|November 14, 2010
HOW TO CAST OUT THE DEVIL
Read one medical student's perspective
An Associated Press release about Roman Catholic Bishops holding a two-day training session in Baltimore on how to conduct exorcisms (Springfield News-Leader Nov 13, 2010: p. 8A) is astonishing! According to the news story, major exorcisms can only be performed by a priest (not a layperson) with permission from a Bishop, although every baptism in the Catholic Church involves a “minor exorcism.” In this case an exorcism involves casting out the devil or demons by the intervention of the Roman Catholic Church.
What are the signs of demon possession accepted by the Church? The article cites several: when a person is “writhing and screaming,” or is reacting violently “to holy water or anything holy,” or is speaking in a language the possessed person doesn’t know,” or is performing “abnormal displays of strength.” It requires “discernment” by the exorcist to know when to attempt the rite, and the exorcist consults physicians and psychiatrists to ensure that the person does not suffer some physical or mental illness. The Roman Catholic Church even has an official handbook for the rite to guide the exorcist: De exorcismis et supplicationibus quibusdam (Concerning Exorcisms and certain Supplications).
This practice on the part of Catholics and others raises serious questions about what is responsible behavior for religion in the 21st century, and represents a frightening relapse to pre-Enlightenment thinking about the human psyche. No wonder (to quote the article) “skepticism about the rite persists in the American [Catholic] church.” Those among us who are heirs of the Enlightenment share the American Catholic skepticism and therefore seriously question the competence of physicians and psychiatrists (not to mention church officials) who are a party to such a practice. Such a consultancy that results in the approval of the rite surely is not endorsed by the American Medical Association.
It is impossible to escape the roots of superstition and magic that undergirds and empowers the rite of exorcism. Thinking that the world is inhabited by devils and demons belongs to our pre-critical and superstitious past, and has no place in the spiritual care of souls in the 21st century.
Let’s take just one example. Holy water is water believed to be sanctified by a priest. Actually, nothing happens to the water; holy water is not a molecule different from unsanctified water. What has changed is how the water is viewed by those who believe a priest has the (spiritual/magical) power to do such a thing. Put the same amount of plain tap water and sanctified tap water in two different glasses and show them later to the priest; and not even the priest will be able to tell the difference. So how would a demon know which is which?
Demons survive today only in the minds of those who have been unable to escape their naïve past, and groups that practice rites of exorcism are reinforcing the worst aspects of a medieval mentality by pandering to human superstition.
Charles W. Hedrick
Posted by Charles Hedrick at 2:33pm
Hi, Dr. Hedrick,
Presumably the efficacy of the holy water depends on the demon's *belief* that the water is sanctified?