Why We Should Reject the Demonic Possession Narrative

Why We Should Reject the Demonic Possession Narrative July 26, 2012

Over in the Catholic section of Patheos, Fr. Dwight Longenecker explores the idea that James Holmes, responsible for 12 deaths in the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting that happened last week, may have been demonically possessed. According to Longenecker, “demonic infestation is a rare, strange and terrible psycho-spiritual affliction” that “maybe” afflicted Holmes.

James Holmes in court.

“What makes a mild mannered, promising young scientist decide to arm himself to the teeth, walk into a suburban movie theater and start killing innocent people at random?”

What a tempting idea, that an external evil took control of Holmes and instigated his actions. That it was an embodiment of Evil itself that guided the hand of the shooter, gunning down innocent people. However, this idea is pernicious, particularly within a Christian context, and only serves to prop up a system of abuse that targets anyone who steps out of line with a narrow idea of Christian morality and behavior.

The idea of spirit possession is not unique to Catholicism, or Christianity in general, most religious cultures have a version of it, and many also have rituals of exorcism or appeasement when a possession happens. In some religious cultures, like Haitian Vodou, possession is part of a larger religious structure (and generally seen as a positive force). Yet, the Christian conception of demonic possession is unique in how exorcism is used as a form of boundary maintenance, a social-political tool to hammer those who stray from  proper behavior. This is hinted at in Longenecker’s essay.

“The second level of demonic influence is obsession. At this level, there is still no sign of anything paranormal happening. The person starts to give in to the temptation. He may become reclusive and secretive as he becomes obsessed with the evil that he is entertaining. This evil may be in the form of occult activity, violent video games or movies, pornography, drug abuse, sexual perversion, sexual promiscuity, or obsession with power and violence.

In other words, if someone you love is gay, into kinky sex, likes to play video games, or is Pagan, they might already be influenced by demons (and, by inference, that can lead to terrible tragedies). This isn’t simply my interpretation, it’s an assertion that has been flatly stated by Catholic exorcists.

“Father Euteneuer does not speak as a theorist. Since 2003 he’s had extensive experience ministering to those possessed by demons … Father Euteneuer told mepossession is almost always a result of someone getting involved in some sort of occult practices, such as witchcraft, Wicca, tarot cards, and Ouiji boards. ”Harry Potter and these Twilight vampires glamorize the power of evil,” Father Eutenener explained, “and this has lead to many, many cases of possession among young people.” It may begin with a child or teenager simply “playing around” with the occult, but that seemingly harmless act is “opening a window” to possession.”

Of course, Father Euteneuer is embroiled in sex scandal, so the demons must have gotten to him, so lets turn to another source.

“A lot of folks dabble in the occult, or they will be involved in practices that … classical Christianity at least would consider to be idolatrous.  People can get themselves involved in Wicca, or people will go see some sort of fortune-teller, or people will go to a séance, or they can go and they can learn how to channel spirits. …”

That’s Catholic exorcist Father Gary Thomas, a Catholic exorcist who was featured in the book “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist” (adapted into a feature film starring Anthony Hopkins). So he’s probably the most famous Catholic exorcist currently making the rounds. Thomas is also believer in Ritual Satanic Abuse, despite the fact that the moral panic that held sway during the 1980s and 90s produced no credible proof of a underground network of Satanic abusers. This is because exorcisms are tied to upheaval and crisis within a religious body, not to any definable war in the spiritual realm.

“Portable manuals detailing ever more elaborate and standardized rituals of exorcism proliferated during the papal schism of the 15th century, when two men claimed to be the rightful pope. The manuals surfaced again during the Protestant Reformation. “In general, exorcisms are associated with these turning-point moments when the church [feels] challenged in some way and tries to centralize power and clarify the delegation of authority from God down through the hierarchy,” [historian Nancy Caciola] says. The challenges now confronting the Catholic Church in the United States are legion: the sex abuse scandal, a secularizing society, and a restive flock that, studies show, loses one out of three adult Catholics, to name just a few.”

