Regulating demons

Perhaps it’s because I’m listening to CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (deliciously read by Joss Ackland) but I’ve been thinking about demons.

I’m wondering about the debates that will happen first in newspapers and then in parliaments around secular, progressive Europe as the issue of exorcism comes up, as it inevitably will. Last year The Economist noted the rise in exorcisms in France and just last month the Guardian reported on the rise of exorcisms in Europe.

It’s going to cause everyone a headache. There will be secular clamouring for the end to such ‘medieval’ practices. There will be calls for bans and laws. There always are. Especially when deliverance isn’t deliverance but really is abuse.

You’ll read pieces titled ‘Like being raped’: three claims of coerced exorcism in the UK and opinion pieces which scoff at the whole thing:

lot of people still believe in demonic possession, and because their convictions are based in mainstream religious faith, we are supposed to take them a little more seriously than other people’s equally strong conviction that grey-skinned aliens stuck medical instruments into them, or that the Royal Family are shape-changing drug-dealing lizards from another world.

After all, even Anglican Bishops get asked for permission to exorcize – we have a State Church which allows for the possibility that there are people walking around the streets who have fallen angels using them as sock-puppets.

One of the main reasons that this will cause a headache for politicians is that the majority of cases will involve people who are non-white. They will be from India, Latin America and especially Africa. Every summer about one kilometre from my house, thousands of Ethiopians gather in a field for public exorcisms. And as The Economist noted

Roughly half of the customers for one exorcist near Paris, for example, are immigrants, notably Africans ready to turn to fee-charging and charismatic exorcists rather than church-sanctioned ones.

And from The Guardian

According to Christianity and Mental Health, a report by Theos, demand in the UK is being partly “driven by immigrant communities and Pentecostal churches which are very open about their exorcism services”.

Ben Ryan, its author, said charismatic and Pentecostal churches, particularly in areas with large west African communities, were advertising “healings” and exorcism outside their premises.

But, he said, “some Christians are sometimes treating mental health issues as if everything is spiritual. So if someone tells a church leader they are suffering from depression, sometimes the response is that everything can be treated with prayer. The extreme end of that is exorcism.”

This will cause a headache for politicians because legislating against a practice favoured by black people can look a little, well, racist. So that will be tricky.

It’s going to cause the church a headache because, once again their belief in the supernatural is going to make them look ridiculous in the court of public opinion. They will say, how rare it is, guidelines for the involvement of professionals will be issued, and professionals who believe in the reality of mental disorders but not supernatural causes will be appointed.

Charismatic churches will have a headache because they will find themselves lacking policies about deliverance ministry and needing to write said policies in a hurry (you should write one).

Demons will cause evangelicals of all sorts some sleepless nights because being evangelicals they believe that when the Bible says Jesus cast out demons, then that actually was what He was doing. They will look at the Pentecostals and wonder they see so many demons everywhere. They should also ask themselves why they see no demons at all and wonder where did all the demons go?

As CS Lewis said:

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.

So one day when a the clamour rises for a ban on exorcisms a lot of people are going to wake up with a headache and it will be caused by demons!

Photo by ChodHound

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