October 24, 2014

Saturday Ramblings 2.0 — 1/18/14

Rambler__1904Hello, iMonk friends. This is Chaplain Mike and I have asked my good friend Daniel Jepsen to lead us in our weekly clean-up of the monastery. Dan used to be the youth pastor in the church where I served, so I am fully persuaded in his ability to both make and clean up messes. Now he’s senior pastor there. Thus, I know he’s in shape because over at the church he’s been setting up tables, clearing jams from the copier, shoveling snow off the sidewalk, and doing dishes after coffee hour, i.e. the things I used to do. Just the training we require for this shindig we call Saturday Ramblings.

Over to you, Dan…

* * *

Chinese tycoon Chen Guangbiao got a lot of flak about his business card last week.  Undeterred, Chen wants to buy the New York Times or maybe the Wall Street Journal, because “I am very good at working with Jews.”  This should go well…

The Oscar nominations are out.  One of the best picture nominees, Philomena, is being called “another hateful and boring attack on the Catholic Church.” Your thoughts on best picture?

A Planned Parenthood board member has stepped up her promotion of a secular society and her attacks on Christianity; at the same time she declares abortion to be “a sacred gift.”  As Inigo Montoya might put it, “You keep using that word…”

A Tennessee pastor will not face criminal charges for snake handling after a grand jury’s decision.  One church member described the ruling as a great vindication of religious liberty, saying, “To me it violated my right as an American to have my freedom of religion. It shouldn’t matter to people if the Lord moves on me and I feel like I need to take up a six-foot rattlesnake. I should have that God-given right.” After all, surely when Jesus said, “take up your cross” he was thinking of a six-foot rattler.

The Church of England is experimenting with “an alternative liturgy” for people who want to get baptized but do not believe in the devil, sin, or the need to repent. Instead of being asked: “Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?” and “Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbor?” parents and godparents are asked, “Do you reject evil and all its many forms and all its empty promises.” Empty promises?  Really?  Is evil nothing more than false advertising?

The Roman Catholic Church is not downplaying the devil; they are seeing a rise in exorcisms.  The totally non-biased Telegraph reporter notes that exorcisms are, “fabled to rid people of possession by the Devil.”

Meanwhile, in France, twenty-­seven Roma (Gypsies) who were charged with selling child brides and teaching children to steal. Their lawyers claimed that France couldn’t apply its laws because the gypsies didn’t recognize them: “in some cases they [the Roma] were simply following age-old Roma traditions and generally operate outside the norms of society in ‘the style of the Middle Ages.”… “It is very difficult to interpret their behavior based on our own twentieth-century standards,”…“This community crosses time and space with its traditions…”  Why the rather bizarre defense? First Things speculates, “The prosecution was trying, we suspect, to find an objective basis by which to convict the Roma, that is, a way of disproving the defense’s claim on grounds the defense couldn’t contest. Because in a secular and pluralistic society the alternative is saying “This is right and that’s wrong, whatever your culture tells you,” and no one wants to say that out loud.”

Well this is interesting: apparently your view of whether Genesis 1 is “literal” or symbolic depends a great deal on your personality.  The YEC viewpoint is more popular with “those who prefer to take in information via their senses versus via intuition. In contrast, religious believers who see the Bible’s creation story as symbolic tend to be more intuitive.”  Please insert your own snark here.

The Atlantic reported on a Pew survey of how Muslims in various countries thought women should dress.  A (very slight) majority in two countries thought women should have the freedom to choose their own attire.  How comforting.

photo 1-5A New York based satanic church has raised the money to create a seven foot statue of Satan, and hopes to plant it right next to the Ten Commandments monument at the Oklahoma Capital building.  The design features two small children looking up adoringly at Baphomet (representing Satan) , and is large enough that other children can sit on Baphomet’s lap.  Because really, what five year old would be terrified by a seven-foot goat demon?

A British study reports that religious people take less sick days, are less prone to anxiety and depression, and find more meaning in life than non-religious people.  Religious people apparently also have a thicker brain cortex, which I assume is why we occasionally get called “fat-heads”.

Hiroo Onada died Friday.  He was the Japanese WW2 soldier who refused to believe Japan had lost, and kept on fighting for another 29 years.  Only a visit by his former commander in 1974 convinced him. In Japan, he received a hero’s welcome for his tenacity.

