August 2012

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Aug. 4th, 2012

Exorcism, Demonic Possession, and The Aurora Shooting, An Ongoing Conversations

For the past two weeks there's been a discussion regarding whether the Aurora shooter (his name left off intentionally thanks to a interesting suggestion from Steven T. Abell http://www.patheos.com//Pagan/Wallowing-Obscurity-Steven-Abell-08-02-2012.html) is possessed. I have been reading the articles but trying to hold back from writing anything in the conversation. There are some very good and talented bloggers who have thrown their two cents in. They've brought there perspective to the table, and it's taken me some time to realize that while I appreciate their writing there perspective is not a better articulated version of mine on this occasion. I actually have some considerations that I haven't read yet. I was still hesitant to write and post my thoughts on this topic, but it seems all my other ideas on what to write won't come out until I've dealt with some of my concerns on this topic.


I have several problems with the Catholic version of possession and exorcism in general. I think Jason Pitzl-Waters explains very well in his article, “Why We Should Reject The Demonic Possession Narrative” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/2012/07/why-we-should-reject-the-demonic-possession-narrative.htmlrejecting, why an exorcism narrative considering Catholic possession is dangerous to minority faiths, especially an that practice magic or divination. He sums of my feeling of foreboding generally regarding both accusing people of demonic possession and exorcisms. Pitzl-Waters as always gives lots of connecting pieces that show the many different ways this practice and the attitude it demonstrates is dangerous in he present in the west and in other parts of the globe. To name one more, I'd like to point out the case of Anneliese Michel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anneliese_Michel and how these good intentions to drive evil out can and do directly hurt or kill the people they are trying to help.


While I admire Pitzl-Water's work and find his article well written and informative, I don't find it applies as directly to the Aurora situation as I would like. There is no question that the shooter is guilty of terrible crimes, unlike his examples of innocents who've been hurt through Christianity's hunt to destroy a perceived evil. There is definitely evil going on in the shooting of innocent Aurora movie goers.


I found Mark Shea's response to Pitzl-Waters' article titled “Interesting Conversation about Demons” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markshea/2012/07/interesting-conversation-about-demons.html

hostile, aggressive, offensive, and intentionally obtuse but it had one specific excerpt that speaks towards a difference between the other connections Pitzl-Waters makes and the current conversation regarding the Aurora shooter. Shea writes “Seems like the sensible thing, when confronted with an obviously demonic act, is to ask people familiar with the phenomenon of the demonic (ie. exorcists) if there might be a reason to do an exorcism.”


To be clear: I don't agree with Shea that there is need to look into exorcism or possession but I do agree with him that the presence of a violent, cruel act we do not understand committed by a person who seems to have been fairly ordinary until this point is jarring for society as a whole. It's not something we understand right now and are struggling to come to terms with. Accusing this shooter of demonic possession is difference specifically because of the the evidence of violent crimes and this aspect of the story is not covered in Pitzel-Water's article.


So here are my additional reasoning to reject considering demonic possession in the case where an evil act has been committed.


First, if one is possessed by demons or under demonic influence then one is in theory not in control of his or her actions and therefor not guilty of any crime. I have a hard time coming to terms with releasing someone from responsibility for an attack that was so clearly premeditated and thought out. Even if the man had a psychotic break of some kind this sort of planning (from how he executed shooting to how he booby trapped his house suggest both that he had an intent goal and he knew others would try to stop him). I would and do reject the idea of demonic possession simply because I believe he is responsible for his actions and possession would liberate him from any form of that in a way even mental instability would not.


Second, we've only just scratched the surface of the Auroa shooting. We know what happened, but we're still trying to piece together why it happened and what to do regarding what happened. There is real, honest, and solid investigations going on that to me, need to be exhausted before we turn to the supernatural. Why are we jumping to the unseen when we haven't finished exploring the tangible?