The reality is that when these exercises in centralizing power, and casting out heretics, is imported to other cultures the results can be catastrophic. When missionaries inserted Christian triumphalism and a spiritual warfare dynamics into traditional African beliefs about malefic magic, they created deadly consequences the missionaries could not (or would not) understand.

Missionaries have commonly responded [to witchcraft accusations] in two ways, said [Robert] Priest [professor of missions and intercultural studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School]. The power of witches to harm others is dismissed as superstition, but this seldom persuades local Christians to abandon the concept; or the reality of witchcraft is endorsed by missionaries not wanting to be “post-Enlightenment rationalists” with a non-biblical skepticism of spiritual warfare.

The result is that traditional witch ideas are fused with Christian theology, which obscures the social consequences: Accused witches are often destitute or outcast, and thus socially defenseless. Instead of seeing old women or children as scapegoats, said Priest, Christian leaders suggest that witchcraft participates in genuine spiritual evil and that the accusations are reasonable. “The church is providing the cognitive underpinnings for the past system in the contemporary world.”

Again and again, we are shown that Christian exorcism and spiritual warfare, when applied to pluralistic or non-Christian cultures, spread a madness that can result in false imprisonments and death. If Catholics want to exorcise other willing Catholics, fine. Likewise, every religious tradition is free to negotiate with the numinous in whatever fashion works best for them, but when you start using these technologies as an external weapon, a dangerous line is crossed. No matter how reassuring it might be to think that a minion of Satan used a mortal form to slaughter those movie-goers, that this is why Holmes snapped suddenly and without warning, it does nothing but muddy the waters and push us further from what may have actually been going on in this man’s mind leading up to that fateful day.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker‘s essay is irresponsible and does more harm than good in an already tragic circumstance. He peddles the beliefs that fuel ex-witch narratives, passing it off as a possible explanation for those asking how this could have happened. The truth has always been that humanity needs no external spiritual help to do gross and inhumane things to one another, for reasons that can seem as opaque as this current case. We should collective reject any attempt to place a demonic possession narrative, especially a Catholic possession narrative, on these killings and instead focus on practical prevention and using our faith(s) to comfort those affected. Anything else is cynical, self-serving, and unneeded.

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102 responses to “Why We Should Reject the Demonic Possession Narrative”

  1. I would be interested in knowing what his student loan burden was, not as a cause but as a possible contributing factor to the break from rationality.

  2. Not impossible, of course, but iirc he was a first-year student, so they wouldn’t’ve been a financial issue for him yet. At least no one is demonizing graduate students yet. I do have to wonder to what extent the general Catholic population buys into this nonsense–my sense living in a heavily Catholic city is that it’s not prominent at all, but then that might just be because the Catholics I’ve had for friends and colleagues are normal, thoughtful, reasonable people. I wonder if anyone’s done any studies on the issue.

  3. What we have is a sprawling religious institution that is losing it’s power base.  It could change or adapt but that would be a dogma shift.  It’s a blind, raging animal as the simple rhetoric is just not being swallowed by the membership or in greater society.  Scapegoating is a traditional method for dealing with such people and issues.  Why bother to investigate the reasons for why these things have occurred when you can be told what the answer is. 

  4. We should thoroughly and completely reject this sort of narrative because it conveniently passes off any blame or responsibility for actions of “evil.” What do these tragedies tell us if the perpetrators are not, in fact, controlled by malevolent, supernatural forces? They tell me that the world is not black and white, and that life is not fair. Neither is it unfair – assigning those qualities to existence make it awfully anthropocentric in my mind. Every mass murderer, every abuser, every rapist in the world is, was, and will be human. I believe that if you take a human and submit them to enough physical, biological, genetic, emotional, and mental stressors, that human is going to snap.

