TAG | superstition
Writing in the Washington Post, a psychiatrist (Richard Gallagher) essentially gives up on the ability of his profession to understand the complexity of the human mind. Some cases of ‘demonic possession’ are, he has come to believe, real.
For the past two-and-a-half decades and over several hundred consultations, I’ve helped clergy from multiple denominations and faiths to filter episodes of mental illness — which represent the overwhelming majority of cases — from, literally, the devil’s work. It’s an unlikely role for an academic physician, but I don’t see these two aspects of my career in conflict. The same habits that shape what I do as a professor and psychiatrist — open-mindedness, respect for evidence and compassion for suffering people — led me to aid in the work of discerning attacks by what I believe are evil spirits and, just as critically, differentiating these extremely rare events from medical conditions….
The Vatican does not track global or countrywide exorcism, but in my experience and according to the priests I meet, demand is rising. The United States is home to about 50 “stable” exorcists — those who have been designated by bishops to combat demonic activity on a semi-regular basis — up from just 12 a decade ago, according to the Rev. Vincent Lampert, an Indianapolis-based priest-exorcist who is active in the International Association of Exorcists. (He receives about 20 inquiries per week, double the number from when his bishop appointed him in 2005.) The Catholic Church has responded by offering greater resources for clergy members who wish to address the problem. In 2010, for instance, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops organized a meeting in Baltimore for interested clergy. In 2014, Pope Francis formally recognized the IAE, 400 members of which are to convene in Rome this October. Members believe in such strange cases because they are constantly called upon to help. (I served for a time as a scientific adviser on the group’s governing board.)
… But I believe I’ve seen the real thing. Assaults upon individuals are classified either as “demonic possessions” or as the slightly more common but less intense attacks usually called “oppressions.” A possessed individual may suddenly, in a type of trance, voice statements of astonishing venom and contempt for religion, while understanding and speaking various foreign languages previously unknown to them. The subject might also exhibit enormous strength or even the extraordinarily rare phenomenon of levitation. (I have not witnessed a levitation myself, but half a dozen people I work with vow that they’ve seen it in the course of their exorcisms.)
I have not witnessed a levitation myself.
Back to Gallagher:
We are not dealing here with purely material reality, but with the spiritual realm. One cannot force these creatures to undergo lab studies or submit to scientific manipulation; they will also hardly allow themselves to be easily recorded by video equipment, as skeptics sometimes demand.
This is very reminiscent of the arguments used by the Harvard psychiatrist John Mack (I wrote something about him in National Review back in the day) who, at the height of America’s obsession with ‘alien abductions’, began to see such stories as, to a greater or lesser degree, a spiritual phenomenon. That allowed him to dispense with normal scientific discipline and even to caricature it as somehow retrograde, evidence of a narrowly ‘western’ mindset.
Gallagher’s comment about video equipment also reminds me of a joke from that era.
Q: What’s the best way to stop yourself being abducted by an alien?
A: Install video cameras at home and set them to record.
But anthropologists agree that nearly all cultures have believed in spirits, and the vast majority of societies (including our own) have recorded dramatic stories of spirit possession. Despite varying interpretations, multiple depictions of the same phenomena in astonishingly consistent ways offer cumulative evidence of their credibility.
Not so much. Demons, like gods, are a product of the human mind, an evolutionary by-product, an end in themselves, or a bit of both: It would be astonishing if they did not recur in society after society. We are all human.
In the end, however, it was not an academic or dogmatic view that propelled me into this line of work. I was asked to consult about people in pain. I have always thought that, if requested to help a tortured person, a physician should not arbitrarily refuse to get involved. Those who dismiss these cases unwittingly prevent patients from receiving the help they desperately require, either by failing to recommend them for psychiatric treatment (which most clearly need) or by not informing their spiritual ministers that something beyond a mental or other illness seems to be the issue. For any person of science or faith, it should be impossible to turn one’s back on a tormented soul.
Yes, delusion can be used combat delusion (think of exorcisms as a kind of placebo), but the psychiatrist who takes the reality of demonic possession seriously is taking on a heavy responsibility, not only with respect to his patient but, by promoting a belief in this phenomenon, to the vulnerable elsewhere.
