Exorcisms Are In. Do Catholics Know It’s 2016?

Saint Francis Borgia performs an exorcism (Goya, 1788)

In case you were bored with the current state of the world, which seems to be slowly morphing more and more into a depressing, low-budget Fox sitcom, perhaps you’d be interested to know that somehow in the twenty-first century, exorcisms are on the rise. On the rise. I’ll give you a minute to read that again.

When I first caught wind of this story, I thought, “Growing? People know demons aren’t real, right?” I mean, I hear of the occasional exorcism from time to time, and now that I think of it, there have been increasing instances exorcisms as a trope in television and film. Are exorcisms in vogue?

Pope Francis may be to blame for this recent interest in demon cleansing. Apparently, one of his favorite talking points is the devil, and he loves exorcisms. Or perhaps the declining state of the world is driving people to such extreme lengths, as they grasp at any possible solution to the misery of reality. After all, believing in the power of exorcism requires a special kind of irrationality. For crying out loud! Some exorcisms can take hours, require participants to be at specific locations, or follow a rulebook called De Exorcismis et supplicationibus quibusdam (Of Exorcisms and Certain Supplications)—and people really believe this bullshit!

But what good does it do for me to talk all day about how the absurdity of believing demons exist, let alone that they can enter your body and control you, requiring only a specially trained servant of God to cast them out? I could go on and on about why this belief is so unrealistic, but that won’t do any good. What is important is why this rise in exorcisms is alarming.

It’s easy to mock the practice of exorcisms, but the truth is that this trend is really scary. There are some real dangers to the actual procedure of exorcisms. Since exorcisms purport to cast demons from one’s body to send them back to the underworld, most approaches use force or violence. Often the exorcised individual can be harmed physically and, every so often, the practice can lead to death. It is also abusive when a child is forced to undergo an exorcism.

So, now what? Just let people keep exorcising? Since I suspect that the leading cause of exorcisms is just your run-of-the-mill ignorance, I think we freethinkers can do a lot to deter people from engaging in this practice. According to the Vatican, one of the ruling factors of determining a procession is if all medical explanations have been ruled out. Just like prayer, some people use exorcisms to give them comfort and provide them with a solution when there isn’t one yet. It might even make them feel like they are purified or closer to God. But the world right now has a lot of people afraid, and religion has been notorious for cashing in on fear. It’s no surprise to me that any religious practice is on the rise, exorcisms included.

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