    The need to grasp for an ultimate good vs. evil universal clash is understandable. I was raised a Baptist until my freshman year of high school, after which I disconnected from Christianity due to my questioning of the necessity of Satan and Hell. I remember what it was like to believe in demonic forces in the world, and that sin was a direct result of Satan’s tampering with my life (and yet was still somehow my fault). But in my mind, embracing this worldview denies us the full depth of humanity. Humans, both on the whole and as individuals, are capable of greatness. Great good and great evil, harm and growth, hatred and love. ALL of these are part of the human condition. Some of these things, we strive for. Some of these things, we battle. The wolf that grows is the one that we feed.

    James Holmes cannot be let off the hook for his actions. He has committed terrible, terrible deeds and caused great pain and destruction not just in Aurora, but around the country. His actions, I pray, will be accurately assessed and punished through our American legal system. I do not pray for his death; I pray for justice. 

    However. This does not mean that we should not at least attempt to understand the motivations and stressors that caused Holmes to take the actions that he did. Understanding is not the same is rationalizing, or forgiving, or forgetting. We cannot allow the spectre of “evil” – even for those of us who do not subscribe to a good-vs-evil duality – to dismiss Holmes. Oh, he was just sick. Oh, he was just deranged. Oh, he was just evil. As though he has somehow been divorced from the human race. He was born a human and one day he will die as a human, and part of our human story is not battling invisible demons, but rather attempting to understand the cruelty and barbarism that we are capable of breeding alongside the compassion and love.

  5. This is all anecdotal (and possibly confirmation bias, as I tend to hang out around Catholics accepting of Pagan genderqueer lesbian me), but the Catholics I know seem awfully disconnected from decisions and opinions further up the hierarchy. Even those who regularly attend church are not supportive of all the leadership’s decisions. I wonder if it’s like that statistic that floated around a few months ago that 98% of Catholics used birth control, to the contrary of the Vatican’s wishes.

  6. I tend to agree, Jason the whole demon possessed idea is pure BS. Also following that concept would do nothing to solve this problem ………..find out what really was going on in this guys head. Maybe this guy is just simply a sociopath , all the pics and reports of him show him staring straight ahead , no emotion at all.The other concern i have is why havn’t incidents such as this triggered calls for more and effective gun control.To my way of thinking the right to bear arms doen’t include assalt rifles and machine guns . Limiting these types of weapons won’t harm anyones rights to hunt , i’m not sure what the problem is w/ that issue . Why the NRA has to get involved when such laws are proposed. Even after that congress woman was shot last year , nothing. That guy seems to be a sociopath as well.But getting back to the demon possesion issue, i agree with others here ………….this along with exorcism coming back into play seems to be the Catholic Church reacting to crisis and declining membership .Unfortunatly all of this is going to get worse before it gets better. In an election year Politicians on both sides don’t wont to raise the ire of the NRA and other such special interest groups .   Kilm

  7. The problem with demonic possession as an explanation is that it ends the investigation, like creationism in a scientific discussion. It’s exactly the kind of “give up puzzling and blame God” logic that the Enlightenment banished (or tried).

  8. Why is it that people drag up possessions in African Traditional Religions (ATR’s) such as Vodou and the like and then lump in Wicca and everything else that the Catholic Church finds against its tennets as being a cause to explaining away heinous acts like this one.

    James Holmes premeditated this act for months. He stocked up on weapons, explosives and rigged over 30 IED’s and boobytraps set to blow with trip wires not because he was “possessed”.  This man is on a one way ticket toward a death penalty because of his premeditation on these acts: Acts which can be lain squarely at the man who carried them out.

  9.  I’ve often said that Vatican decisions are seen by American Catholics as akin to the Pirate’s Code from Pirates of the Caribbean “they’re not really rules, they’re more like guidelines”.

  10.  He didn’t have a “machine gun”, and full auto weapons *are* heavily restricted, requiring a class III federal firearms license to own. Second, he had no criminal record, so nothing would have shown up on a background check. Third, the assault rifle everyone’s so hot to ban (which, btw, is heavily used by sport shooters and, I believe, in competition shooting) jammed, so that wasn’t all of the damage he did either. Fourth, why isn’t anyone calling for a ban on CS grenades? While I can see perfectly legit uses for assault rifles (as I said, they’re very popular in target shooting), I can’t see any legit civilian use for a CS gas grenade.

