A few days ago, Fr. Dwight Longenecker put up a little piece noodling the question of whether a mass murderer might by diagnosed by an exorcist as demonically possessed, and looking at the general way in which priests who do that sort of ministry try to make evaluations, etc. It’s a side of life most of us don’t know too much about except from lurid movies, so it was nice to have a dispassionate view from somebody who knows a little about it.
Then a day or two later, a fellow Patheosi who wrote a piece arguing that we should “reject” the demonic possession narrative. This struck me as remarkably pre-emptive and close-minded. Why the rush to reject it without trial? Seems like the sensible thing, when confronted with an obviously demonic act, is to ask people familiar with the phenomenon of the demonic (ie. exorcists) if there might be a reason to do an exorcism. Obviously, it’s not up to the state to do that (we do not, alas, live in so civilized a time). But if I were that guy’s family I would want to call out every piece of heavy artillery–medical, psychological, neurological *and* spiritual–to save his soul. Considering the possibility of demonic involvement seems to me like complete common sense here.
Somebody might reply, “I think you would have to believe in demons to begin with, and you would have to be the kind of person willing to call other people demonic.”
I suppose. But in treating of the demonic, I think the sensible thing is to keep an open mind, not a closed one. Since there is nothing in the sciences or common sense to say the existence of fallen angels is impossible and there is plenty not merely in the Abrahamic religions but in paganism as well to testify to the reality of evil spirits, I see no reason not to consider the possibility. As to “calling other people demonic” strictly speaking this has nothing to do with that. It would be more accurate to say that there is a possibility that he is demonized. Demons are demonic. People are human. Some people have been oppressed by demonis. Some have even been possessed by them. In the Catholic tradition, a possessed person would not actually be responsible for their actions. So if it were to turn out that the shooter was possessed, he would be exonerated of guilt. I am skeptical this is the case, but it’s worth looking at. If he is (as I suspect) a willing cooperator with demonic influences, whether knowingly or unknowingly (and he sure as hell wasn’t a willing cooperator with the Holy Spirit) then we are looking at really saying something negative about him personally because he was acting freely and with full possession of his faculties. In other words, it is much harsher to call him a grave sinner than to say he may have been demon possessed because a sinner is in the driver’s seat, a possessed person is tied up in the trunk.