Magazine article The Humanist

Exorcism Lives!

Magazine article The Humanist

Exorcism Lives!

Article excerpt

Devils, imps from hell, demons, and others of such ilk have had a tough time lately--and things can only get worse for them. Until the 1960s, they could carry on their satanic responsibilities with almost no interference because there simply weren't enough exorcists to get the job done. The shortage meant that people could be possessed by the devil (or his or her buddies) and had to struggle without any chance of rescue. They suffered by growling like animals (experiencing a profound change to gutteral speech), exhibited violence toward loved ones, spoke in unknown languages, emitted a foul aroma, and changed in many, many, many other ways. Not only individuals but entire families might be affected and experience levitation, spontaneous movement of objects, and the appearance and disappearance of animals. Truly, ugly stuff.

Why weren't there enough exorcists? Because you, I, the person on the street--we all thought the notion a crock, so it made no sense to provide them. But wisdom comes to us from an unlikely source. The 1973 movie The Exorcist exposed us to the dangers that threaten us: that Beelzebub's minions might at any time inhabit our bodies and produce incalculable harm and misery. Hollywood, understanding the significance of our danger, spread the word through hundreds of follow-up movies in which negative spirits were exorcised and the spiritually enslaved became free. But despite increased awareness there still weren't enough exorcists to cope with the growing demand. (The re-release of The Exorcist last year exacerbates the shortage.)

Never let it be said that religionists shirk their responsibilities when it comes to fighting the devil. In addition to fighting war, poverty, famine, abortion, same-sex marriage, and the rest, certain religions have risen to the challenge by providing more exorcists. In Chicago, Illinois, the Roman Catholic Church now has a full-time practitioner of that ancient skill. In New York, there are four, including a chief exorcist. Some of you perhaps chuckle at this. After all, Christianity is an ancient religion and if it persists in following hoary beliefs--oh, well. However, the Vatican in 1999 released revised exorcism procedures, believing the danger is real and current.

Still, the church approaches the problem from a rational perspective: it no longer accepts mere claims of possession or peculiar behavior as sufficient grounds to make the case that a demon inhabits the victim. Each alleged claim is carefully examined, and physicians and psychiatrists must attest that there is no medical explanation for the evil actions presented for consideration. Because of its concern, the Vatican has lately required that only bishops can give final approval for an exorcism.

Some people improperly conclude that exorcism is the exclusive province of Catholicism. …

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