Exorcism Versus America’s Naïve Movie Industry (alternative movie review: The Rite):
Demonic "possession" is not necessarily a phenomenon that must be based on Christian beliefs in the supernatural; because to be "possessed" is to be unduly "influenced" by that which is not in the self's best interest. If you believe in deliberately created lies fed to you by a secretly funded think tank, and you vote for someone who misrepresents his real aims—then technically you are "possessed" by influences inimical to your best interests. Plenty of people are potentially possessed of false beliefs. And therefore exorcism is not some lost and outdated art. It is in need more than ever, and not by the Catholic Church so much, as by the body politic at large.
Exorcism Versus America's Naïve Movie Industry (alternative movie review: The Rite):
By Thor Thader
"Man ... can ... surmount all his real enemies ... but does he not immediately raise up to himself imaginary enemies, the demons of fancy, who haunt him with superstitious terrors and blast every enjoyment of life?"
Philo in David Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
Evil is real—irrespective of personal belief about religion. 'Evil', a human word to be sure, as all words are, is mundanely defined as that which is harmful. Any creature therefore, man or animal, has a natural vulnerability to various forms of harm—and is therefore subject to evil's influence. Our perception of evil may be subjective, relative or egocentric—but so is the skin on our hide and so is equally the state of our imagination. We can be physically harmed and we can experience fear and anxiety. Therefore "we" believe in the reality of evil.
The question has never been whether evil existed—rather it has been one of to how to explain it in conjunction with an idea of an all-powerful and supposedly beneficent God. So naturally, the concept of a "devil," as counter point to belief in a benign God came along, and continues to work for some. And not too surprisingly such a "motivated" spiritual force has been used to explain much over the centuries.
But "demonic possession" is not necessarily a phenomenon that must be based on Christian beliefs in the supernatural; because to be "possessed" is to be unduly "influenced" by that which is not in the self's best interest (that is to be influenced by something harmful), be it a wound, a disease, or any set of ideas that are delusional or false and that operate against the self 's true values. For example, if you believe in deliberately created lies that are fed to you by a political conspiracy, such as a secretly funded think tank meant to misrepresent facts, and you act on those beliefs, say by voting for someone who misrepresents his real aims—then technically you are "possessed" by influences inimical to your best interests.
The psyche is therefore vulnerable to being "possessed" by all kinds of fallacious ideas and attitudes. This is a perpetual human reality. But this form of possession never seems to be addressed in movies involving exorcism? Why?
Notwithstanding, to say the American movie industry is naïve is not to not realize its capacity for the common elements of a horror story that can be readily summoned up as conjured art. In Michael Hafstrom's The Rite we witness plenty of foreboding effects. In the very beginning there is a camera pan to a lone winged insect amongst the sterility of the clean, clinical laboratory environment, suggesting a chaos of animality—that is as differentiated from a conceived purity of spirituality many people are taught to assume. Also there are feral cats running wild in an exotic neighborhood of a once ancient Rome, scurrying along in obviousness to any kind of intellectualized awareness of human religion or human politics—but still "haunting" the whereabouts of this decrepit place of forlorn solitude and moodiness. Here hides Father Luke Trevant's (played by Anthony Hopkins) monastic-like domicile, in which apparitions of expectant shadow and door creak will eventually appear.
Appropriately, The Rite starts out in a family-run mortuary. Son Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) is debating whether to become a mortician like his father or a Catholic Priest. He is a young, bright, and attractive man and it's time to decide what to do with his life. His grades are good but his father only allows for two options. In this family you either become a Catholic priest or mortician.
From Matt Baglio's novel The Making of a Modern Day Exorcist the storyline is consumed with ideas regarding death and the afterlife—so typical of an undertaker's life. And although mortuaries are typically clinical and clean, they still exude, like the blood leaving the carotid artery via a rubber hose to be replaced with formaldehyde solution, a need to extrapolate meaning to mankind's life on planet earth of the milky-way galaxy against the imminent backdrop of a dead and decomposing body about to become so much humus and dust.
Morticians can be prone to explore the stuff of religion and philosophy, but one doesn't need to read Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death to realize mankind has need to deny the reality of death, even as he frequently denies the reality of many aspects of life.