Pastor John Ortberg and Professor Bradley Wright have been working on a new app to help users “track spirituality in real time”.  SoulPulse users are asked two questions each day about their feeling about God and their emotional state, and what is happening in their life.  Later, they receive color-coded interactive charts that can show, for example, that one person may be more aware of God after a couple drinks and reading Heidegger by the fireplace, while another might feel closest to God at the end of a good nap.  Wright said one participant wrote in that “his spiritual low was watching his child’s soccer team get creamed by the opposition.”  And really, why wouldn’t it be?

Some horrible medical cases recently have made “brain dead” more than a cheap insult lately.  The Grey Lady has a good summary of what the term means in a legal and medical sense.

Too sad to make a joke about: North Korea is again named the number one persecutor of Christians.  The same report notes, “Officials said a total of 2,123 Christians were martyred in 2013 compared to 1,201 the previous year. Syria had the most martyrs with 1,213 followed by Nigeria 612, Pakistan 88, Egypt 83, Kenya 20, Angola 16, Niger 15, Iraq 11, CAR 9 and Colombia 8. The death total in North Korea is not available due to the extreme difficulty to obtain public information from the secluded country. Overall, persecution of Christians worldwide continues to increase. It is estimated that 100 million Christians are actively being persecuted. The level of persecution may vary from one country to another, but those persecuted suffer from interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ. Millions more face discrimination and alienation. It also notes that “Christians are the most persecuted minority in the world.” Don’t expect the Grey Lady to put this on the front page.

Birthdays today include Peter Roget, of thesaurus fame (did you know he also invented the slide rule and a pocket chessboard?), Daniel Webster (another wordsmith), A.A. Milne, and two of my favorite actors, Danny Kaye and Cary Grant.

Comments

  1. In response to this.

    The Church of England is experimenting with “an alternative liturgy” for people who want to get baptized but do not believe in the devil, sin, or the need to repent. Instead of being asked: “Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?” and “Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbor?” parents and godparents are asked, “Do you reject evil and all its many forms and all its empty promises.” Empty promises? Really? Is evil nothing more than false advertising?

    In our ever changing society the term christian seems to apply to any sort of scenario…. Perhaps we need to find another term to align ourselves with rather than (conservative christian), maybe we need to simply go by faithful or obedient, or perhaps there is an old term we could use? What say ye.

    • Too many words. They should just toss the script, and focus on the dress-up and baby-splashing aspect. If they must have a baptismal formula, make it something like “I now baptize you into the Love and Light, you cuddly-wuddly widdle baby yes you ARE!”

      • MelissatheRagamuffin says:

        My husband like’s Wexel’s proposal. Thanks for the laugh.

        I don’t necessarily have a problem with the alternative wording, but aren’t you supposed to actually be in unity with a church to join it?

        • Well, I suspect it’s different for the Church of England because it’s the established church and therefore is supposed to be available to all English. Don’t forget it can’t cross Parliament and, I believe, Parliament either picks or confirms the Archbishop of Canterbury.

          Elizabeth I (and her advisors) came up with the XXXIX Articles in order to try to find a way to keep both Reformed and Traditional Christians happy with her Church. And those are still at the bedrock of the C of E (not the Episcopal Church which, quite rightfully, tossed them out as not being relevant in America), which means there is a precedent of the government being able to meddle with the C of E anytime it wants. Which means the C of E needs to be palatable to the English people who elect members to Parliament.

        • Most Anglicans are baptized in infancy…

        • I don’t believe the Church of England requires belief in the devil of its members.

  2. I’m intrigued by Chen Guangbiao’s claim to have low carbon emissions . . . I’m trying really hard not to think about what that means.

  3. His gaseous emissions smell like bakery fresh cinnamon buns

  4. I remember the 1974 Luzon Armistice…I was a junior in college. The man’s tenacity is inspiring.

  5. “The YEC viewpoint is more popular with ‘those who prefer to take in information via their senses…’ ”

    My tingling Spidey senses tell me that’s a steaming pile of dookie. I for one among the “Smells and Bells” delegation want nothing to do with Ken Ham, YEC et al.

    BTW, •10 for the Prince’s Bride reference, and welcome aboard (doesn’t mean that I won’t still miss Jeff).

  6. “A British study reports that religious people take less sick days, are less prone to anxiety and depression, and find more meaning in life than non-religious people. ”

    I don’t know how rigorous the research for this study was, but to the degree that it relies on self-reporting and faulty research, it could easily be restated as “A British study reports that religious people tend to go to work even when ill, thus using fewer sick days, because they have a religiously inculcated self punishing work-ethic, are less prone to admit that they are anxious and depressed because of religious inhibitions against acknowledging being anxious and depressed, and say they find more meaning in life than non-religious people do because they are expected to say that due to religious indoctrination…”

    “The first shall be last….”

