Image by Flickr user Joe Howell.
Since Anthony Hopkins’ new film The Rite is #1 at the box office right now, public attention has turned once again to the classic Catholic ritual known as exorcism. This happens every few years, as with the release of The Exorcism of Emily Rose in 2005 and The Last Exorcism in 2010.
It’s interesting that humans can’t really shake this idea that it’s possible for evil spirits to enter us and take over, as though we were puppets. Certainly some forms of mental illness (as well as tremendously bad moods or poor impulses) can feel this way. And for some reason we are especially attached to the idea of teenagers falling prey to the charms of the Devil.
That may explain why Father Gary Thomas, the real-life priest played by Hopkins in The Rite, is warning parents about the demonic dangers of the Internet. In his eyes, looking at Web sites devoted to the occult — everything from Tarot cards to séances — makes teens vulnerable to “demonic influences” and, ultimately, possession. Of course, the only cure for possession is exorcism, which is Thomas’ line of work, so to speak.
As usual, his claims are pretty much based on hearsay and/or anecdotes:
He said there were “no statistics” on how many people might be possessed but said there was a definite increase.
“What I can tell you is that there are more and more Catholics involved in idolatrous and pagan practices,” he said. “That’s really why there’s more demonic activity. There’s the absence of God in the lives of a lot of people.”
He added: “A lot of parents today have no critical eye of faith with which to even recognise the dangers their children are in. A lot of this is going on with the internet. There are lots and lots of demonic websites.”
Since Fr. Thomas doesn’t describe the symptoms of “demonic influence,” it’s hard to say objectively what might be on the upswing. It sounds like he’s talking about more than simply straying from the Catholic flock. But what exactly? Unusual behavior? Criticisms of organized religion? Heads turning 360 degrees? I can’t help but wish he’d been more specific, but I suppose that would make his Internet claims easier to debunk.
From my own observations of cultural behavior (specifically in the context of moral panics), the #1 cause for increases in anything is increased awareness of that thing. You know how when you buy a particular kind of car, suddenly you notice all the other people who own that same car? Now imagine you’ve just been told that demonic possession/influence among teens is on the rise, and the Internet is causing it. What are you going to see the next time your teen acts weird?
Here’s my question for readers today: Did you grow up in a religious household, or do you know someone who did? Did your parents (or the parents you knew) ever chalk up a kid’s bad behavior to “the Devil?” I’d love to hear those stories.