  11. This is as dippy an explanation as some of the ones I’m seeing tossed around by cable news “experts”, including: paintball, violent video games (for example, no kidding, *Guitar Hero*– which makes me wonder what these people are smoking), and, I’m not making this up, orange hair.

    All I can see is that people have an enormous desire to make up stories so that they’re safe and it couldn’t possibly happen to *them* because they’re not: demon possessed, orange-haired, gamers, gun owners, not gun owners, paintball players, etc. It’s been a really long time since I’ve seen this degree of stupidity saturation about any one subject.

  12. I’m a proud “gamer chick”, a lesbian, kink-friendly, and a Pagan. I must be demon central or something.

    Would anyone like to “exorcise” me? 🙂

  13. “Why We Should Reject the Demonic Possession Narrative”

    TL;DR: Because people who promote this narrative are delusional, and people who act as if these delusions were reality often wind up doing catastrophic harm.

  14. The right to bear arms is for the purpose of defence (militia), not for hunting, is it not? As such, it makes more sense to allow the assault rifles than small handguns.

    But that’s just the view of someone who lives in Britain.

  15. An old family friend was the local Anglican exorcist.

    I think that the role of exorcist (of any denomination) is an extremely important one because, either these things are real and these people do a lot of good by banishing malevolent entities or these things are not real and these people do a lot of good by acting as a psychological placebo for people.

    You must admit, it would be very interesting if he genuinely was/is possessed – they could have his exorcism streamed live on the internet.

  16. Thank you, Jason, for your wise words on this inflammatory topic. I was appalled by Fr. Longenecker’s assertion that “occult activity” was a sign of demonic possession. (And, therefore, a step on the road to, quite literally, perdition.)  Is Fr. Longenecker really trying to re-ignite the Satanic Panic?

  17. From my own graduate school experience, one breaking point is the dreaded “qualifier” exam. In my subject (physics) and school (Stony  Brook), no student passed the exam on the first try, and after a certain number of failures, you were out. During one of my trials, one student suddenly stood up, retreated to one corner of the room, and assumed a fetal position. The proctor managed to talk him into standing up to leave the room, and the rest of us all sighed and went back to our tests. I didn’t see that student again.

    Another student snapped during the oral portion of his qualifier, after he had passed the written portion. His parents came to take him home.

    Two mental snaps in the thirty months I was there. One department in one school. You can do the math. Neither case resulted in homicidal rage, merely personal mental breakdown. But breakdowns in graduate school are not uncommon.

    Every graduate student in our department was somewhere between astonishingly bright and unbelievably brilliant, with a long personal history of virtually unmarred academic success. Many of use were facing failure — outright washout failure — for the first time in our lives. That by itself can be devastating if you don’t feel you have options.

    I consistently failed the qualifier myself, but with each failure, it became increasingly clear that the real problem was that I didn’t want to continue. So for me, “washout” came with a profound sense of relief, and the attitude that it was time to go out and do something worthwhile.

  18. Alas, the latest ruling of the US Supreme Court has virtually done away with the militia part, conferring bearing arms as an unalloyed individual right like free exercise of religion.

    Naturally, I disagree mightily. Removing the effect of an identifiable phrase is amendment, not interpretation.

  19. I feel,in my gut,that he simply snapped.Sorry if I’m simplifying it,but it might just be that simple

  20.  Of course the court wouldn’t want a properly armed militia. It might rival their power.

  21.  I strongly suspect you’re right. I’ve had some interesting conversations online about what constitutes a “real” Catholic–and of course I don’t have a dog in the fight, so to speak, but it seems very insulting to me to tell someone whose faith is very important to them that they’re not a “real” member of the Church because they disagree with the Vatican. I didn’t become less of an American because I hated Dubya. Of course, the Church isn’t really democratic, either, but I’d much rather think that the regular churchgoers have the right to decide how Catholic they are for themselves.