  7. As an Episcopalian I’m uncomfortable with the experimental alternative baptismal liturgy on one hand, because I believe in the real existence of the satanic. On the other hand, I notice that the wording of the liturgy does not exclude the possibility that the demonic, or sin, exists, but involves a repudiation of evil in all its forms, whatever they may be.

    If this makes it possible for some people who have doubts about the existence of the satanic and are uncomfortable with the way the word “sin” has been used historically, but who nevertheless believe that evil is real and that they should repudiate it in their own lives, to be baptized in a rite that speaks truthfully to their understanding and their condition, then I’m willing to be tolerant of its use.

    Indeed, this rite might be an example of an attempt at a “religionless Christianity,” a Christianity that speaks to and deals with people in a “world come of age,” as Bonhoeffer put it, that has been discussed on this post over the last couple of days

    • That is, on this blog over the last couple of days…

    • David Cornwell says:

      I’m not an Episcopalian, but am very familiar with the baptismal liturgy. Why not just let people interpret “devil” in whatever way they wish, rather than change the words? And, rejecting the devil could entail also rejecting the concept of “devil.” However if one goes very far down this path, then why even bother with being baptized? Without the presence of evil, there isn’t much reason to be a follower of Christ. I wonder what they do with the cross?

      Just wondering.

      • I understand your point, David. And as the rise in exorcism highlights, belief in the reality and activity of the demonic is not on the decline in our world. But in the situation of Western Europe, for many people, some of whom might want to be baptized or have their children baptized, there are many who have a real intellectual, and perhaps ethical, objection to affirming a belief in the devil when they in fact do not believe in one.

        Just to reiterate, as long as the liturgy retains a repudiation of evil, which necessarily involves an acknowledgement of evil, in all its forms, and a vow to reject evil in one’s personal life, I can tolerate it for those who have real difficulty with language surrounding the demonic and sin. As long as the concern with evil is retained in the liturgy, the cross will continue to retain its importance, as will the rite.

        My concern here is in charity to make room for the language that people who are less “religious” than me might use, rather than imposing my language on them. And I’m thinking about this in terms of the discussion that’s been had on this blog over Bonhoeffer excerpts over the last few days.

        • ” Why not just let people interpret “devil” in whatever way they wish, rather than change the words? ”

          Many people who don’t hold traditional views about the supernatural nevertheless are meticulously careful, and “literal,” in their use of words, perhaps because they are not very good at poetry, which seems to be a malady among modern people. To them, such free use of the symbolic and metaphoric would seem like an unethical cop-out, like lying.

        • Yes, very much agreed. I don’t see that people have to believe in a horns + tail devil to understand and acknowledge the existence of evil. I think this might be especially true in the European countries that were directly touched by the very real evils of WWII. Just because someone isn’t fundamentalist in their interpretation does *not* mean that they’re indifferent to something.

          Or, I believe, Lord, help my unbelief. (Etc.)

          • David Cornwell says:

            Good points. Evil, just as Robert F mentioned somewhere above, resides in our systems and is deeply imbedded in many parts of our common life. William Stringfellow, many years ago wrote and spoke about this. The pastor of my church heard him once when he spoke on his campus on the west coast. He said he’d never forget his charged message on “principalities and powers.”

            When that which is ugly and wrong becomes so common, we many times fail to see it, or to recognize it for what it is.

          • ” I don’t see that people have to believe in a horns + tail devil to understand and acknowledge the existence of evil.”

            I agree, numo, but maybe somebody should tell that to the Satanists who want to erect that statue at the Oklahoma Capital building.

          • It’s a publicity stunt, imo.

          • Robert, “orthodox Satanism” doesn’t believe in the existence of the devil either. He is merely an icon to them, a symbol representing the gratification of self (which is, I believe, their highest moral good).

          • Yes, Miguel, I do know that. They like to play on the weak nerve of Christian imagery of Satan, it’s their special way of flipping the bird at Christians.

          • Robert F – I can’t see that their stunt deserves the press that it’s getting. It’s not like they’ve declared the place to be a Hellmouth (a la Buffy the Vampire Slayer). In fact, it seems pretty silly to me.

            Maybe the best thing to do is shrug and move on, because it’s not worth bothering with.

            Come tomorrow, people will be all riled up about something else. Gotta feed the 24/7 media beast!

    • Truthfully, I like the evil line better. I could with perfect honesty assent to rejecting the devil and demonic influences since I don’t believe in them as such (I’ve heard the Satan found in the Tanakh described as the Divine’s prosecuting attorney, which isn’t the way Christianity sees him, and even that I would consider to be allegorical, I believe in one deity, but no demideities either good or evil).

