good and evil, angels and demons count as important in my little corner of the world.)

    Your explanations for the fascination with evil range from evidence of a certain period in a person’s life to substantiation of the evils in our society; harmless escapism to dangerous deception. Your words are playful or deadly serious, but few seem completely impartial. I think it’s that kind of subject.

    We don’t have scientific evidence that demons are intent on destroying us (or maybe just turning us into their love partners…) as we don’t have proof that angelic beings, those messengers of God, are gentle beings vs mighty warriors.

    But if either or both are real and true, what are the consequences of not taking them seriously? Or of pledging our allegiance to the wrong one? Let’s continue this discussion until we are confident of what is true and real…

    Love to all!

  14. Marta Merajver-Kurlat

    Joyce, best article I’ve read on the subject from that point of view so far! Probably the reason why supernatural creatures that have embraced the dark side are more popular with the entertainment industry, including books, is that we retain enjoyment of a certain dose of our childish fears, those we indulged in knowing that mummy and daddy would keep us perfectly safe. What keeps us safe as adults is the certainty that we’re watching/reading fantasy.
    On the other hand, I concur with Martha about unconscious aspects of our psyche that some of us embody into these tangible creations. Also, isn’t there always the feeling that our perception is not fully developed and that there might be other worlds and creatures in our midst? I guess the combination of all the above makes for the attractiveness of the supernatural.

    1. Harmlessjoyce (Joyce Elferdink)

      Dear Marta,

      I do believe…I believe there are other worlds and maybe even other creatures in our midst! But then, my favorite genre is science fiction, starting with my first read of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. He created some of the best creatures I’ve ever been introduced to. That brings up the question of what is supernatural vs natural. I suspect creatures like his exist somewhere out there, so wouldn’t that make them natural species of that world/universe?

      If there are living creatures in those other universes, do you think they are good, bad, or just ugly (according to our expectations only)?

  15. Marta Merajver-Kurlat

    Dear Joyce,
    I believe that perhaps such creatures are nearer us than we imagine, only our poorly developed brain cannot perceive them. Science Fiction hasn’t been able to give us anything different from a distorted human or animal image; at best, a mixture of both, with a different, distorted number of physical traits that, finally, are our own. Because we are limited by language, we think of them in terms of our aesthetics. However, should they exist, perhaps they’re made of a totally different substance, one that we cannot apprehend through our senses and intelligence. Thus it would seem as if our expectations, as you so aptly put it, don’t go beyond what we know. Why else would we conceive of cherubs and angels as winged human forms?

  16. Linda hales

    I am incapable of expanding on these fascinating critiques of your essay Joyce. I confess that I steer clear of things that might go bump in the night…coward that I am. Here is what I do observe though. As the fascination with the dark side grows and becomes romanticized, so does the dark side of humanity rear it’s ugly head, showing just how black and evil it can be. What say anyone about the massive increase in multiple shootings and terrorism. And what about the overwhelming increase in crimes and evil perpetuated against children by pedophiles, abusers and the such. Of course they have always existed and yes, the age of communication broadcasts these truths more widely, but does that make the mass media the culptrit in promoting the dark side? I believe that the various media does so unwittingly in it’s mad quest for sensationalism but they will never take any responsibility for it.

    1. Harmlessjoyce (Joyce Elferdink)

      I would connect the dots the same way, Linda, although I’m sure many would disagree with us. What is most fascinating to me is this discussion, not the bad boys/dark side/evil personified. (I do like aggressive, passionate people, but most of the ones I know are closer to the good side…or maybe straddling the fence.) Am I in the minority here?

  17. R.L. Cherry

    It is interesting how evil, “the Dark Side,” is cool. Women are drawn to “bad boys” who get drunk and beat them up. Men shy away from “goody two-shoes.” Even in the musical “Grease,” Danny is “saved” from having to reform from his “bad boy”” character when Sandy sheds her “good girl” ways. Vampires and serial killers are now heroes of movies and television shows. I am expecting the next series with a terrorist as its lead.

