Throughout the ages, people’s ideas about human nature were mainly influenced by religion. Our beliefs about the condition of the soul and the causes of suffering and happiness were mostly a function of the current religious creeds. For most of the population, lay ideas and ideologies had only a marginal influence on these themes. The situation has changed radically in the course of the last two centuries. Today, for most people in the Western world, the influence of religion has receded drastically, giving way to a variety of lay social and psychological views on human nature and goals. Popular versions of the prevailing psychological theories have attained a vast influence over all areas of life. Popular psychology has also penetrated into the way people talk with each other in intimate contact or to themselves in their secluded moments. “Psychologese” is a common language in the family, at school, and at times, even in business and politics. And yet, in spite of the depth of this transformation, we shall argue that some of the themes and habits of thought that characterized religious discourse also pervaded modern psychology, especially in the forms that are most appealing to the general public. In particular what we shall term the demonic view of human nature greatly influences psychological thinking and practice and determines much of the impact of this thinking on the public. We believe that the psychological version of the demonic view allows psychotherapists and consumers of popular psychology to
engage in thought patterns that in the past involved the belief in witches, Satan, and demonic possession. In this chapter, we describe the psychodemonic view that we regard as the psychological counterpart of the religious variety of demonic thinking. We shall also describe an alternative view on human nature, which we shall term the tragic view. The two views deal with the problem of suffering: The demonic view postulates that suffering comes from evil qualities or intentions. Evil can be manifested as abuse, neglect, perversion, greed, or various forms of harmful conspiracy. “Tragic” is opposed to “demonic” in the assumption that suffering is inseparable from life. Suffering does not require an explanation in terms of an external specific cause. Suffering is but the feeling side of human fallibility, vulnerability, and mortality.