The opening of Fr. Dwight Longenecker's article “The Aurora Murders and Demonic Possession” (http://www.patheos.com/Catholic/Aurora-Murders-Demonic-Possession-Dwight-Longenecker-07-24-2012.html) is offensive to me where he takes urban legends and common technological failings and holds it up as proof to consider demonic possession. I reject even considering that a fictional character, the Joker, has demonic influence that may have killed Heath Ledger and now influenced another person. I reject that a suicide which happened after Ledger starred in a Batman movie and the shooting which unfortunately took place during a showing of a different Batman movie could in any way be connected via some supernatural evil that feels what, kindred perhaps, towards the persona of the Joker.


Worse Longenecker goes on to ask rational thinking people to consider possession because: “There was a weird phone message with bizarre guttural voices and moans.” Welcome to every stereo typed horror movie or supernatural thriller that involves possession or communication with the dead/ the otherworldly. Static or some form of signal interference or background noise clearly indicates something “other” being present and every time I have bad reception I should consider whether there's something rotten in the state of Denmark so to speak.


I'm being snarky and sarcastic, but I seriously do wonder about the stability of people who suggest otherworldly evil on these terms and who ask others to consider it. When Mark Shea derides others, specifically Pitzl-Waters and his pagan audience, for not keeping an “open mind” to possession based off of the evidence Longenecker presents, I can' help by goggle a little. Whatis there to consider but that some people would prefer to consider anything other than the idea that ordinary people can and do horrible unexplainable thing?


Beyond entertaining an absurd idea simply because it's one the United States majority faith wants us to, what is “sensible” in contemplating possession? Beyond that, the exorcism that Shea wishes the state would do if necessary (but as we aren't “civilized” enough for that he urges a grieving family to pursue tat end), brings us to unpalatable outcomes. It could easily lead to a possibly traumatizing/deadly results for someone who's mentally unsound. Or, if the USA were as “civilized” as Shea wishes, it could lead to a priest lighting incense, chanting/praying and releasing a sociopath back out into society. I bounce between the two extremes because we do not know why the shooter did what he did or what his mental state is. I only see bad possibilities going down this road though regardless of the surrounding details and therefor see no reason to consider possession. I am truly baffled as to what Shea and other Longenecker supports wish to gain in pushing a demonic agenda on us.


The third reason I reject a possession narrative is because of where it will lead. By this I'm asking: What will we do if we decide the shooter is possessed? Do we respect that person's right to participate or not in religious rituals as he may not agree to an exorcism, or do we steam role him because the “demon” is controlling him? Do we allow the man to have an exorcism and then release him back into the world or is this a practice only for his spiritual good where he will remain in prison either way. How can you be sure his motives to agreeing or disagreeing and do those motives matter? If the shooter really was possessed how did it happen and after exorcism how do we keep an already weak man from falling victim to evil again and doing something equally terrible?


If the shooter is deemed incapable of making a yes or no decision, do we turn that control over to his parents? Do we have to stand by and watch groups exert pressure on the family for the rights to exorcise their son? Will we see if they crumble to a false promises of returning the quite smart kid they loved to them if they would just let them kick out the evil that controls him now? Will they parade out a panel of “experts” they have that include both priests as well as doctors and psychologists who will pretend there is good science here as well as spiritual healing? That's cruel and manipulative in the highest degree. Even if one can't get worked up about the trauma the shooter might endure, who's cruel enough to do that to a family that's grieving and reeling from shock?


What part does the state play in this whole possession narrative scheme, and if they allow for this, what does it say about other minority rights? I know we're talking about a violent offender now, but if the Catholic church can make a case that static and the possible involvement of a fictional character makes someone “possessed by evil” and in need of an exorcism, then what other activities would be enough to qualify one to be “possessed by evil”? I don't want my country to begin sanctioning one religion's world view of evil or possession even if it's only in the case of someone who commits a violent crime. It's a slippery slope I'd just as soon keep off of.