  18. Janette Harjo

    I can’t say why more of us believe in Demons than Angels. Maybe it’s a sad thing that we do. I say “we “in the generic sense here, because I, like you, can’t see a bad existing without an equally good. As a Christian, I believe both exist but I would never turn a book away because I believed in one and not the other. Such a decision is nonsensical. As an author, I also don’t agree with an author who would not reciprocate with you in a review because of his beliefs. What kind of an author is that? As authors we need to keep our mind’s open.

  19. Sharla

    You have brought forth a very interesting topic. Belief in angels vs. demons is simply just that. . .what one believes. The basis for that belief varies . . . upbringing, camaraderie, peer pressure, popularity, religion, etc. Many recognize something mystical, magical about demons forgetting that often times they are nothing short of pure evil. Children are taught early on to focus on the ‘good’ and beware of that which is ‘bad’, or evil, but somewhere along the way what was once deemed demonic becomes a source of fascination, such as with vampires, werewolves, zombies, vultures, gargoyles, etc. Angels, on the other hand, are spiritual messengers offering comfort in dire times or providing daily guidance. They are love.

  20. Rosemary "Mamie" Adkins

    Joyce, it seems you have a natural way with seeing things that are of interest to a wide variety of people. I have never been into the supernatural in books or movies but have always wondered about the spooks on the dark side or the angels we all hope take care of us.

    Evil to me exist in more than a made up world of the supernatural but in some individuals with a dark side-terrorist, criminals, abusers and those that just choose to live in a world with spirits of their own imaginations that they act out. It’s true that girls seem to be attracted to the “bad boys” but then the beginning of time talks about forbidden fruit. Thanks for working our minds on the subject. I enjoyed your story immensely.


  21. James L. Secor

    I picked up a book at a garage sale last week, Those Who Hunt the Night, about a vampire who hires a man to find out who’s killing the vampires in town (London). Barbara Hambly. She makes an astute comment when her vampire, Simon Ysidro, says that vampires are driven to live (and therefore driven to life?). They mainly go for the poor and cast off as nobody cares if one of them dies mysteriously and therefore the vampires can remain under the radar. [1988, Del Ray] Her social commentary–the book is loaded with it in this same underhanded manner–might be extended to the vampires who are being killed by people who don’t like them. Which seems to fit in with today’s lovely mass killings.
    Late 18th century kabuki became full of criminals as heroes and evil women as expressions of society falling apart. As the social corruption and violence grew, so did these pop culture figures, becoming more prominent until the Tokugawa Shogunate fell in the mid-to-late-19th century.
    We might even note today that our heroes are violent, sometimes to the point of being difficult to tell from the bad guys. But, look, too, to the outlaws of the middle ages when society was in turmoil. Especially in England with the oppression of William and the Plantagenets. (Robin Hood was not the first.) Later on, the penultimate was the Scarlet Pimpernell.
    Shameless self-promotion: I developed, without knowing it, a nonviolent hero. I didn’t discover what I’d done til I was about 13 stories into the fun I was having with Hellecchino (“little devil”). Terribly satirical episodes. I got sick of the violence; I got sick of US politics; I got sick of meeting Robbie Burns’ men who practice inhumanity to men. So, I made utter fools of the bad guys.
    I think our only non-violent hero, with social commentry, has been Spiderman. Corrrect me if I’m wrong, my arrogance thirsts for battle. Are there others? At the same time, look to the demons and monsters who do good (undo evil)–those outside of cartoons/anime.

  22. Harmlessjoyce (Joyce Elferdink)

    Jim wrote: “As the social corruption and violence grew, so did these pop culture figures.”

    Some other comments also mentioned the increase in the portrayal of the dark side may be a social commentary of our time. My question is whether it’s a reflection or a cause. (I understand that it’s opinion vs opinion but I stand with the latter.)

    Jim also challenged us to name non-violent heroes. I’d like to add to that quest the reluctant heroes. I’m thinking of Matt Damon’s character in Elysium. He certainly wasn’t non-violent and he certainly lived in an ultra-evil & violent time. But Matt/Max didn’t wish to be a hero–just to live; circumstances put him in the center of a mission he couldn’t refuse and live. Wasn’t Max a little of the saint and the sinner?

    If the violence continues to grow in our future–caused by an increase of evil??–will we, the saints-sinners be given the opportunity to be heroes? Will they be offers we cannot refuse and live?


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