But being a great myth-making animal he has great capacity to believe in the most insane of all possibilities—including the terrorism of a punishing God, and a terrorism of an afterlife called hell—and especially a terrorism of evil spiritual influences—routinely referred to the devil, demon or Satan.
Yet the word 'demon,' once unmasked, is derivative of Latin 'daemon' and Greek 'daimon,' which once meant spirit in general—neither denoting good or evil—but rather a neutral term. This is to say that prior to Western European cultures being forced into Christianity, and the destruction of various paganisms, by the Roman Empire's Constantine, the Greeks and Romans believed in "many" attentive and protective spirits—some of which were recognized as intermediating agents acting between man and the Gods. Nevertheless the word demon became "demonized" by Christianity, as a co-determinant force to a later evolving authoritarian church, which had "no," or "little," tolerance for belief and allegiance in alternative deities (fanaticism if you will and especially related to monotheistic religions).
Whereas 'Satan' of Judaism, according to The Oxford Companion to the Bible, refers to an "accuser" as an "enemy". For example, in reference to social or political hostility, and especially in respect to potential war, Satan played the role of the accuser, and the deceiver, or adversary, arch-enemy, and the obstructer. He also became the tempter and all around evildoer—evil incarnate. (But do notice his role seemed primarily to be that of some kind of "political" foe—such as when Lucifer was claimed a rebel leader in a civil war within a hierarchy of angels.)
Nevertheless if all one's perceived enemies are to be considered the equivalent of Satan, and truly much of the history of the Bible is about war and civil war, and war-mongering, and assassination, and conspiracy, and political usurpation, etc., then the whole world-view of this Hebrew religion would see Satan everywhere—especially if one could argue that what is evil is that which is considered harmful—in this case as from a particular point of view—as expressed from various historical "personalities" claiming an ethnic or ethical point of view.
But the point here is the devil evolved as a concept of an enemy—and not some supernatural force that twists and contorts a possessed body, or has a supposedly possessed soul curse in ways that seemed demonic and epileptic—that is relative to a naïve laity or a horror movie industry. Satan wasn't spitting out nails like the 16-year-old pregnant girl named Rosaria in this movie The Rite (played by Marta Gastini).
No, Satan was a "necessary" evil used to justify war and usurpation of power and the taking of territory during an earlier history of the Middle East. Therefore if there were no Satan it would have been necessary for the evil nature of mankind to have created him. And that is precisely where we are today in our own politics but we use names like terrorist, radical, and extremist as a more secular explanation. This is a real backstage of an exorcism story would be to ring more true to film consumers being onslaught with film criticisms that suggest today's exorcism movies are hackneyed, so much so, that they have exhausted the subject matter.
Nevertheless many human aberrations were attributed to the devil: ugliness, disease, inexplicable wantonness, crazy behavior, etc. Was not mental and emotional disease once thought to be demonic, and thence rationalized as God's punishment for wrongdoing? Why did it take so long for a 17th century Jean-Martin Charcot to come along to treat the mentally ill as inflicted with illness rather than presuming victims were possessed by a moral degeneration?
And especially why was there so "much" fear associated with the devil in the Christian mind—if not the terrorism of eternal torture in an afterlife as believed as a true and likely reality? Or why hasn't there been a Holocaust Museum created for all the people who were tortured, hung or burned at the stake for what was once thought demonic possession by the psychosis of Christian religions—especially the Catholic Church? What kind of conception of God would require so much fear to "manage" his subjects—and how had such a conception evolved? This we don't much address such questions.
Rather, in a phony Progressiveness, we prefer to believe all religions are equally noble and equally worthy—rather than to acknowledge that some religions have evil built directly into them based on the wording of specific scriptural verses. Those that say, "Can't we all just get along are reliving the same escapist lies as are the fanatics who have reasons why they feel they cannot get along—primarily because there is too much invested in getting it right by being "religiously correct" (RC) as belief system.
This is to ask: "Was it not real "possession" for those frightened people who "were" possessed by ungodly fear and paranoia of being possessed by the "idea" of a demon, and if so seized then forever forced to suffer eternal damnation? This is to suggest the possessed were not those actually tortured and murdered in the name of Christianity but those that adhered to the idea of a supernatural force like Lucifer, as ultimate evil, and such people truly believed in the reality that their soul could be possessed. Were they not in fact delusionally possessed by a frightful and very consequential idea?