Jung talked a great deal of nonsense, but, he was right when he wrote this:
The Middle Ages, antiquity and, prehistory have not died out, as the “enlightened” suppose, but live on merrily in large sections of the population. Mythology and magic flourish as ever in our midst and are unknown only to those whose rationalistic education has alienated them from their roots.
Well, he was not so right about that last bit. A rationalistic education will not, of itself, lead to enlightenment.
Human nature is stronger than that. As Richard Gallagher reminds us.
When Morgan Maguire was growing up, she struggled to find a role model. As a young Catholic schoolgirl in Hanover, Pennsylvania, she was often teased about her love of history and scary stories, and when it came to one of her most beloved hobbies, there were no women on television or in her life to inspire her.
It’s a story familiar to many young girls, although the male-dominated field she wanted to join is one that’s rarely associated with debates on gender equality and sexism.
Maguire wanted to be a ghost hunter.
“I’ve been fascinated with the paranormal, God, probably since birth,” said Maguire, 24, who now works in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which some say is one of the most haunted cities in the US. “When I was little, I didn’t have any female ghost hunters to look up to.”
Maguire is now part of a group that claims to be one of the country’s first-ever all-female team of “paranormal investigators”, which means they search for evidence of ghosts and help people respond to spirits haunting their homes. The women are part of a movement of female ghost hunters that they say has grown in recent years, and they’re hoping many more young girls will be encouraged to join after the highly anticipated women-led remake of Ghostbusters hits the big screen….
Although Ghostbusters is a comedy, the women of Gettysburg Ghost Gals and similar groups take their work seriously and have no doubts that ghosts and spirits are real – and that hunters provide a vital service.
Real-world ghostbusters respond to inquiries from clients concerned about ghosts lurking in their homes. They conduct lengthy investigations to confirm or deny their presence and sometimes help families cleanse their homes of unwelcome intruders.
They do. Really?
And, of course, female ghost hunters have an edge:
“I think we get better results because we’re women,” Goode said. “Women are much more sensitive … we’re not a dominating force.” Female ghost hunters said they can connect better with frightened families seeking aid – and they’re more successful at communicating with child spirits.
I’ll just let this story stand there.
MOSCOW — Russian fans of the writer J.R.R. Tolkien were disappointed Wednesday after a local art group abandoned plans to install a flaming eye from his book series The Lord of the Rings atop a Moscow skyscraper. The group, Svechenie, said it would not recreate the evil Eye of Sauron after the Russian Orthodox Church complained the installation would invite mysterious dangers on the capital….
The planned project — for a 3-foot-tall orb perched atop a 21-story building in Moscow’s business district — “does not have any religious or political subtext,” the statement added.
It was slated to be unveiled Thursday to mark the Russian premiere of the film The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, based on another Tolkien novel in which the eye appears.
But Vsevolod Chaplin, the controversial spokesman for the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, felt otherwise. He told a Moscow radio station Tuesday that the installation would be a “symbol of the triumph of evil … rising up over the city.”
“Is that good or bad? I’m afraid it’s more likely bad,” he said. “You shouldn’t be surprised later if something goes wrong with the city.”
It’s not the first time the church, a key pillar of President Vladimir Putin’s drive to promote conservative values, has waded into the world of art and culture. Religious officials and Orthodox activists have rebuked and even disrupted a range of exhibitions and performances they believe betray church values and destroy Russia’s moral fiber….
Chaplin is always on the look out for perils that could menace his flock.
Here he is back in April:
MOSCOW, April 9 (RIA Novosti) – Angels and demons do really exist, but are often mistaken for “so-called aliens” by those who encounter them, a senior Russian Orthodox Church clergyman said.
“They are real creatures, humans come into contact with them as they sometimes reveal themselves,” Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who oversees the Church’s public relations, told RIA Novosti in an interview when asked about Christianity’s attitude to ufology.
And then there was the mini-skirt menace, identified by Chaplin as a potential source of “madness” as long ago as 2011.
The Christian Science Monitor explained:
A top official of the increasingly powerful Russian Orthodox Church has triggered a storm of outrage by calling for a “national dress code” that would force women to dress modestly in public and require businesses to throw out “indecently” clad customers. Women, said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, can’t be trusted to clothe themselves properly.