      On the other hand, rejecting evil is something I would need to think about. Yes, I would do it, as I do try to reject evil and choose the good and reflect on my actions to make sure I did that or will do that.

      And yes, evil does offer only empty promises. It may make you feel good at the time you choose it, but in the end, whatever you were looking for either isn’t there or never was. On the contrary side, if you do a mitzvah (roughly, a good deed or act of altruism) it almost always reflects back up on you and benefits you, so it is almost the exact opposite of empty.

      • I *so* love the Jewish understanding of the “satan” in Job. For one thing, the book snaps into very sharp focus when you accept this, for the sake of the literary genre if nothing else.

        I believe evil is real, but can no longer assent to the beliefs held by many American Protestants regarding the devil and demons.

        • “Do you believe in the Devil?”
          “No.”
          “You should. He believes in you.”

          +10 if you can name the movie.

        • Cedric Klein says:

          I’ve toyed around the idea of Satan being symbolic of human enmity to God & each other and demons as symbols of mental & physical ailments, but then again, Jesus spoke of Satan as personal & active, treated demons the same way, and hey, what about Legion & the Gadarene swine? Did Jesus just take his madness & throw it into the pigs?

  8. Intuitive?????

    I guess those of us with education, training, life long work and hobbies in technical areas are just “intuitive” folks.

  9. Regarding the rise in the number of exorcisms: I find it difficult to believe that people dabble in the occult more now than the used to, as the linked article claims. There has always been a strong substratum of occult practices in the life of ordinary people, even in Christian nations, both in the city and the countryside. In Christian nations, such experience of the demonic was addressed through the institutionalized practices of Christianity, and perhaps were less apparent.

    What has changed is that the rise of charismatic/pentecostal Christianity around the world, including Europe to a lesser degree, and the superstitious credulity of a considerable segment of highly secularized people, especially in Europe, has made the whole idea of demonic possession more credible to more people, and so either more real cases of possession are coming to the fore because they are being acknowledged where formerly they would have been suppressed and either quietly dealt with or ignored, or more cases of possession-like conditions are appearing due to the auto-suggestion of individuals and individuals in groups for whom the idea of possession is credible.

    I think we need to be mindful of the fact that many, though not all, modern, highly secularized people who have no affiliation with any religious organization are nevertheless very religious and often very credulous. For some people in the past, Christianity neutralized the credulity that humans are prone to by the very promises of protection against the demonic that baptism, confession and the sacraments contain. This psycho/spiritual prophylaxis no longer exists for many people in Europe and other places in the world.

    It’s interesting how all this relates to the posts about Bonhoeffer over the last few days. I think that perhaps the “world come of age” has many spiritually credulous, though not traditionally religious, inhabitants, something that Bonhoeffer may not have seen or anticipated. Interesting.

    • I remember just post-college a friend of mine was convinced his apartment was possessed. I mean he was scared to sleep there. So, after having him stay at my place for a week or so (platonic, he was gay), I was like, look why don’t I spend a night in your place? He was like, but you’ll be attacked! My reply was, I think you have to believe in the devil to be attacked by the devil (I was Catholic but held to an allegorical understanding of Satan). I stayed at his place, didn’t notice anything weird (other than his artwork) and the next night, we stayed at his place together and after that he was fine with it. I think he just needed a little reassurance and maybe that’s what the exorcisms are for.

    • Oh my, yes. After spending several decades inside the evangelical/charismatic machine, I have to say that a great many so-called xtians are so superstitious that they see the devil/demons everywhere.

      Of course, their belief in some kind of ongoing cosmic battle makes them feel needed, and gives them meaning, because they believe their participation in ongoing efforts to “take back” people, places and institutions is critical to God’s ultimate triumph.

      Am sure you can identify all kinds of problems within the summary I just wrote, and if anything, what you see is actually worse at the grassroots level… Much worse.

    • Charismatic churches are really big in the former SSRs and Soviet bloc countries. There are some real – highly abusive (in one case, resulting in a young woman’s death) cases of “exorcism” in eastern Europe. I don’t have links handy, but one of the cases that rightly got attention in the press happened in the former Yugoslavia. The girl died.

    • If you look at the liturgies for baptism, and the yearly blessing of houses in Eastern Orthodoxy, you find a lively belief in the demonic. The yearly house blessings always include a prayer to remove all evil from a house. However, this is coupled with an equally strong belief that the baptismal exorcisms and the yearly house blessings are effective and protect one against the evil one. The wearing of the cross is also often seen as a protection against the evil one.

