Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Devil Made 'Em Do It

According to recent Catholic news sources, exorcisms are once again on the rise in the United States. According to two popular exorcists, Fr. Gary Thomas and Fr. Vincent Lampert, they can "hardy keep up with the demand".

The two priests claim that the rise in demon possessions are influenced by things like pornography, drug addiction and the lack of competent mental health care in the US. They also have stated that an increase in public interest in Atheism and Paganism are " a doorway to many possessions".

Valter Cascioli, a psychologist and 'scientific' consultant to the Vatican endorsed International Association of Exorcists is quoted saying," It is dangerous to underestimate a phenomenon that is caused by the direct actions of the Devil, but also by a decline in faith and values." He also went on to qualify his observation by saying it was important not to confuse diabolical possession with psychiatric illness. Only one percent of people claiming to have problems with demons have real need of an exorcist", citing that they had "violent reactions to prayer of liberation and to holy water."

Reading this article from the Telegraph brought out the counselor in me, because what Dr.Cascioli didn't mention in his assessment is the fact that some psychotic individuals are extremely sensitive and reactive to sound, tactile sensations, and the power of suggestion. Imagine what is going through the mind of someone who is experiencing a mental disorder where thought, reason and rational perception are distorted. Add to that the disturbing and frightening elements of being surrounded
(and possibly restrained) by several individuals engaged in a ritual frenzy which features hysterically shouting epaulets about evil beings and demons and anointing them with holy water and oil against their will. For someone with that level of mental illness, it's an emotional train wreck that borders on the abusive. More likely than not it would cause them to admit to anything suggested just to make the others leave them alone.

Those in the field have also pointed to the rise in popularity of interest in the Occult ( which they label as 'pagan activity') such as using talking boards 'to summon the dead', failure of the mental health care system, a spiritual void in the lives of Americans, and the diminishing authority of the Church. They blame popular culture for being a gateway that lets Satan into society through sin.

But the hardcore, conservative clergy backpedal their comments when pressed for further explanation of how these things actually work in regard to demonic possession. They rely not on scientific or spiritual research, but regurgitate what the Church has been habitually saying since medieval times- "The Devil made them do it". What a nice little piece of scapegoating by a clergy who have failed to retain membership and control over the members who remain in recent years. Sounds to me like a denial of responsibility by an outdated religious hierarchy being rejected by enlightened people of the modern age.

The reformed edition of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications is a document of litany and ritual used by the Roman Catholic Church regarding demonic possession. The new edition actually warns not to confuse mental illness with possession by evil entities. It removed descriptions of Satan that conflicted with Church dogma ( and sounded down right silly to modern society). Vatican guidelines state several supposed signs of a person being possessed after the elimination of medical explanation have been exhausted: Speaking in an unknown language, revealing things that are far away or hidden, and demonstrating physical strength beyond the norm for the age or health of the individual in question. Included again is a warning  that "these signs are only an indication" and may not be the work of the Devil.
At this point, may I interject that this sounds exactly like what  Pentecostals and Evangelicals refer to as "being of the Spirit of God", a spiritual practise which includes 'speaking in tongues (glossolalia),prophesying, and other spiritual feats-all of which are hallmarks of their faith tradition. I have witnessed charismatic Pentecostals stopping mid-service to engage in a 'deliverance'. The most rabid of the lot find Satan hiding behind every tree and attribute even the slightest misfortune to him.To their minds, nothing happens by chance;everything is either the Lord's doing or Satan's.There is no middle ground. Satan influence Eve to manipulate Adam into from the Tree of Knowledge and thus doomed mankind. Personally, I don't think this illustration speaks very well about God's first human, who looks pretty gullible,weak-minded and reflects poorly on Himself as a Creator. Their literal belief in this event has been comprehensively examined by both Jewish and Christian scholars who agree that it's a moral story meant to underscore the superiority of God oven Man.

It's also a mindset which rather conveniently excuses Christians of any responsibility for their behavior because,"God's in control".

While there are things that are beyond our control, those things are not necessarily caused by the Devil and his minions. Electricity go out while you're reading Scripture? It's a breech of the electrical grid and not cause by a nefarious entity. Sleep through weekly Bible class? Your body needed rest or you ate something that jacked up your glucose level. Car won't start and you miss Sunday worship service. It's more realistically a mechanical issue that requires the attention of a mechanic rather than a priest because you think a demon kept you from worshiping Jesus at your favorite church.

Sadly, this is a world view forged from the fear of the unknown and the "Other", a view which does not joyously embrace the randomness of Life. It is grounded in an obfuscated myth created by those confused by the conflicting attributes of their deity.

As for a 'decline in faith and values', this is nothing new. Numbers in all mainstream denominations have been in a downward spiral through at least the last several decades. Out of all of them, the Roman Catholic Church in particular has had significant losses. According to a 2015 Pew Forum report, the total number of Roman Catholics in the United States dropped by 3 million since 2007 and now comprises about 20% or one fifth of the total population. Much of that is due to dissatisfaction with a church it's members have determined is out of step with the times, and because its leadership stubbornly clings to the belief that they hold sway over parishioners rather than be in ministry together. The stark truth is that many modern Catholics have evolved spiritually and moved on from antiquated dogma. Some in the priesthood stand with their enlightened view, while others still uphold doctrine that is for all intents and purposes obsolete.

What I have cited in this post is verifiable fact regarding the Church's fascination with a phenomenon become obsession, a level matched only by their counterparts in the Middle Ages. Our belief systems have changed so much that it necessary for those practicing extreme Charismatic  theology to come to terms with the fact that the evil in our world is the fault of humans and not supernatural entities. Nor should we finger-point at mental illness which has risen due to lack of available treatment. Collectively, we do bad things to others and ourselves-often in the name of religion. Humans have wrought ruin of every nature upon one another, and it's time we acknowledge that.

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