The devil of war eventually became the enemy and one whose sole revengeful motive was to steal souls away from the so-called true God so they were taught they would then ultimately suffer in an eternal prison as tortured—that is in a forsaken realm good souls did not go—not all that different from Gulag Guantanamo or Gulag Abu Graib, in which Good Americans can, given media misplacement, forget about debates on prisoners in eternal detention—especially since propaganda about mosques-to-be-built in New York City could sidetrack, as red herring, and "bury" such issues as public trials and human rights of prisoners. An incompetent panty bomber, as frightful scare, seemed to appear out of nowhere, as to the real story we may never know being foreign and all, but nevertheless right on time to change the public discussion.
In the ancient Old Testament there was always a war going on—or so it seems. And even before man was created, according to such a mythology, there had been a civil war right there in the realm of the heavenly palace—get that!—the place that is supposed to be so "safe" from all danger and all threat—yes the human fantasy of the utmost security (Utopia) had in fact a turncoat, a rebel, creating a war of sorts, eventually some angels were deemed heroes or saints while others ostracized in which a hell was created. Yet somehow the very idea of a hell in the afterlife doesn't accord with a wonderful world of eternal bliss beyond. Nevertheless according to the Bible, Lucifer, as a high-ranking angel, had already been plotting. (And it always seems to be about hierarchy and politics doesn't it—kind of like the Chalabi story.)
But to think when you die you might be subject to "more" politics and more psychic conflict? Isn't there already enough potential suffering within an ego and central nervous system here on earth than to be brainwashed to extrapolate such realities of awareness onto another realm of an afterlife? Plus a judgment day presided over with no mention of political guarantees in the Bible like a fair trial or even Habeas Corpus? But why should anyone be skeptical about the politics of a trial especially from religions whose birthing came ultimately from Fertile Crescent?
In somewhat similar manner the U.S. Army has black operations going on today in the Middle East and psychological operations and equally control over the media. The American public could become infected with any of various info-endemic memes, for example, a third-party private company or some other private or foreign influence is paid money, from say from our tax sources (or monies magically lost), to secretly (as in "black" ops) create phony Internet websites to spread dis-information propaganda or claim responsibility for terrorist bombings that could then be attributed to other parties referred to as terrorist organizations (and since there are so many private contractors of various nationalities who would know?). This too would meet the definition of evil—since tax paying citizens are manipulated into believing false realities. In this case privateers play the part of "accusers" and "blasphemers" pointing to certain other enemies as in a "false flag" operation. Meanwhile deceived media consumers are possessed of phony intelligence reports, and then more likely support asymmetrical warfare and special operations missions to bomb and bomb and bomb and thence create more money for ordinance producers and other merchants of death.
It ain't your typical head-spinning demon story in which one raises a crucifix to aim at iniquity. Rather this is a rebel story of the likes of an elderly Gene Sharp and his 93 page guide to topple autocrats From Dictatorship to Democracy. This is not de-possessing a country's fools who believe in simplistic answers to complicated problems—rather this is the pent-up reaction happening at Wisconsin's state legislature where a left with any fortitude has all but disappeared. It is called fight back against stupidity and information abuse even if public employees of unions too ought learn to cut back.
Still after Dick Cheney said "... sometimes you got to operate on the dark side... " Scooter Libby, via his minions in Paul Wolfowitz's and Douglas Feith's OSP Pentagon office wrote up the phony intelligence report for Colin Powell's speech and it was "rendered" to the United Nations to accuse Iraq of WMD and thus to deceive the world body. Meanwhile the NYT's Judith Miller would equally be involved in accusation and a dis-information campaign. (The Valery Plame movie Fair Game omitted the part played by the Neocons' Office of Special Plans.) Certainly we don't want to appear as if we actually realize how much of our politics is influenced by special interests called Zionism—where a crucifix of a label called "anti-Semite" can be erected if one is critical of our supposed foreign policy?