      Thus, on the one hand, the Orthodox believer sees Satan at work in many areas. On the other hand, the Orthodox believer sees himself/herself as protected against such a work and able to, in practice, ignore Satan as a defeated foe.

      It could be argued that in rejecting this understanding, “modern” man/woman has opened themselves to Satan’s influence, and even control, without hope of spiritual relief. May I suggest that this is what C.S. Lewis was trying to communicate in his space trilogy, particularly in “That Hideous Strength”?

      • How can a cross be a protection against evil, though? I sure don’t mean to make light of your beliefs and personal experience, but to me, that seems like the cross is being treated like an amulet or talisman – ???

        Interestingly, the cross did not appear in religious art in the early centuries of the church’s existence. It started to become part of the standard iconography only after crucifixion was no longer used as a method of public execution. Much of the imagery that we tend to think of as central to Christianity (in both the east and west) developed and evolved over a very long period of time. Leonid Ouspensky’s histories of icons and iconography in the Orthodox church are terrific resources for this; Western xtian art developed along different lines, though. (I had to study Byzantine icons in grad school; specifically, icons that were created prior to the iconoclastic controversy and hidden in the monastery of St. Catherine at Mt. Sinai for over a thousand years. Some of them are startlingly realistic, as if they were portraits of people the painters knew. Really fascinating, on an artistic level alone.)

        • Fair question. The theological question is whether objects can be consecrated so as to express something of God’s power. In Protestant circles, the answer is a clear negation. But, outside of Protestant circles, the answer is that they most definitely can be consecrated. In Old Testament terms, the question arises when one reads the story of Uzziah being struck dead for touching the Ark of the Covenant. In the New Testament it arises when Saint Paul says that some sleep because they have misjudged the Lord’s Supper.

          First, you must explain those two Biblical citations. If you cannot explain them, then you have a problem. The next step is where you can ask us to justify, and that is the question of whether additional objects can have that same effect. The answer of non-Protestants is that there are objects that can be consecrated such that they have the same effect as the Ark of the Covenant and the Lord’s Supper. We could be wrong on the second point. But, we cannot be wrong on the first point, unless Scripture itself is wrong.

          • I buy the Eucharist being serious business, but can’t accept what you’re saying about objects like crosses. I’m trained in art history, so it’s not as if I’m unfamiliar with icons, reliquaries, etc., but I think, if anything, the people who made them were consecrated, not the inanimate objects themselves.

            You know, you’re leaving out the Anglo-catholic types, who are definitely higher than most in the RCC. ;)

            As for the story about the Ark, that was, imo, then. And even if the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church really *does* have the Ark in one of its chapels over in Axum, I kinda think that the incarnate God supersedes it, no?

          • Anyway, many American Protestants treat the Bible as if it was some kind of magical thing, so it’s not as if people don’t accept the idea – just that admitting it might kill them. ;)

          • cermak_rd says:

            Remember who wrote Torah, it was the priestly class. Whose interest was it to make sure that none but the priestly class touched the Ark?

          • cermak_rd – exactly. The story about Uzzah has always made me feel extremely uncomfortable, for many reasons. It seems like a scare tactic, really.

  10. Regarding exorcism and possession: I believe in the reality of the powers and the demonic. There is no reason why a sober ministry of exorcism, that integrates concern for the physical, psychological and spiritual, should not be the practice of all Christian churches. People often have deep, besetting afflictions in their lives that involve multiple aspects of human reality; it’s appropriate and necessary for Christian churches to address this ongoing experience in all its different facets.

    But I think we should be mindful that the powers and the demonic operate most forcefully in large scale human realities, in our overarching government and societal institutions, where deception, violence and manipulation run rampant and can effect the lives, and spirits, of tens and hundreds of millions. These are the strongholds, and we see them erupting more and more frequently as our world gets smaller and smaller and the news cycle gets shorter and shorter. Addressing these issues requires above all, not the dramatic intervention of exorcism at the individual level, but ordinary, persistent good citizenship and advocacy at the intersections where each of our lives meet the public and institutional realities.

    • I think Sacraments like the anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation are probably more beneficial for people with afflictions in their life. Also little used Sacramentals like house blessings (a minor rite of exorcism if I recall rightly) and blessings of religious trinkets that can be worn like an amulet or hung on a wall could be beneficial. And I think before an exorcism is performed there should be a psychological and physical screening to make sure the person isn’t suffering from illness, not evil. I know that used to be the case with the Jesuits, they would only exorcise after natural causes had been eliminated.