“It is wrong to think that women should decide themselves what they can wear in public places or at work,” he said Tuesday. “If a woman dresses like a prostitute, her colleagues must have the right to tell her that.”
“Moreover,” Archpriest Chaplin added, “if a woman dresses and acts indecently, this is a direct route to unhappiness, one-night stands, brief marriages followed by rat-like divorces, ruined lives of children, and madness.”
…Chaplin’s proposed dress code has received applause from some conservative quarters. Russia’s Association of Islamic Heritage this week expressed its support for Chaplin’s call for “creation of a national dress code,” which might involve compelling women to wear headscarves, a rule already in force in Orthodox churches and church-run orphanages. Muslims make up about 20 percent of Russia’s population.
Orthodoxy! Nationality! Autocracy!
A Conservative MP has spoken of his belief in astrology and his desire to incorporate it into medicine. David Tredinnick said he had spent 20 years studying astrology and healthcare and was convinced it could work….Explaining his beliefs to BBC News, Mr Tredinnick said he had been right about herbal remedies and healing, which he said were now becoming accepted in parts of the NHS [National Health Service], and he now wanted to promote astrology, which was not just predicting the future but gaining an insight into personal problems.
He stopped short of suggesting astrological readings on the NHS, but said he wanted to raise awareness of it as an alternative among patients and clinicians.
“I think it’s something that people should be aware of as an option they have if they are confused about themselves.”
He said he had compiled astrological charts for his fellow MPs – he declined to reveal names – adding: “If you look at the charts I have done for people I have certainly made their lives easier.”
Oh yes, there’s this:
The MP for Bosworth [is] a member of the [House of Commons] health committee and… science and technology committee
Televangelist Pat Robertson advised a mother on Monday that she could cure her son’s stomach pains by finding someone to cast out demons that were possibly caused by an ancestor who practiced witchcraft. In an email, a viewer named Dianne told the TV preacher that her son had “painful shock-waves thru his body” that originated in his stomach while she was praying for him and calling on “the name of JESUS.”
“My son said it felt like something hit him very hard in the stomach,” the mother wrote. “I know this is not of God. He is a Christian. Can Christians be attacked by demons?”
Instead of recommending that the mother seek medical attention, Robertson said that the boy could be “oppressed or possessed by demons.”
“You need to get somebody with you who understands the spiritual dimension and doing spiritual warfare,” he continued. “If I were you, I would look back in your family. What in your family — do you have anybody involved in the occult, somebody in witchcraft or tarot cards or psychic things?”
“Has there something been there that you don’t know about. Some grandparent, great grandparent or something. Look into the family tree, and then get some people in there and cast this stuff out. But that does not sound like normal.
Laura Helmuth, writing in Slate:
Most paranoid, grandiose, relentless conspiracy theorists can’t call a meeting with a U.S. senator. Then there’s Robert F. Kennedy Jr. A profile of Kennedy in this weekend’s Washington Post Magazine shows that Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Bernie Sanders listened politely while Kennedy told them that a vaccine preservative causes autism.
It doesn’t. It just doesn’t. Every major scientific and medical organization in the country has evaluated the evidence and concluded that the preservative thimerosal is safe. The question is settled scientifically. Thimerosal, out of an abundance of caution, was removed from childhood vaccines 13 years ago, although it is used in some flu vaccines. And yet Kennedy, perhaps more than any other anti-vaccine zealot, has confused parents into worrying that vaccines, which have saved more lives than almost any other public health practice in history, could harm their children.
Mikulski and Sanders, to their credit, both politely blew Kennedy off.
That’s a sign of great progress: Not that many years ago, Rep. Dan Burton held congressional hearings on the entirely made-up dangers of vaccines. I’m especially proud of Sanders, who represents Vermont, a state with one of the highest rates of vaccine denial and misinformation.
But the more people dismiss Kennedy, unfortunately, the more obsessive and slanderous he becomes. Keith Kloor describes some of Kennedy’s recent outrageous claims in the Post profile:
The more Kennedy talked on the subject, the more his rhetoric became hyperbolic. During one 2011 segment on his Air America radio show, he accused government scientists of being “involved in a massive fraud.” He said they skewed studies to demonstrate the safety of thimerosal. “I can see that this fraud is doing extraordinary damage to the brains of American children,” he said.