  22. Quite possibly true–it’s been my experience though that it’s the grad-school loans that get truly nightmarish. Everyone’s situation is different of course.

  23. Grad school is basically one long hazing ritual. The severity varies with field of study and the particular university program and the faculty you end up working with/for, but the whole thing is all about “prove to us that you have a right to be here.” I don’t think that’s a good way to “do” education at all. Add to that the extreme difficulty of finding an actual job afterwards, and oy. These days I have a very hard time encouraging anyone to put themselves through it unless it’s for some kind of applied or practical degree. 

  24. I fell out of law school in my fourth semester after a stress-related breakdown that led to crippling depression. I barely got out of bed for six months. Destroyed my academic record and my finances, probably forever. And it’s almost impossible to know that it’s going to be like that until it’s too late. 

    I’ll tell you this, if I ever snap someday, I suspect my student loan burden will have something to do with it. Most of my loans are currently in forbearance because my monthly payment exceeds my total income by more than a third!

  25. Thanks Jason. I read that piece and was pretty appalled. Not only does he list a range of,  in my experience, fairly average experiences as symptoms of a possible possession, the fact that he can’t draw a clear line between possible “demonic activity” and mental illness horrifies me. The world has enough demonization of mental illness without *literally* considering it the work of demons!

  26.  Well, I’m a straight guy, and I don’t think my wife would likely approve, but if you’d like, this old Pagan hippie could try… ummm… astrally…  *chuckle*

  27. Exactly, WhiteBirch! It makes me shudder to think that my own depression could have made me the subject of exorcism, had I grown up in the incorrect denomination. (I’m thinking more evangelical exorcisms over Catholic ones – they’d be more common in my neck of the woods.)

  28. A friend of mine was the subject of exorcism when she was young. Today as a grown, married woman, she has confirmed diagnoses of PMDD, major depressive disorder, PSTD, and what may be some personality fracturing. (I don’t know if it’s full on DID, but some of the symptoms are similar.) To this day, she fights off panic attacks around large church groups, which are quite common in this part of the country.

  29. I live in the American South, where hunting is extremely common and most of my neighbors own rifles, shotguns, and the like. My family is in the minority for not having any weapons in the house. Unless you count my cooking knives.

    Our right to bear ours is interpreted by our courts as an individual right. However, there are measures in place that have background checks for *some* gun purchases. (The last I heard, the percentage was something like 60% checked, 40% unchecked at gunshows and Internet purchases.)

  30. “The second level of demonic influence is obsession.”

    I didn’t even get to the part about witchcraft and Wicca before I was a little horrified. Making up stories and applying them to situations where you don’t have a complete view of what’s going on makes baby Buddha cry. I’m obsessive-compulsive and kind of frightened that the criteria for possession would apply to me before we even get to the part where I’m a witch.

    Egads, no! REJECT! REJECT!

    I tend to take a Hippocratic view of things and try to look for a mundane, physical source before I blame shit on gods or demons. Occam’s razor is a sexy thing. Let’s use that before our metaphorical beards of woobie stuff get out of control.

  31.  I personally think hunting guns are fine (I’d like a few of my own, but the laws are somewhat draconian here), but I was just referring to the bit in your constitution that states “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free
    State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be

  32.  I must admit, I take a Holmesian view:
    “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

  33. ‘Evil’ is simply a label we apply to mark the outer limits of terrible events we can cope with as human beings, or can explain and make sense of via other means.

  34.  Oh oh oh! Would I get to dress like Liberace’s stunt double and dance around flinging water and babbling about random crap?

  35. Fr. Longenecker’s article was very informative. I’ve seen many strange happenings in my life. His “leveling” of indicators of demonic possession shows that he may have a grasp of something that many people fail to understand -myself included. Hajimemachite

  36. I’ve seen this in my own family.   There is an alcoholic in my family and members of my family who are born again are saying that this relative is demon possessed rather than encouraging  treatment.  And when she does get treatment, who knows what kind of religious abuse that’ll be.