      • I agree with you about the ordinary use of the Sacraments as healing modalities. But I think the Sacraments mediate some spiritual benefits similar to exorcism, and traditionally served as a kind of psycho/spiritual prophylaxis against the phenomenon of demonic possession, as one of my above comments stated.

        And I think the Catholic church still uses the same cautions before utilization of the rite of exorcism.

        • They very rarely perform exorcisms, unlike many of their Protestant counterparts. I have seen people put through “deliverance” that was literally forced on them – in public, too. For medical problems, and psychological ones, too. I’ve endured some of that myself, though in private. The lack of understanding of very basic things – like depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and more – on the part of otherwise well-educated people is a HUGE contributing factor. So is blaming people for other kinds of illnesses and things that just plain happen in life.

          It’s really scary, seeing how many are entrapped in that mode of thinking, along with how quick many are to literally impose it on others.

          • In one especially heart/soul-rending case, I saw a woman who was anorexic being forcibly exorcized, even though she was crying and begging the people who were inflicting that on her to stop.

            It was very overt abuse on many levels.

          • I acknowledge that the sober use of exorcism, in balance with other health and wholeness concerns, is not widely practiced by Christian churches, aside from the Roman Catholic Church, probably because there is no accountability on the one hand, and little mature experience and calm in the face of real evil on the other, in most Christian bodies. There are a lot of hot head exorcists, and megalomaniac exorcists, throughout the Christian world. It’s a shame, because I believe there is a real need for sober ministries of exorcism outside the Roman Catholic church, but they don’t seem to exist. And what is called exorcism often makes matters worse, as you point out.

          • Catholicism has the right idea about exorcism, though God knows, popular books and horror movies make it seem otherwise. My understanding is that there hssd to be extensive medical evaluation (including psychiatric workups) to rule out all other probable causes before exorcism is even seriously considered.

            Since many physical illnesses – and many medication side effects – can directly effect cognitive functioning and emotions – not to mention things that fall under the “psychiatric” heading – it’s only fair and right to try and rule out all other probable causes *plus* get the person to the right kinds of specialists for treatment. My guess is that 99 & 9/10ths per cent of requests for exorcism can and should be resolved by other means. A few prayers along the way won’t hurt, and will likely ease the fears of the sufferer. But trying to cast out demons? Not so much…

          • Btw, the girl I mentioned upthread (in the former Yugoslavia) was a lesbian, or bi, at least. Her admission of her orientation led directly to super-extreme abuses in the name of exorcism. She ultimately died.

            A film was released a year or two back – am thinking it’s Serbian.

          • Daniel Jepsen says:

            Malachi Martin, a Jesuit intellectual, wrote a book some years back called, “Hostage to the Devil”. It was an very thorough examinations of five exorcisms in the U.S. during the 1970’s. Scary book.

            One thing I remember is Martin stating that a vast majority of cases that are brought to the church are not found to be actual possession. Normally it is some combination of physical or mental illness. Only after examinations by both doctors and psychologists would the church even think of attempting an exorcism.

            The other thing that struck me was the great contrast between Roman Catholic exorcisms and those performed by charismatics. The Roman Catholics not only spent a great deal of time looking for other causes of the behavior, but had specially trained priests. The exorcisms themselves would be prepared over a couple weeks or so (special place, getting the right people and accessories, etc.), and would usually last between 2 and 5 days. It was such a traumatic experience that the exorcist would usually not do more than six or seven in his lifetime.

            Charismatic exorcisms, by contrast, seem to usually occur jolly on the spot, are very quick, and the exorcist will often not seem affected.

            I don’t know what to make of this.

          • Daniel,
            I read “Hostage to the Devil” many years ago, and it was a frightening read. Subsequently, I learned that Martin during his lifetime was a bit of a teller of tall tales, which psychologist M. Scott Peck discovered when Martin helped him during his first involvements with exorcism. Peck nevertheless found Martin’s help invaluable, perhaps even life saving. I tend to believe that the main narrative thrust of Hostage is true, but I think there was a good deal of embellishment in the interest making the book gripping and readable.

          • Daniel Jepsen says:

            Robert, I did not know that. This, however, is one time I am glad the author may have been exaggerating.

          • Well, given the fact that exorcisms aren’t supposed to become public property, I would doubt the veracity of most anyone who wrote a book like Martin’s. Seriously, people eat that stuff up, and Martin knew they would. So did his publisher. Scary = sales. (Especially coming when it did, with popular interest having been piqued by William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist + the film adaptation of it.)

