Exorcism – when belief becomes reality
Hollywood has a long history of milking the religious and/or supernatural veins of our culture for material, and usually it’s a blockbuster. Last season Mel Gibson’s The Passion became a worldwide hit, even in Muslim countries. Thirty years ago who can forget little Damien, his Dobermans, and a bunch of powerless priests in The Omen and its sequels? This summer’s offering to moviegoers is no different: The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
The movie tells the story of a Catholic priest facing negligent homicide charges after his exorcism of a young woman goes fatally wrong.
In the 21st century, is belief in demonic possession something we threw out with the Dark Ages, or is it part and parcel of a global spiritual ‘quickening’ that’s manifesting itself in everything from terror attacks, to the battle over Intelligent Design, or who should sit on the US Supreme Court?
I’m arguing strongly that it’s the latter. The battle over religion may appear at first blush to be a battle of ideas. At a deeper level, however, it’s a battle for the soul of every living human on the planet.
The liberal latte set in Balmain or Ponsonby may have trouble with that particular concept, and they’ll sit there making loud scoffing noises over a panini, but those same people will then go home, read their horoscope, do a little yoga, make sure their city abodes have appropriate feng shui, and probably swap dinner party stories about things that went bump in the night at the last inner city villa they inhabited.
Intriguingly, a survey just out in Britain shows more people believe in ghosts (68%) than believe in God (55%). What that tells me is that a substantial portion of the British population are cretins. The moment one accepts the possibility of any supernatural, by definition one would have to accept the possibility of the existence of God.
Otherwise, what created the spirits? The survey goes on to reveal that more than a quarter of Britons believe in UFOs, and almost as many in reincarnation.

The UFO bit is interesting, because it leads directly back to the exorcism issue. I remember reading about a decade ago how the head of a UFO research group in the States suddenly twigged to the fact that what we think we’re seeing in the night sky may not be what we assume, Spielberg-like, a UFO or alien actually is. This particular researcher began praying to Jesus Christ when he and his team encountered apparent UFO visitations, and the apparitions vanished. Exorcised as it were.
Think about it for a moment. Back in the Dark Ages, people, even respectable people, saw monsters. Literature and historic accounts, even from ancient historians whose work we value, abounds with tales of monsters being seen here, there and everywhere.
Culturally, we encountered demonic spirits in monster form because that was what was relevant in the day. In modern times, we’ve explored the world, we know there are no monsters, but we’re culturally prepared to see spacecraft and aliens. There is a growing body of people who now suspect the UFO phenomenon is nothing more than the monsters of the past reappearing in modern form.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald about The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Linda Morris notes “the idea that people could be possessed by spirits predates Christianity and is found in many other religions.” Indeed it is, but only Christianity actually cures the problem. And if you go to the heart of Africa, and the spiritual battleground between Christianity, Islam and Animism (primitive spirit/witchdoctor religion), you’ll find demonic possession is not scoffed at but accepted as part of life. They don’t see UFOs, they see spirits and weird creatures.
In Mexico, recently, Indians in remote parts of the Yucatan have being going crazy over “the Wolfwoman”, a werewolf type creature they reckon has been stalking villagers and killing livestock, while in remote parts of Chile it is the “Chupacabra” they’re talking about:
“It had the body of a kangaroo…deep set red eyes…and two large fangs protruding from its upper jaw,” recounted a Chilean news report quoted on a paranormal website in the US.
Only in South America, perhaps. Apart from Warren Zevon, the rest of us don’t generally see werewolves in London anymore, walking through the streets of Soho in the rain.
Then, from the same paranormal website, the report of the human sacrifice of a one year old baby boy in Peru, apparently in a renewal of ancient Indian religion. The child had been beheaded, and his heart torn out on the peak of Torre Torrni in the southern Andes.
Do we really dismiss child sacrifice as just a manifestation of normal religious belief, or do we harbour a nagging suspicion that perhaps primitive religions truly were started by satanic entities, and that this evil is on the move once more?
Why does Christian prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ and with the power of the Holy Spirit, break those strangleholds? I can tell you now that Christianity hasn’t become the fastest-growing religion in the world this decade because a whole bunch of liberal Unitarian ministers have convinced Africans and Asians that going to church is a good thing and George Bush is a bad person. No. Hundreds of thousands of Africans and Asians are converting to Christianity every week because they’re seeing supernatural miracles performed in front of their very eyes, just like Christ did in the New Testament. Exorcisms are not rare, they’re routine. And let’s face it, if your religious baggage includes worshiping half man/half beast gods, chances are you’re going to need deliverance.
In the West, our demons are not so much things that go bump in the night as things that make us hurt others, or harm ourselves. We have a growing disbelief in the supernatural, and with it a disbelief in Jesus Christ. And if you were Satan and your job description was to keep people away from Christianity, you’d look at Western culture and say you’d done a pretty good job. You don’t actually need a Carnivorous Skippy bounding down Pitt St in search of a soul-tie. In fact, such a supernatural occurrence might actually be counterproductive in the West.
Even so, truth is, in Sydney or Auckland, far more deliverance and even exorcisms are performed than either the Herald or the Catholic Church is aware of. Mothers whose daughters cut themselves because “the blood releases my pain” have found psychiatrists a waste of time. Christian prayer, on the other hand, coupled with a conversion to Christianity, often works where the best of western medicine and psych study draws a blank. There are diseases of the body that need medicine, and there are afflictions of the spirit and the soul that ultimately only God can heal, not man.
None of which negates the fact that in Christianity you can still get quacks like the rogue Korean pastor who killed a young Auckland woman during an exorcism four years ago by throttling her, and a similar case in the US, where those concerned felt they needed to fatally beat the proverbial out of a child during ‘deliverance’. But those cases are so rare that’s precisely why they do make headlines. You don’t see Jesus in the Bible strapping on a Ghostbuster-style vacuum cleaner, using a gun with a silver bullet or slinging some garlic around his neck, much less going 15 rounds with a possessed man. He simply ordered the spirit to leave its victim, by the authority of his name.
If you feel you need deliverance, or you’d just like someone to pray for you, ask at your local church and experience it first hand. Your head won’t swivel, you probably won’t hit the ceiling, but you might feel a weight lift off your shoulders.