July 08, 2008

Pope's New Exorcize Program: American Franchise

As if on cue, a story has appeared on the WPTV (West Palm Beach, Florida) website about an exorcist working in Florida. His name is Tom Euteneuer, he's a priest, and apparently he's having a five-year episode of "brief psychotic disorder" that has led him to a strong belief in the literal reality of demons.

Interview with an Exorcist
Reported by: Eric Glasser

...Father Tom Euteneuer says he has faced the devil. That he is real. And that he is among us.

"The manifestation of demons can be very frightening, but you never have to be afraid of the devil because we always have the power of Christ to deal with him."

Father Tom, a member of the Palm Beach Diocese, a man raised in Boca Raton and priest who still calls South Florida home, says he has been performing exorcisms for the past five years...
Why, then, was Sergio Aguiar's belief in demons a possible symptom of a mental disorder when we have here someone attaining a degree of celebrity for believing exactly the same thing? Why is it a delusion when a supermarket clerk believes it but a matter of spirituality when it's sanctioned by a church? If the devil and demons and exorcisms are real, then there is no way to preclude the possibility that Aguiar was correct in thinking that his child was possessed even if one disagrees with how he acted upon that knowledge. The only argument against this would be one from authority; the pope and/or Euteneuer are qualified to believe in demonic possession because of their office, Aguiar wasn't. That's pure fallacy, but as there's no empirical evidence for the existence of demons (how tall are they? How much do they weigh?), there's no other basis upon which one can argue this point.
...Pope Benedict XVI has announced his intention to drastically expand the use of exorcism in a way the world has not seen in centuries.

"The Pope isn't inventing anything new," says Father Tom. "And he's not actually bringing anything out and dusting it off. It's always been there. Maybe less practiced than it could be - or should be - but right now he sees that there's a greater need for it..."
Translation: there may be witches hiding under your bed! Welcome back to the 13th century, kids. Lots of things have "always been there" that are wrong, even terrible. Human sacrifice is certainly a time-honored tradition, so much so that the Vatican promulgates an abstracted form of it as core doctrine. The Aryan Heresy, which maintained that Christ was purely divine was suppressed by the early church precisely because doctrine requires the sacrifice of a human being. Transubstantiation is a continuation of this principle; that blood and flesh is from a human being, too. For sane people living in the modern world, though, human sacrifice is an abhorrent thought. The appeal to tradition is also fallacious. Just because it's old doesn't mean that it's right. Exorcism isn't right because it's old; it's wrong because it comes from a rejection of what's known about the world and the substitution of a superstition that asserts the reality of malicious spiritual beings.
Pope Benedict's plan to expand the ancient ritual also has its critics who worry that many people suffering with mental illnesses may be mis-diagnosed. To that end, a spokesman at the vatican's university says a ten-week course would be offered for priests who want to learn how to conduct exorcisms.

The classes would include sessions on rites, how to talk to the devil, and how, they say, to recognize the 'tricks' he uses.

Students would also attend psychology classes to help them distinguish between what the church calls genuine cases of possession and psychiatric disorders such as Tourrettes Syndrome, Bipolarism and schizophrenia.
Wow, a ten-week course that includes a few classes on psychology! How modern and scientific and advanced. Priests must be the smartest people in the world; they can learn enough about psychology in a ten-week course that includes psychology classes to make the decision to reject mental illness as a cause for erratic behavior and subject someone to magical ritual instead of medical treatment. Some people have to spend years in concentrated effort to be considered qualified to diagnose mental illness, but not these black-cassocked geniuses. Ten weeks is all it takes!

We normal folk can't even get a certification to repair air conditioning systems in office buildings in ten weeks. Priests can be qualified to drive the Prince of Darkness out of people's heads in that amount of time. So much for the value of human life.

The man in charge of the Papal Exorcize Program, Gabriele Amorth, claims to have performed 70,000 exorcisms. Jeremy Davies, the leading exorcist in the UK, claims to have performed thousands more in the London area alone. If we extrapolate such figures over the past 100 years, we're left with the stark contention that many millions of people have been possessed in Europe alone. The claim, then, would be that some huge number of people were diagnosed as having something other than a mental disorder and passed on to an exorcist to drive out the demons. I'm not familiar with literature in the field of psychology, so somebody please point out a few published papers or case studies by psychologists in which the conclusion reached is that a patient had been taken over by immaterial entities from hell. Surely such things must exist in peer-reviewed literature with all these millions of cases that Amorth and Davies and Enteneuer have been called in upon.
"Actually, we're in a better position than in all of history to discern and determine what is spiritual and what's not spiritual," says Father Tom.
Based on what, exactly? What empirical evidence exists that demons exist, that they can hop into someone's body and take over their nervous systems? Enteneuer's statement implies that something other than spectral evidence exists for any of this. Even if we take for granted that demons exist, for them to be able to take over someone's behavior necessitates that they change that person's neurology somehow. We could certainly measure such changes. For that matter, if a demon is hanging around in someone's body then that person should weigh more before an exorcism than they do afterward. It should be no great difficulty to determine the average weight of a demon and to quantify the neurochemistry of possession. Has anyone seen the literature published on these studies, or is ol' Father Tom simply blowing smoke into dark places here?
Pope Benedict XVI, say those closest to him, believes believes the devil's influence has grown in recent years through rock music, children's literature, even the internet...
It's a good thing that Papa Benny hasn't found out yet about pistachio ice cream or I'd be out of business! Instead of reason, what do we get from Der Pope? "OH NOES! Kurt Kobain putted hiz demons in teh intertubes!" If this statement had been delivered by a disheveled woman with a dozen cats in her apartment, we'd be suggesting a course of anti-psychotic drug treatment. The fact that men in dresses and funny hats say it is enough for a scarily large number of people to believe in it, too. We're right bak to "rock 'n roll is the devil's music" again.
"When a society doesn't believe in demons, it therefore doesn't believe in exorcism. So, it's really only people of faith who will understand this for what it is..."
No, people of faith believe in it without understanding it. That's why it requires faith. Understanding is knowledge, not faith. In fact, it is only people of knowledge who understand exorcism for what it is — a relic of a time before the dawn of reason and natural explanations for natural phenomena. People of faith are simply the ones most likely to swallow uncritically the assertions of a spiritualist who scares them with tales of the boogeyman.

Institutional crazy is still crazy, and bullshit is still bullshit when it's delivered by a man in uniform.

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