Last year, he gave the keynote speech at an anti-vaccine gathering in Chicago. There, he said of a scientist who is a vocal proponent of vaccines and already the object of much hate mail from anti-vaccine activists that this scientist and others like him, “should be in jail, and the key should be thrown away.”
I got a taste of Kennedy’s delusions last year. After Slate’s Bad Astronomy blogger, Phil Plait, criticized Kennedy for speaking at an anti-vaccine conference, Kennedy called me to complain, and I wrote about our very one-sided conversation. He told me scientists and government agencies are conspiring with the vaccine industry to cover up the evidence that thimerosal is “the most potent brain killer imaginable,” and journalists are dupes who are afraid to question authority. He claimed that several specific scientists had admitted to him that he was right. I called these scientists up. Here’s one representative answer, from a researcher who preferred I not use his name because he gets death threats from anti-vaccine activists: “Kennedy completely misrepresented everything I said.”
To recap: Kennedy accuses scientists of fraud, which is pretty much the worst thing you can say about a scientist. He distorts their statements. He says they should be thrown in jail. He uses his powerful name to besmirch theirs. That name, the reason he has power and fame, is inherited from a family dedicated to public service. He now uses the Kennedy name to accuse employees of government agencies charged with protecting human health—some of the best public servants this country has—of engaging in a massive conspiracy to cause brain damage in children.
And this nonsense has consequences:
The number of measles cases in the United States tripled last year—an entirely preventable disease whose resurgence has been made possible in part by Kennedy’s tireless efforts
Cross-posted on the Corner:
In the latest episode of ‘Gwyneth Paltrow states the absolute ridiculous’, the actress has claimed that saying negative things to water can hurt its feelings.
Well, that’s a little bit of a stretch (check out the actual post here), but the rest of the Independent’s summary is pretty much accurate . . .
The ‘consciously uncoupled’ star revealed that she follows the work of Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto, whose experiments attempt to investigate whether human consciousness has a direct effect on the molecular structure of water. His theories go as far as to claim that shouting at rice – as one so frequently does – could turn it bad.
“I am fascinated by the growing science behind the energy of consciousness and its effects on matter,” Paltrow wrote in a blog post for her much derided clean living website GOOP.
“I have long had Dr Emoto’s coffee table book on how negativity changes the structure of water, how the molecules behave differently depending on the words or music being expressed around it.”
Handing over the keyboard to friend Dr Habib Sadeghi to explain what on earth she was talking about, he wrote: “Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto performed some of the most fascinating experiments on the effect that words have on energy in the 1990s….In his experiments, Emoto poured pure water into vials labelled with negative phrases like ’I hate you’ or ’Fear’. After 24 hours, the water was frozen, and no longer crystallised under the microscope: It yielded grey, misshapen clumps instead of beautiful lace-like crystals. In contrast, Emoto placed labels that said things like ‘I love you’ or ‘Peace’ on vials of polluted water, and after 24 hours, they produced gleaming, perfectly hexagonal crystals.”
And shouting at rice? Well, nothing was written about raised voices that I can see, but, no matter, mere insults that go against the grain are, it seems, enough.
In another experiment, Emoto tested the power of spoken words. He placed two cups of cooked white rice in two separate mason jars and fixed the lids in place, labeling one jar “Thank You” and the other, “You Fool.” The jars were left in an elementary school classroom, and the students were instructed to speak the words on the labels to the corresponding jars twice a day. After 30 days, the rice in the jar that was constantly insulted had shriveled into a black, gelatinous mass. The rice in the jar that was thanked was as white and fluffy as the day it was made…
No surprise there. I have always thought that rice seemed a little on the oversensitive side. The sturdy potato on the other hand, a vegetable (yes it is) tough enough to prevail over the most British of cooking, would, if confronted by either insult or praise, merely shrug.
The Copenhagen Post reports:
Diets low in fat, carbohydrates and sugar have become more and more popular for people who want to live healthily and lose weight, but the trend may be dangerous for children.
Experts from the national association against eating disorders, LMS, warn that a growing number of children, primarily girls aged 8-10, are malnourished due to strict bans in their homes against certain foods.
