Exorcism is a crime
The Vatican's Father Gabriele Amorth thinks The Exorcist faithfully represents his job as the Pope's right-hand dispeller of demons (both the serpent kind and the scorpion kind!). In the US, where an astounding 40% of the population is said to firmly believe in angels and devils, Father Gary Thomas would steer you to The Rite to learn more of his 9-to-5.
Both men are exorcists, a surprising number of which still ply the medieval trade of casting out evil spirits. Both are convinced that demons are real, that possession is real, and that the need for an army of exorcists is both real and growing (even extending to appeals for holy help from non-Catholics, says Thomas). And both share interesting (as in, can't-look-away bizarre) revelations of the workings of their craft: types and symptoms of possession, steps employed in the de-spiriting, and the importance of distinguishing genuine possession from mental illness.
Ahem. About that last item... If, in fact, demons aren't real, then just what are these men doing when they engage in their "healing ministry", as Thomas describes his hour-or-two bouts of Satanic battle? If there is no real possession, then aren't exorcists peddling witch-doctor hocus-pocus of the most gullible sort? Aren't they putting on a show that's indescribably silly?
Much worse, says Brian Dunning of the Skeptoid podcast. Their actions are criminal.
Brian's excellent Skeptoid episodes do their darnedest to carefully weigh claims of the bizarre and supernatural, based on even-handed examination of evidence. But in the episode The Exorcism of Anneliese, Brian wastes no words in slamming the medieval idiocy of exorcism and its tragic effects on people needing actual medical care for mental disorders.
Today doctors can look at cases like Anneliese, and though we cannot make a reliable diagnosis without an examination, it seems clear that she suffered from a variety of conditions including dissociative identity disorder (formerly called multiple personality disorder)...
Thus, the Catholic exorcism rite remains contemptuous of basic ethics and any pretense of considering the patient's welfare to be important...
Hundreds of professional exorcists walk among us, today, seeking critically ill psychiatric patients upon whom they can shout charms and sprinkle water. Many of these cases recount shocking tortures. Drownings, crucifixions, burnings, stabbings, all in the name of exorcism, and most to innocent children or the mentally ill.
Brian also points an accusing finger at the Hollywoodization of exorcism, and our own complicity in anointing a new canonical film monster to keep us entertained for a couple of hours at a time.
Filmmakers have exploited these victims to make not just The Exorcist, but a slew of other copycat films based on specific individuals, including Anneliese. Every time Linda Blair's head spun around, or she spat green vomit, we laughed and had a riotous old time at the theater. Would the same movies have been made exploiting the victims of other true-life crimes, and would we have laughed at the depictions of those actual victims in their dramatized death throes?
Yikes. That one strikes a bit close to home; there is a certain attraction to the movie depiction of holy action-hero priests battling invisible monsters, even for those of us who find the supernatural bit pure fiction. It's fun until someone more thoughtful reminds us that, away from the big screen and the popcorn, real people are being hurt:
Exorcism is a brutal, heinous, medieval torture ritual justified only by ignorance. Its roots as a religious rite are irrelevant; a crime is still a crime.
Amen. Let's do what we can to banish exorcisms (and all harmful juju) to the realm of escapist fiction only. Thanks for the wake-up call, Brian.
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