  37.  He was a PHD candidate working at McDonalds. His masters couldn’t get him anything better…

  38.  The vatican has recently started authorizing exorcisms.  I witnessed one of these and it consisted of a book burning of new age and pagan materials, and my friend’s pentagram was thrown out. 

  39. As upsetting as this is, the Catholic possession narrative is nothing new. What bothers me is when this same nonsense shows up in our own community. Consider Bob Maransky’s article this past week on Witchvox. Keep in mind, this quote is his assertions, not paraphrasing Catholics:

    “But when we talk about demon possession, we’re not just talking about out-and-out psychos and black witches. Most of the people who are habitually, obsessively, angry, fearful, repressed, depressed, irritable, self-destructive, chronically ill, etc. are demon-possessed. On a guess, I would estimate that well over half the population is demon-possessed. Why do you suppose that every mental disorder (e.g. obsessive – compulsive syndrome, paranoia, A.D.H.D.) is characterized by a set of invariable, ritualized, stereotyped behaviors, in which “the core impairments are consistent even in different cultural contexts.” It’s because every distinct mental disorder has a cadre of demons proper to it – the impairments are so consistent because they are being produced by the same “society” of demons, as it were; and casting those demons out is the first step in recuperating the person’s volition. Academic psychology’s rejection of the notion of demon possession is utterly absurd: it’s like trying to formulate a science of physics while rejecting the calculus – you can still do it, but are handicapping yourself unnecessarily. Practically all mental illness is a symptom of demon possession, and while it can be treated without reference to the underlying problem, this is not a very skillful way of doing it. ”

    Not only is this a misguided diagnosis of a large population of people, it’s outright dangerous. ‘The entire article is full of thoughts like this, and frankly, it scares me a hell of a lot more that the Catholic church…

    Read it here: http://www.witchvox.com/va/dt_va.html?a=gtxx&c=words&id=15125

  40.  I agree and have had my differences with Maransky before on the subject of Witchcraft.  I even wrote a letter protesting his words about “witches” in an article in Dell Horoscope magazine.  However, his answer showed me that he operates from a different cultural tradition.  He lives in Guatemala, calls himself Don Jeronimo, and operates a private resort there.  He tells ghost stories to his guests.  So there is absolutely a cultural bias to his beliefs. 

  41. I’m sorry your friend had to undergo this sort of experience (which I can only imagine is traumatic) and that you had to bear witness to it.

  42. I would agree with you, Nicole. Living religion, that which is practiced by regular Joes and Janes on the ground, is far more than dogma and hierarchy.

  43. Oh that makes me so, so angry. Way to demonize (literally!) those of us with mental disorders, Mr. Maransky. I have depression. I don’t need an exorcism. You know what I need? My meds. Therapy. A supportive and loving network of friends and family. The heck does this guy even get off?

  44. Why is this Maransky guy so big on the Demon concept. Is he a pagan?, this stuff sounds like HD Christian propaganda .Being from South America he has Voudon influences i would think , that mat explain the demon obsession .   Kilm

  45. From what i have heard some  semi automatic weapons can be easily modified to be full automatic , and the conversion parts are easily found as well.And why are semi automatic weapons needed for target and competition shooting , and possibly that can be regulated seperatly.Such weapons are certainly not used for hunting. My question/concern is why would a person even need a semi automatic weapon?What i have seen here of late most people fussing about the right to bear arms and or form militias are radical fringe seperatist or racial hate groups . The exact kind of people that shouldn’t have these kinds of guns. We don’t need our country side full of too well armed crazies . I do understand the opposing sides aurgument , this whole thing is a sticky wicket . The world is an entirely different place now , than when these constitutional amendments were written .  Kilm

  46. If someone commits a crime they do the time, there are no Excuses, those are for cowards, we are all responsibile for our OWN actions no matter what it may be.  In my profession as a Traditional Astrologer I have done readings for people with the most evil of Native Charts, meaning, when we are born we have planets and fixed stars aligned specifically in the Above on our births and they have a direct affect on our lives from birth to death.    When one is born with extreme malefic placements it can actually show a person who is at some point going to commit a crime and or be a victim of one. 

