Nine-Tenths of the Law


While exorcism is certainly no longer as prominent as it once was, it hasn’t died out by any means, and might even be on the rise. This Unreasonable Faith post cites a survey that found a few hundred exorcists operating in North America today in different Christian denominations. Even the people who practice it tend to think of it as somewhat of a last resort, however. It’s apparently also common these days to use the term “deliverance” instead of “exorcism,” and “demonization” (not the same as this kind of demonization) instead of “possession.” While I’m sure this is largely to avoid the popular associations with the words, I would think they’d rather reference a movie where priests save a girl than one where hillbillies rape people.

Another reason given to avoid “possession” is that it implies ownership, and believers in spiritual warfare don’t think demons usually have total control over a person. It’s more like they’re squatting inside, I guess. It’s kind of hard to divorce exorcism from Christianity, as it was part of the religion from its beginning. Jesus and his followers were said to have driven demons out of a whole lot of people. He removes seven demons from Mary Magdalene, and I can’t help but imagine them coming out like clowns from a tiny car. At another time, Jesus drives a host of demons out of a man and into a herd of pigs, which then run off a cliff and drown themselves in the Sea of Galilee.

Doesn’t entirely seem fair to the pigs, but then I eat ham, and Jesus likely didn’t. That physical and mental ailments were caused by demons was a common belief at the time, with Wikipedia claiming that the earliest example of this coming from Sumeria. It appears in many different cultures, and seems to have been adapted by the Jews in the period between the Old and New Testaments. The deuterocanonical Book of Tobit, likely written in the second century BC, has the titular character driving the demon Asmodeus away from his fiancée with burning fish guts.

There’s also some earlier precedent when David uses music to quell the evil spirit that takes control of Saul. When people gained more knowledge of what actually causes disease, demonic possession came to be relegated to behaviors that still couldn’t be explained, as is typical with such things. Then again, are germs really all that much different from demons?

I guess they don’t want to take your soul for Satan, but I can’t say I’ve ever understood why that would be necessary anyway, considering how many Christians think going to Hell is the default setting. I guess Satan likes to give out annoying busywork to his underlings, which DOES sound like a pretty devilish thing to do.

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2 Responses to Nine-Tenths of the Law

  1. I’ve found “being tormented by demons” in a metaphorical sense at least to be a perfectly fitting description of mental illness. Which, I imagine, could be taken the wrong way. I’m neither saying mental illness is caused by demons (at least the popular culture variety) and ESPECIALLY not that people with mental illness are evil or damned or anything like that, world, here me out! But, when you’re depressed, you’ve got a little voice in your head– which, technically, may be one of your OWN inner voices, not a demon’s voice, but still– whispering lies or half-truths-that-can-be-spun-into-lies that you’re no good and you’ll never do anything right. If you have addictions, it’s because the little lying voice keeps telling you YOU CAN’T POSSIBLY LIVE without doing what you’re addicted to doing; OCD the voice keeps pushing you that everything must be perfect or something terrible will happen; if you’re a homicidal maniac the voice is telling you to KILL KILL KILL…. BASICALLY what I’m saying is, it’s a bit like the little cartoon angel-on-one-side, demon-on-the-other, and your demon is constantly trying to trick you into believing lies so as to make you not live up to your potential– if your demon’s got a particularly good grip it’ll wreak havoc on your life and YAY, it says, MY EVIL PLAN IS WORKING. It’s just very FITTING, evil and lies being interlinked and all. So I can actually see the link here. Perhaps demons ARE actually a scientific neurological disorder, but that doesn’t stop them from being evil. But then, this is just how I think– metaphors are just another kind of Truth to me.

    • Nathan says:

      Yeah, I can certainly understand how people can FEEL like they’re being tormented by foreign intelligences (i.e., demons), even if those voices really come from inside their own heads.

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