demons

The Atlantic dares to ask if exorcisms (and thus the supernatural) may be real after all

The Atlantic dares to ask if exorcisms (and thus the supernatural) may be real after all

Five years ago, I had a chance to eat lunch with the late William Peter Blatty, an articulate Catholic apologist who won an Academy Award for turning his novel, "The Exorcist," into a stunning Hollywood screenplay.

Yes, I called Blatty a Catholic apologist.

Why? In part because he viewed his masterwork as a vehicle for criticizing this materialistic age. Here is a chunk of that column, in which Blatty explains his motives. In “The Exorcist”:

The fictional Father Damien Karras experiences paralyzing doubts after his mother's death. Blatty was typing the second page of his earliest take on the story when he received the call that his mother had died.

"I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a statement that the grave is not the end, that there is more to life than death," said Blatty, in a Bethesda, Md., diner near his home, not far from the Georgetown neighborhood described in "The Exorcist."

After studying the explicit details in the journals of exorcists, he decided that a story about "what happens in these cases could really be a boost to the faith. It could show people that the spiritual world is real."

The bottom line: "The Exorcist" scared the hell out of millions of people. 

This brings me to the feature story in The Atlantic that stirred up lots of online conversation over the weekend, the one with this haunting double-decker headline:

American Exorcism

Priests are fielding more requests than ever for help with demonic possession, and a centuries-old practice is finding new footing in the modern world.

A serious piece of journalism on this topic faces a big question: How much space should be dedicated to the views of people who, well, think demon possession is real? As Blatty noted, it is impossible to talk about this topic — exorcisms — without debating evidence that the material world is not all that there is. (Click here for a Rod Dreher discussion of this angle.)

Toward the end of this long feature, reporter Mike Mariani offers this summary of what he was seeing, hearing and feeling:

Pore over these spiritual and psychiatric frameworks long enough, and the lines begin to blur. If someone lapses into an alternate identity that announces itself as a demon bent on wresting away that person’s soul, how can anyone prove otherwise? Psychiatry has only given us models through which to understand these symptoms, new cultural contexts to replace the old ones. No lab test can pinpoint the medical source of these types of mental fractures.

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Mirror image time again: So Florida pastor went to a 'demonic' President Trump rally? (updated)

Mirror image time again: So Florida pastor went to a 'demonic' President Trump rally? (updated)

Every now and then, I like to write what I call a "mirror image" post. The basic idea is that you take a current news story and change one detail that flips the perspective around. Up becomes down, left become right, GOP becomes Democrat, etc.

The goal is to try to imagine how some elite newsrooms would have covered the mirror-image story, in contrast with how they covered the story that is making real headlines in the here and now.

So, in this mirror-image mode, let's go back four years. Pretend that it's the Barack Obama era and the president is holding a Florida rally to urge his base to back his agenda for the new term.

The pastor of a local church -- a single pastor from a normal church -- goes to the rally with his daughter and finds the attitude of Obama fans a bit unnerving, a bit too worshipful. Maybe there is language and symbolism in the rally that is worthy of that Obama Messiah website that collects material about Obama supporters comparing him with Jesus.

This pastor goes home and writes a Facebook post in which he opines that, instead of being a wholesome civic lesson, he thought that this rally was an ugly spectacle in which "demonic activity was palpable."

OK, here is the mirror-image question: Would this one Facebook post by this one ordinary pastor in which he voiced a strong opinion about supporters of President Obama have become an international news story?

I ask this mirror-image question because a journalism friend of mine who now lives on the other side of the world -- not a Trump fan by any stretch of the imagination -- wrote me when she saw this headline in The New Zealand Herald: "Trump rally: 'Demonic activity palpable' says pastor."

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