Saturday, February 5, 2011

Readers Write (about Euteneuer Story): "I'd Like to Investigate the Growth of Exorcism"

Again, fascinating discussions taking place here in the past few days on the threads discussing the Euteneuer story.  And as with the previous posting in which I lifted material from the comments section to the blog, I think some of this discussion is so important that it deserves wider attention.  And so I'm excerpting the following pieces from yesterday's discussion of Matt Abbott's "final word" on the Euteneuer case.

The topic here: exorcism.  Exorcism and the fascination it seems suddenly to be exerting for many Christians of the right, Catholic and non-Catholic.  And both in the U.S. and the world at large.  Why is this happening?  What does it mean at a fundamental level, re: what some churches are making of themselves as we enter this postmodern moment?  What goes it portend for the future?

In my view, one of the most important aspects of the Euteneuer story is the backdrop of exorcism, which--in both his own telling of his story and that of his former friends and associates--plays a significant role in what happened to him.  This exorcism phenomenon (and its links to right-wing politics around the globe) deserve careful attention.  I hope the following snapshots provided by several skillful readers (with one interjection by me) is useful, in jump-starting such a discussion.  (And see the very important discussion Colleen Kochivar-Baker has already initiated at her Enlightened Catholicism blog.)

Brian: I'd like to investigate the growth of exorcism in recent times. It's not restricted to Catholicism; Sarah Palin is associated with some bizarre movement centered on defeating demons around the world.

I have noticed that Rome's chief exorcist, Gabriele Amorth, has been getting more publicity in recent years. According to his book written in 2000, "A curse can originate from such things as maledictions by close relatives, a habit of blaspheming, membership in Freemasonry, spiritic or magic practices, and so on."

Loiusiana governor, convert to Catholicism, and one-time (still?) Republican Party rising star Bobby Jindal made multiple contributions to the odious New Oxford Review. His most well known piece was about an exorcism in which he was involved. Maybe it's a Louisiana thing - voodoo and all that abounding there (so the movies tell me).

Then there's the case of the US Catholic bishops meeting in Baltimore recently to get exorcism training and make a call for more exorcists:  

Colleen: Brian there seems to be a sub category of personality disorder, sort of along the same lines of Disassociative Identity Disorder, (multiple personality disorder) that does respond therapeutically to religious ritual.

African and South American Shamans, unlike the Roman Catholic priesthood, freely explain that in dealing with 'possession' they use a great deal of theatre to enhance their suggestions. The idea is to present a believable environment for the patient to tap into their own sources to deal with their own issues. And this same process seems to work on the attached personality, almost always human, who shares the same culture. The Catholic paradigm says this phenomenon is exclusively the result of Satan and his demons, when in practice it's almost always a human entity which has failed to fully transition after death. In other words it's more of a haunting than a demonic possession.

This sudden fascination with exorcism in both Catholicism and the New Apostolic Reformation, of which Sarah Palin is a card carrying member, is akin to using a religious based drug or hallucinogen. It can be just as mind altering and just as damaging---far worse than any Ouija board. 

My input: Excellent points, Brian. As you say and as Colleen's insightful reply also stresses, there's an intersection between the exorcism story in Catholicism and the influential New Apostolic Reformation movement of which Palin is a member.

And so, we're discussing a topic with significant political ramifications when we discuss exorcism. If this Euteneuer story opens any important doors, one of those is, it seems to me, a door to a discussion about exorcism.

Why has this subculture of demonic fixation suddenly begun to thrive in the Catholic church in recent years, as if we're back in the 15th century? What are its connections to right-wing political movements? If it does have such connections (and it does), why are those movements promoting this fixation?

And what does it say about us as a church that we've brought the church here--to this exceedingly low point, to echo you in another comment--a half-century after Vatican II? I'm frankly very ashamed of the Catholic church these days, when I read the Euteneuer story and realize that he doesn't bear responsibility alone for his downfall: it was we American Catholics who propped him up, made him a rock star and a guru. And his fall is our fall, too.

And I'm ashamed when I read the editorial in the NY Times today noting how low Justices Scalia and Thomas have gone with their judicial attempts to cater to wealthy elites and cross legal lines. I don't forget--not for a minute--that both are Catholics, as I read this editorial.

Felapton: I can think of several reasons for the burgeoning mania for exorcism. Much of modern religion has moved to screens, TV like EWTN and at the front of mega-churches, and exorcism makes for exciting TV; you can only show plastic statues and potted plants for so long. The Church's incessant Enlightenment-bashing has given people the impression there is something authentic about medieval nonsense, the more nonsensical the more authentic. Preaching the gospel is hard and waving your hands around and screaming incoherently is easy. In practice, exorcism is an excuse to talk about sex, especially the more exotic kind; have you noticed that the demons are unusually pre-occupied with things that still can't really be discussed at the dinner table?

But I think one main cause is the increasing marginalization of the humanities in secondary and post-secondary education. People who have Dante and Milton on their bookshelves can't help but laugh at Euteneuer.

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