“The girls who consult me are literally afraid to eat butter, white bread or pasta. It’s poison to them,” eating disorder therapist Pernille Ungermann told Berlingske.
Meanwhile, here’s Alicia Silverstone, adding a little technophobia into the mix:
Alicia Silverstone has revealed that her two-year-old son Bear has never been vaccinated for the usual run of childhood diseases including chickenpox and measles or had a ‘drop of medicine’ because she prefers a natural approach.
The 39-year-old vegan actress writes in her new parenting guide The Kind Mama that she believes a ‘plant-based diet’ is an ‘essential part of well-being’ and works with a doctor who shares these views.In an interview with People magazine Ms Silverstone, who is married to musician Christopher Jarecki, says that she feeds her son a light miso soup for breakfast and he has ‘never been sick.’
…If Bear has a snuffly nose she uses eucalyptus oil to help him breathe more easily and feeds him cooled Japanese ‘ume kuzu tea’ if his temperature runs high. Another thing she recommends is to soak a child’s socks in vinegar or cold water and wrap them around the feet to ‘bring down the fever.’
A ‘cooled cabbage leaf on the back of a baby’s head’ is another suggestion…For earache Ms Silverstone says squeezing ‘a few drops of breast milk’ into an infant’s ear will ‘help alleviate discomfort and clear the tubes.’
And the vaccine thing is not cool, not cool at all.
The Daily Telegraph reports:
Angels exist but do not have wings and are more like shards of light, at least according to a top Catholic Church “angelologist” who says the heavenly beings are now back in vogue thanks to New Age religions.
“I think there is a rediscovery of angels in Christianity,” Father Renzo Lavatori said on the sidelines of a conference on angels in a lavishly-frescoed Renaissance palace in Rome.
“You do not see angels so much as feel their presence,” said Father Lavatori, adding: “They are a bit like sunlight that refracts on you through a crystal vase.”
…He said the popularised image of angels is a necessary result of their being “back in fashion” but is dismissive of all the angel art around Christmas.
“There is space for that, but you have to understand that these are not real representations. Angels do not have wings or look like cherubs,” he said. The widely-published Catholic clergyman is also a “demonologist” and says angels are more needed than ever because increasing secularisation and materialism in society have left an “open door” for the devil.
“There is a lot more interference from diabolical forces. That is why you see queues of people outside the exorcists’ offices in churches…Pope Francis talks more about the devil than about angels and I think rightly so. But it’s still early, he will get round to the angels too.”
It’s not just the HHS contraception mandate. Another front opens up in the ‘religious freedom’ debate. The Daily Telegraph reports:
As beads of sweat slithered down his temples, Andrew Hamblin stared in wide-eyed wonder at the three-foot timber rattlesnake he had thrust towards his congregation.
“I am a soldier in the army of the Lord,” he boomed in a thick southern drawl, stomping a foot on the hardwood floor. “And the enemy has been fighting me this week harder than ever before”.
In this shed tucked into a dark valley of the Appalachian Mountains, before 60 adoring followers speaking in tongues, throwing up their hands and dabbing tears from their eyes, Mr Hamblin was breaking the law. The 22-year-old preacher is facing up to a year in prison after being charged with illegally possessing 53 venomous snakes seized from his church by Tennessee wildlife agency officers earlier this month. Yet the charismatic young pastor, part of a century-old Pentecostal tradition in the region that takes literally an instruction in the Gospel of Mark that “they shall take up serpents”, remains piously defiant.
Since appearing in court, he has continued wielding poisonous snakes during his raucous services at Tabernacle Church of God, after fresh creatures were snuck inside by his allies.
“I’m willing to fight this, because here in the United States we’re supposed to be guaranteed our religious freedom under the first amendment of the constitution…”We’re Christians who believe in being saved by the blood of Jesus Christ just like any other – it’s not like we’re part of some different religion. I do feel it is an attack upon our religious freedom.”
His followers claim they are victims of a state crackdown. Mr Hamblin’s mentor Jamie Coots, a a preacher based just over the border in Kentucky, had three rattlesnakes and two copperheads confiscated after being stopped while driving home through Tennessee earlier this year.
Mr Hamblin said he was called on by God to handle the creatures, and that their appearances were shows of divine power. He likened the practice to “Catholics using wine”.