Hence plenty of people are potentially possessed of false beliefs. And therefore exorcism is not some lost or outdated art. It is in need more than ever, and not by the Catholic Church so much, as by the body politic at large. And one would think this would be the superman job of a free and independent news media function—but apparently the mainstream media, itself, is possessed (see Operation Mockingbird.)
Ideally, one merely remove the false spirit of beliefs from a soul so possessed, and give it more accurate information—rather than reinforce deliberately contrived disinformation campaigns. But it is not so straightforward a prospect, similar to not being sure with whom one is dealing.
We know that to exorcise is to "drive" out an evil spirit—in this case the false beliefs that have been fed into a naïve soul. But some people thrive on false beliefs—in fact they look for them and have enormous capacity to want to believe them against all logic. They are not interested in truth. They might say they are interested but only what they want to believe as truth—that is there own susceptibility to naiveté and their own ego personality.
False beliefs or corresponding attitudes can be deliberately planted in the minds of men by well-funded and well-organized propaganda campaigns covertly created to get the susceptible to go along with their agenda. (Fascists did this in WWII.)
Or, for example, you could be fed "officiated" information about some thwarted terrorism plot that really seemed inanely incompetent (yet by the supposedly same competent organization that defied extensive U.S. security and crashed the twin towers), in order to keep the nation under a continuous state of fear-mongering and thus a furthering of a noose of a police state and a surveillance state with more breakdown of Constitutional liberties. (This would be harming of one's own self interests by being indoctrinated with a false spirit of deception.)
Such are the ways of what the concept Satan once meant. But apparently a Hollywood crowd, and especially screenwriters are too thick to sort these kinds of things out, and so we are merely entertained with hackneyed reruns and outworn projects? A troubled soul here, a curse or two there, and of course references to sex, as the Judeo-Christian tradition has always had a problem with sex and other "anima" realities. So when we see a girl spewing profane statements in relation to sex—after all isn't sex one of the devil's favorite pastimes—we can at least identify a type of religion we are familiar—that is one that condemns pleasure. (Nice girls don't do it.) And what was with the young pregnancy in the first place? We are not blaming the devil are we?
It's no coincidence that Halloween invokes every sort of human fear imaginable—from the chain saw massacre to withered and aged bodies groaning in deterioration. Walk through any old folk's home and you will see ghosts in the process of decomposition. The signs of death and suffering are everywhere. Or, better yet, become a professional pathologist and work in the county coroner's office. Then you can be witness the aftermath of murders, mayhem and suicide.
Still nothing excites the mind like the imagination's capacity for anxiety. Psychiatry is an even better subject to study the depth of human fear. And naturally, at least according to Richard Restak's Poe's Heart and the Mountain Climber, some people are more prone to anxiety attacks than are others. Nothing tortures the mind like one's own imagination—especially if that imagination is susceptible to the influence of strange ideas or inculcated religion.
Or read Barry Glassner's The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things (to get an idea of how some in the mainstream media manipulate fears of other people so as to get their attention and push for draconian measures—a must read for those who listen to news stories everyday). Here is a book by a social scientist playing watch dog rendering a serious examination of one of the constant factors of American life—the political and commercial manipulation and exploitation of the human and vulnerable mind.
Fear is contagious. And that is the beauty of using fear to gain power—it works—and it worked tremendously well for ancient religion as well. For example, deeds you would not be able to justify under normal circumstances you can justify if you could brainwash people into believing it is what a sacred God wanted or demanded. How could one question what a monotheistic God had commanded? Elaine Pagels, in The Origin of Satan, says in her Introduction: "... What interests me ... are specifically social implications of the figure of Satan: how he is invoked to express human conflict and to characterize human enemies within our own religious traditions... "
And her curiosity is exactly right—how are religions used justify evil—and it seems few peoples do this so well as fanatical believers of the three Abrahamic religions—namely Judaism, Christianity and Islamism. Pagels work is a very interesting and important on learning how to read the New Testament and an early Christianity's demonizing of Jews. (However we must also remember that early Christians were Jews and Jesus himself was a Rabbi—and although she sees this primarily as Christian spiritual propaganda against the more traditional Judaism it still seems to have been one Judaic sect within against another (even within the context of rebellion against Roman occupation)).