            Protestant analogies sold well at the time, too.

          • Daniel,
            He was also very opposed to Vatican II and critical of Pope John XXIII; one can only imagine that he would not have been very happy with Pope Francis, who shares some of the same spirit and qualities of John XXIII.

          • Fwiw, Martin was a Jesuit himself. He believed that Pius XII ward the last legit pope (among other things).

            This is all making me think of that fraudster Mike Warnke, who regaled rapt audience with supposed tales of his days as a high priest of Satan. In reality – not so much. All complete fictions; all lies in the service of the almighty dollar.

            Again, hmm…

          • numo,
            In the book, Martin claims to change the names and details to protect the anonymity of those involved, and to only write the case histories with their permission. I think he reports fairly accurately about the methodology of the Roman Catholic church in assessing the need for exorcism, and how the Roman Ritual of Exorcism would be used. I also think his narratives are based on actual exorcisms that he or others close to him were involved in or had close knowledge of.

            I do think, however, that he used much embellishment and ornamentation to make the stories riveting, and it would be hard to see how this wouldn’t amount to a good deal of falsifying, given the man’s propensity for fictionalizing even his own life. And while it’s true that psychologist M. Scott Peck, author of “The Road Less Traveled” and “People of the Lie,” thought that beneath the blarney of Martin there was real spiritual depth and substance, I’ve read Peck’s work and wonder whether Peck himself is not prone to the kind of self-deception that would make him easy pickings for a spiritual con artist. Especially illuminating is Peck’s apparently decades long rationalization of personal substance abuse which, sounds like denial in a big way.

            I think you’re wise to be skeptical, numo; I tend to be a little naive in this matter, which is tangentially connected to my tendency toward paranoia….

          • Robert – something about Peck has *always* given me the creepy-crawlies. I couldn’t even get through his 1st major book, because he seemed very off and self I aggrandizing to me.

            You know, I lived in a very small convent for a little over a year during the early 70s (while I was inundertgrad) and I can tell you straight out that I never, ever met a religious (nun, monk, priest) who gave any credence to claims like the ones Martin made. They more or less suffered through the intense public interest brought about by The Exorcist (novel and film) and increased scrutiny from many laypeople. This stuff is incredibly lurid; Grand Guignol American style.

            Honestly, the only Catholics I ever met who tried on “deliverance” were laypeople who’d read some pretty lousy books that were popular in charismatic circles at the time – and maybe saw themselves as being heroic, or doing God’s work, or… whatever. Am speaking from personal experience, btw.

        • I just skimmed the preface to the 1992 reissue of the book, and boy, did Martin ever make some unfounded claims about the ubiquity is “satanic ritual abuse”! It’s like the script to a grade triple-Z horror movie.

          Btw, he was a happy participant on the paranormals focused radio show “Coast to Coast,” claimed that there were Satan worshippers inside the Vatican, claimed to have been privy to the third Secret of Fatima – total craziness. “Colorful” doesn’t even begin to cover it; I have serious problems accepting his veracity on much of anything. Had also forgotten just how many controversial bestsellers he wrote.

          Hmm…

          • numo,
            Just reviewed some of Martin’s bio over the internet, and have to agree completely with you. Martin was a confidence man, not unlike Melville’s. And Peck was taken in….talk about “People of the Lie”!

          • Robert, my replies aren’t showing up in correct order in this thread. Scroll up a little bit and you’ll find my response to your most recent reply…

          • Yeah, the stuff about the Third Secret of Fatima (etc etc etc) is *really* just plain nuts. I think he knew what kinds of stories would swell, and he pitched ‘em all too successfully.

    • @Robert…..kudos on the original comment and all of its follow-ons. You so often articulate what is on my mind, but with far greater clarity and kindness.

    • David Cornwell says:

      Once in the mid 1980’s when I was pastor of two UMC churches in adjoining small towns, I had a parishioner who suffered with some deep mental problems, some of which involved delusions and what probably were hallucinations. She was always thinking devils, which were sometimes visible to her, were inhabiting her little home. I prayed with her several times, but the devils would never stay away.

      One day, out of the blue, her psychiatrist called me. He told me the woman wanted, and needed a service of exorcism. He had done everything else imaginable to help her, including medications, but nothing worked for very long. He wanted me, being her pastor, to perform some type of service. I had plenty of doubts about actually doing it. For one, I doubted that these devils were spiritual entities. For another, if they actually were, was I qualified? I finally decided to do it, but only on one condition. I asked a neighboring pastor, a friend (he was Church of the Brethren, Anabaptist tradition), to assist me. I wanted him as a witness to what was going to happen, his presence with me in the home of single female parishioner experiencng mental problems, and for his assistance in the prayers we would use. We devised a very simple way to go about this. In the end, all seemed to go well, and at least for a period of time, the devils that beguiled and tormented her went away.