Yet Matthew Cameron, a wildlife agency spokesman, dismissed all talk of persecution and said Mr Hamblin’s storage of the snakes in a back room was simply a serious “public safety hazard”.
“We treat him just as we would anyone else found to be storing venomous snakes in their home,” said Mr Cameron, who stressed that zoos and circuses must obtain permits to possess snakes in the state. Several pastors have died from bites in recent years. Mack Wolford of West Virginia, who led one of the best-attended snake-handling churches out of an estimated 125 in the region, made international headlines after being killed by a timber rattlesnake in May last year. During Mr Hamblin’s service on Friday night, several young children, including some of his own five, wandered around just yards from the snake’s box, while their parents prayed and sang.
Mr Hamblin stressed that only adults may handle the creatures. “I can understand not wanting to endanger another’s life,” he said. “That’s perfectly understandable. But in 100 years, there have been only 10 deaths in Tennessee from serpents.” He is himself unable to make a fist with his right hand, after being bitten on a knuckle in 2010 and ending up in hospital. “I was at death’s door,” he said. “Me and death were just about ready to smoke a cigarette together”.
Yet God told him to continue, he said, and showed that he would be safe by allowing another snake to bite him on the back of the neck soon after. While Mr Hamblin’s shirt was soaked in blood, he escaped serious injury. “I never swelled, I never itched, I never suffered nothing but bleeding,” he recalled. And his congregants are intensely devoted to his style of worship. “Just weeks ago I was far from God,” said Jeremy Henegar, 20, with a piercing stare.
“Whisky, beer or moonshine – I was a full-blown alcoholic. But when I took up serpents I was right there in the presence of God. I felt approval for the first time. What once was deadly, he made harmless.”
While dozens of his fellow pastors hold their services in secret and close their doors to outsiders, Mr Hamblin is determined to bring his sect into the mainstream. He hopes to found America’s first snake-handling mega-church. He is due back in court next month, and may face additional charges. Yet his followers have no intention of allowing the state to stop them. “If I were to be sent to be prison,” he said, “boy – I think that would set off such a blast”.
Skeptical as I am about so many of the claims made in the name of ‘religious freedom’ (too often a crude assertion of religious privilege), there’s a part of me that hopes that Tennessee can, through regulation (Proper storage facilities? No children present?), find a way to accommodate this little slice of the old, weird America.
Or perhaps I’m just over-influenced by Mr. Hamblin supplying me with a lovely, fantastic, nutty image so saturated in (probably unconscious) disrespect for contemporary pieties that it merits a hallelujah or two:
“I was at death’s door. Me and death were just about ready to smoke a cigarette together”.
The BBC reports:
Some young HIV patients are giving up their medicine after being told by Pentecostal Church pastors to rely on faith in God instead, doctors warn.
Medical staff told the BBC a minority of pastors in England were endangering young church members by putting them under pressure to stop medication. Healing is central to Pentecostalism, a radical belief in the power of prayer and miracles. But one pastor denied people would ever be told to stop taking their medicine….
Pentecostal pastor Stevo Atanasio, from the East London Christian Church, said that among his congregation, blind people had recovered sight, deaf people had heard again, and what were considered terminal illnesses had been cured.
“We don’t say to people ‘don’t take your medication don’t go to the doctor’. I mean we never say that,” he said.
Pentecostalism is booming. The number of Pentecostal churches in London, for example, has doubled since 2005. The overall number of incidents of HIV patients being told to give up medicine is thought to consist of a minority of churches and a small group of people. But the Rev Israel Olofinjana, who is a former Pentecostal pastor and now a Baptist minister, said he had seen it happening.
“I’ve heard languages like that – ‘put your trust in God, don’t put your trust in medicine’.”
He said many of these churches served migrants with an exalted view of the authority of pastors.
“Within the context of African churches, if you’re coming from a culture where the pastor is like your fathers or mothers, like your community keepers, the word of your pastor becomes very important,” he explained.
“It becomes very significant… there is a minority who say ‘because God can heal absolutely… what’s the need for medicine?’.”
Dr Steve Welch, who is chairman of the Children’s HIV Association, said it found it difficult to engage with the faith leaders of churches where healing was an integral part of the worship.
Ah multiculturalism, working out well as usual, I see.