How else could they have justified so much war in the Old Testament and then to claim God commanded it to be?
But what needs to be addressed today is what exactly, if anything, in regard to religious belief, needs to be exorcised in the world at large. Would the world be better off, such as the Middle East, if for example the masses came to believe, that much of the Torah, Christian Bible and Koran is made up from fantasy—such as the story of Moses. (Read the authoritative and highly interesting book by Jonathan Kirsch Moses: A Life to realize no God gave any land to any Hebrews—this idea is a delusion and a fib. It was war-propaganda meant to justify the killing off of the people already occupying that land of Canaan way back then in which supposedly Yahweh commanded the inhabitants to a death—and therefore supposedly made it OK—and no United Nations peace keeping force or Human Rights Watch thence around.) And this psychology of being "possessed" of nationalistic narcissism is still used today to justify the dispossession of Palestinians.
So it is not surprising seminary student Michael Kovak in The Rite should not have experienced doubts about his faith—he probably read more of the Bible than most people do. Yet people should read the Bible so they can see there are plenty of Machiavellian plots within it—and realize that the Bible is a product of "human" minds and politics, and not a distillation of a God's mindset.
Surely there are moral lessons to learn from any religion, and religious study can be healthy, still the Bible is a revisionist version of various revisionist versions of how politics works when people are Ok with the idea that the Political State Is Theocratic. (See Thomas Hobbes The Leviathan for a similar version of the idea of accepting an authoritarian ruler—no matter his style and disposition. He would have been perfectly happy with Hosni Murbarak.)
Therefore the Bible was never Gospel (God's spell) but the spell of some influential humans—as "mortal" spirits wrote arguments that merely claimed to be those of a God. Yet when children are orientated to their respective religious cultures they seldom have the reasoning skills and skepticism to understand how they might be emotionally and intellectually manipulated to believe things that are not only untrue but something work against their own better interests and instincts (yet we don't call various forms of indoctrination possession do we?).
Despite the fact that religions gives meaning and moral sustenance to many believers, it is still a good thing traditional religions are being critically examined with such works as Charles Kimball's When Religions Become Evil and John Shelby Spong's The Sins of Scripture or Kevin Phillips American Theocracy (three of several recent examples), especially since right-wing politics has exploited religious topics like abortion to justify more covert agendas such as the taking from the middle class and giving to the very wealthy. (Religious politics to often is a camouflage to hide motives.)
If false ideas are planted as a kind of psychological blackmail they can be used to possess a nation—similar to various forms of demagoguery and self-righteousness or rigid judgment. But there are no easy answers to religion and how each human psyche operates. Religions happen within the cosmos of the unconscious and the realm of the irrational. Therefore there are no easy ritualistic rites or formulaic ceremonies that one can perform to dispel evil spells.
To attack any enterprise of evil as exorcism is to attack an "oath". The soul is "bound" to an idea and has allegiance to some bond, and it is not necessarily easy to dislodge irrational belief and foolish commitment. For example, some people want to believe that Obama is a Muslim and a danger to the American way of life. Yet if he doesn't close Guantanamo he may be—because this issue is symbolically one of the most important things he can do—even if there is a lot of propagandic resistance. It could be more than symbolic—it could be a first step in turning tide of repression that is infiltrating America. People have again lost hope, and if this promise too is compromised he may not win a second term—people may not bother to vote. (Nevertheless it is absolutely The People that need to make this a key issue—it has to be a grassroots effort—seemingly it needs to happen.)
Yes sir it was "rebellion" and "sedition" that gave rise to a vocabulary of the devil. According to the epilogue of A. R. Allison's translation of Jules Michelets's Satanism and Witchcraft: A Study in Medieval Superstition (1939), he writes: "... It is a prodigious reality that has taken shape in the last five hundred years, ... that Titanic work the church has declared accursed, the vast edifice of the sciences and of modern institutions ... Is there one science you can name that was not originally a revolt against authority? ... [all the sciences, the observatory, museum, botanical garden, school of medicine, every library of modern books] ... these novelties, one and all, were Satanic, no progress ever made but was his guilt work ... Reason, Right, and Nature ... so triumphantly victorious is the new spirit it clean forgets its previous struggles... "
There is a difference between a rebel and a criminal that is self-centered and destructive to the people. People who claim to be experts on demons often don't make such distinctions. They are snowed by mythology that anyone labeled a demon or a rebel is a devil—yet often enough the devil is the one in power and acts as tyrant.