    • The Orthodox, like the Roman Catholic, have a more “sober” approach to exorcism, in the formal sense. However, exorcisms are constantly performed by us through Baptism through house blessings, though the Great Blessing of the Waters at Epiphany, etc. Thus, exorcisms are a constant part of our lives.

      Having said that, I have also encountered at least one situation in which a person’s voice and behavior changed, and I had no time to consider whether or not I should refer them to counseling. Either I performed an exorcism or something terrible would happen. I performed the exorcism and it ended the wrongful behavior once and for all. I have no doubt that this was a true exorcism and not merely mistaken judgment.

      In the same way, the parish priest at the parish to which I am attached, has preached on how he did not believe in exorcisms. That is, until the first time he was asked to perform one by a parishioner. He went there expecting to (SIGH) pronounce the appropriate words so that the person could relax psychologically. He was wrong. And, he now believes in exorcism as a ministry of the Church.

  11. “Pastor John Ortberg and Professor Bradley Wright have been working on a new app to help users ‘track spirituality in real time’.”

    My “soulpulse” is plummeting as I read this, while my blood pressure is skyrocketing.

    • It does sound kind of soulless and mechanical, doesn’t it? But it might be helpful in a way that journaling has been helpful to me in dealing with life situations with which I’m uncomfortable. It’s very helpful to be able to say, oh gee, I have this situation coming up, but wait, I dealt with this situation last June and here’s what I did and here’s what was helpful or not helpful in that situation.

    • I’m not against methods, considering I grew up Methodist. Managing spirituality like a quality control inspection on an assembly line, that’s what this feels like.

  12. Brianthedad says:

    5 bonus points to Daniel for working in an Inigo Montoya quote. It was inconceivable that we should go so long without one.

  13. I think that one of the greatest victories that the devil has enjoyed is getting people to believe that he does not exist.

    • I think two of the greatest victories of the devil is in convincing us that he is responsible for our sins, and that people that we don’t agree with are of his party while we of course couldn’t possibly be because we know we belong to the Lord….

      • Really?

        The devil has convinced us that he is responsible for our sins? I didn’t realize that.

        I always thought that the devil was the tempter…and the we, in our “free-will” went ahead of our own volition into whatever sins we happen to be doing at the moment.

        • I agree with you on this point. Mind you, Satan has an advantage in a certain way. Latinos have a saying that is difficult to translate, “The devil knows more as a result of his great age than because he is the devil.” “Más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo.”

        • flatrocker says:

          Steve,
          Consider Robert F’s point when we adopt the position “the devil made me do it.” With this statement, we in essence absolve ourselves of any responsibility for our actions. It is not me and it’s beyond my fault, it’s Old Scratch’s trap which is hopelessly beyond anything I can stop. My self-release from any accountability is simply victoriously diabolical. Which is precisely Robert F’s contention.

          • In fact, it emulates Satan’s rebellious response to God, and is rooted in pride. When we do this, we recapitulate Satan’s fall in miniature. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and since Satan is a proud spirit, he must love to be imitated, that and the fact that misery loves company.

    • Steve, I would re-phrase that. The devil has no victories, nor does he enjoy anything.

      Maybe that’s nitpicking, but I try not to allow the devil any positive attributes.

  14. “A British study reports that religious people take less sick days, are less prone to anxiety and depression, and find more meaning in life than non-religious people. Religious people apparently also have a thicker brain cortex, which I assume is why we occasionally get called ‘fat-heads’.”

    Well, we are told that the human brain is the fattest organ in your body and may consist of at least 60 percent fat. Therefore, being called a “fat head” should not be an insult as it is an anatomical fact.

  15. IndianaMike says:

    InternetMonk.com needs much more Daniel Jepsen.

  16. MelissatheRagamuffin says:

    I don’t think the Planned Parenthood lady’s comments constitute an attack on Christianity. I mean who does she have influence with? Other like minded individuals? Big deal. She is insignificant to the point of bordering on being a non-entity. There’s always been people who felt that way. Now, if the POTUS, governor, or some other actually influential person starts making those kids of statements we might have a problem.

  17. I want to be very good at working with Jews. But, let me tell you, Jesus and the Apostles are a tough bunch to live up to! Hey, a little help here, Holy Spirit?