Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Could it be... Satan?

In what can only be described as a Great Leap Backward for rationality, the Roman Catholic Church in Poland has announced that it is publishing the world's only monthly magazine focused exclusively on exorcisms.  (Source)

The journal, called Egzorcysta, will feature stories about Satanic possession, how to recognize it in others, and how to avoid it for yourself.  Its first issue, released on Monday, has articles entitled "Satan is Real" and "New Age: The Spiritual Vacuum Cleaner."

The magazine was apparently conceived as a response to an increasing demand for the services of exorcists in Poland.  Father Aleksander Posacki, a professor of philosophy and theology and "a leading demonologist and exorcist," stated to reporters that the number of exorcisms has risen dramatically, and links the increase to the fall of communism.

"The rise in the number or exorcists from four to more than 120 over the course of 15 years in Poland is telling," he said.  "It's indirectly due to changes in the system: capitalism creates more opportunities to do business in the area of occultism.  Fortune telling has even been categorised as employment for taxation.  If people can make money out of it, naturally it grows and its spiritual harm grows too."

His colleague, Father Andrzej Grefkowicz, has stated that there is a "three-year waiting list for exorcists in Warsaw."

To which I can only respond: you have to wait three years to get an exorcism?  You'd think that if they really believed that Satan was possessing someone, and working through them to commit evil, they'd get someone right on it.  "Let's see... is your daughter making things float around?  Yes... Has she puked up any pea soup lately?...  I see... Is she able to turn her head a full 360 degrees?  Mmmm-hmmmm... I understand... Well, we'll send someone down.  Can you pencil us in for November 12, 2015?"

 Of course, the main problem I see with all of this is that I have never heard of credible evidence that any of it -- Satan, possession, exorcism, and the rest -- has the least basis in reality.  What's always been puzzling to me, and that I've never heard any True Believers adequately explain, is why (if Satan is out there looking for souls to inhabit), he doesn't pick likelier targets.  Odd how the people who get possessed, and who end up in the hands of an exorcist, are virtually always Catholics themselves.  You would think that a scoffing atheist like myself would be a perfect victim, given the apparent weakness of my own Eternal Spirit.  But I've never heard of a single case of a rationalist nonbeliever being possessed.

Which in my mind places demonic possession squarely in the realm of either (1) mental illness, or (2) hysteria brought on by fear.  In the first case, treating the problem using exorcism borders on criminal neglect -- to take some poor schizophrenic, and to try to cure his illness by mumbling some prayers and pouring holy water on his head, is in the same category as the Christian Scientists who waste time praying over someone with appendicitis.  In the second case, I have no doubt that exorcisms sometimes "work" -- in the sense that if your "demonic possession" was caused by your panicked fear that there was an evil entity trying to control you, then an authority figure performing a ritual and telling you that the entity had departed would undoubtedly help you to feel better.  It's a little like the nocebo effect -- the scientifically documented phenomenon in which people who believe that voodoo curses are real become ill if a practitioner tells them that they have been cursed.

The whole thing is profoundly bothersome.  I find it amazing that we sit here in the 21st century, with our incredible access to science, technology, and rational thought, and are still hearing stories about demons and Satan and witches (take a look at this BBC story about people in Ghana who are permanently exiled to "witch camps," away from their families, if they're accused of sorcery).  I know that things have improved -- far more people are rationalists, and have a good understanding of science, now than did even thirty years ago.  But when I read this sort of thing, I realize that we still have a very long way to go.


  1. New Age: The Spiritual Vacuum Cleaner. If only that were so; the new age whizzing through and cleaning up all the fluff of irrationality. No, it generates the fluff. It's the Spiritual White Longhair Cat.

    I'm sure the theory is that the devil goes after non-Catholics also. They just don't know to pick up the phone when it happens. I'm sure you've been possessed for years; why else would you write this evil blog?

  2. The RCC focus-grouped and came to the conclusion that since exorcism and demonic possession was en vogue, they should ride the wave... Anything that keeps them relevant.

    Just like Madonna (no, not that Madonna, the other Madonna), there's no such thing as bad publicity.

    The chicken taco salad I had for lunch was possessed with flavor. I quickly exorcised it to my stomach.
    What foul magic tempts me so?
    Jalapenos, my son. Jalapenos.

    Meh. I just can't take this crap seriously.


    (Am I possessed?) ;)