Where are the "Hanoi" Jane Fondas and Daniel Ellsbergs of today? Many people hide in the shadow of silence and wish things will somehow turn out. Sure we have our Michael Moores, Code Pinks, and Ray McGoverns. And what happens to them—they are called the enemy by some. Yes they are despised and cursed but they are also respected and praised by others. There is often no other way to stand for something unless you equally stand against something else. Yet these are the kinds of people that deserve our attention and affection because they at least bother to take a controversial position and advance the national discussion. They at least care enough to get involved.
There are not many exorcists operating today in any real capacity worthy of attention. Perhaps there are pseudo-demonologists working out there chasing puerile fantasies of a beast's mark or looking for the pentagram in a Harry Potter movie but as far as analyzing today's delusions—probably not.
Perhaps we could start with Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul and his equally brilliant The Soul's Religion. Thomas Moore has a way of humanizing religious ideas without slipping into delusional mindsets. Surely if his books were printed into various languages, such as Italian, he would help exorcise some common myths. He's as much a renaissance man as likely to find within the United States.
Still it was not enough to have a rationalist's skepticism like Michael Kovak had in psychologizing away phenomenon interpreted as demonic by others at the Vatican in The Rite. Still h was reluctant to take his final vows to become a priest. But after witnessing the brooding eccentric, Father Trevant (Hopkins), exorcise what seemed inexplicable evil, and then when Trevant, himself became possessed and finally delivered his own demonic name of "Baal" (Canaanite God rival to Yahweh) we see that rationality was not good enough, as he then took his vows, and declined a relationship with the beauty of a journalist Angeline (Alice Braga). As metaphor the story continues the same old "spell" of Judeo-Christianity.
Perhaps Baal, as a rival divinity, was not that bad? As a fertility deity of vegetation he was worshipped by many, at one time or another, even many Hebrews. But eventually he came to depict the concept of "false God" and that was enough to have thousands of enemies slain, and even prophets and leaders condemned. Ahab and Jezebel were killed because they allowed the worship of other Gods within the kingdom. Religious fanatics such as Elijah would not allow freedom of religion and demanded exclusion and ethnic purity.
Yet freedom of religion and separation of church and state are two important American values that seem to differ substantially with Israel today. The fact is there is a Clash of Cultures—but it is not strictly with Muslim countries—it is with the whole Middle East—in which we should be advocating "our" sacred values—that is a separation of church and state in "all" Middle Eastern countries—including Israel—via the State Department and United Nations.
If Israel and other Middle Eastern cultures don't support our values of freedom of religion, freedom in general, and separation of church and state—there is "no" special relationship except a dichotomy that has to be addressed here in America—that is if we ever want to veer back toward freedom and not fall.
Probably there is some kind of God but that does not mean the ancient peoples of the Middle East, or their adherents, will have the last word on such a nature as the noun or spirit of a God. The world has seen enough war and fear due to religion. One can read Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now, to realize that the ego psychology of the Old Testament hardly seems particularly noble. Not that Tolle says as much, but while he debunks the idea of the supremacy of the willful ego his metaphor equally debunks any God figure that stands for as much.
We don't need supernatural forces to debunk creations of the human imagination. While Hollywood continues to crank out fast-action, hard-hitting, death-defying, feat-accomplished movies that require the six million dollar man it really sends the message normal people are not capable of being heroes. Maybe we can seek our enlightenment elsewhere. Such movies may be good action recruiters. And people with low esteem may be attracted to them and want to be heroes even if it means doing things truly dangerous and unwise. It is a phony world with James Bond on steroids. Plenty of today's movies don't require much thought—at least not American ones.
Chris Hedges wrote about the degradation of the American culture as reflected in art, the media and school. And he, as an X-war journalist and theology major knows, war is hell and you don't need to create another one. Nor do you need to have people going into another World War for reasons based on false prophesy.
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