    Looking at his chart I found many malefic placements and mostly in his Moon with malefic effects and fixed star.  A person can be born evil there is not doubt about, they can also in their life become possessed, but the later is NOT the case in this situation. 

    He needs to be held accountable for his actions for he alone commited them knowing what he was doing.  There is no blame anywhere else in this situation or any other.  We are all accountable for our actions be they good or bad.

  47. While we are on the subject of things we should reject, I would like to suggest that we reject the notion that Christianity becomes more dangerous and violent when it is mixed with African traditional beliefs and practices.

    The problem in Africa is not that African Christianity isn’t pure enough. The problem is that modern African societies have not placed the kinds of social, cultural and political checks on Christianity (and Islam) that we take for granted in the West. This actually leads to a more pure version of Christianity, one that is free to act out its dark, violent fantasies, as it was in Europe prior to the Enlightenment.

    On paper most sub-Saharan African countries recognize freedom of religion and some form of separation of church and state (although at least one African country is now officially a “Christian nation”). But in practice African churches and church leaders matter-of-factly wield power and influence that goes far beyond anything that would be tolerated in America or western Europe. A major effect of this influence is that African traditional religions are never mentioned in public discourse except in dismissive or derisive terms, despite the fact that most Africans still follow at least some of their traditional ways (and a significant minority are still heavily identified with their ancient religious traditions).

    Africa needs two things: (1) strong opposition to the undue influence of Christian churches on politics, the media, and society as whole, and (2) the public recognition of religions other than Christianity and Islam as legitimate, or at least as legitimate as Christianity and Islam are (at the very least). Only once Africa has these two things will Africans succeed in putting the Christians in their place and bringing an end to witch hunting and other types of Christian inspired social violence.

    Non-Africans have little role to play in this. But at the very least we should reject the idea that Christianity in and of itself is not a source of the problem, and that it is only once Christianity gets mixed up with African traditions that things go bad. As Pagans, of all people, we know better than that.

  48.  I’d like to reject the notion of Africa as a monolithic (or even duolithic) entity.

  49.  I agree.  What is not addressed is the particular types of mental illness that first displays when the person is late teens or early twenties.  I have noticed that most of these mass killings involve males of that age.  I am dealing with a son who has schezophrenia – hears voices to kill people, is paranoid and homocidel.  After two stints in the mental hospital, he stabilized on meds and had extensive therapy.  Now he works at a responsible job and checks in with his doctors weekly.

    I think it is easier to claim demonic possession is the reason for these instances of insanity than to dig deep and seriously look at the spectrum of mental illnesses.  That would mean more folks getting involved with mental health services and that costs time and money.  So I guess demonic possession is cheaper and easier to deal with …. sigh.

  50. A couple points in your post stood out:

    “Africa needs two things”
    “Non-Africans have little role to play in this.”

    Makes it sound very much like Africa is a monoculture. Which it very much isn’t.

    I see/hear/read it quite a lot. People refer to Africa as if it was a single country (or two, if you go with the Saharan divide), rather than an entire continent.

  51. After being born into a Roman Catholic family and becoming a fundamentalist type of Christian in my late teens and early 20s I was relieved to find Deism. Deism is belief in God based on the application of our reason on the laws and designs in Nature (Deists believe the designs point us to our Designer) and the rejection of unreasonable claims, even those made by the various “revealed” religions. After reading Thomas Paine’s outstanding book on God, Deism, religion, etc., The Age of Reason, The Complete Edition, I finally realized that God and religion are two very different things and that reason is a gift to us from God which we should use, appreciate and apply to every aspect of our lives. It’s great!

    Progress! Bob Johnson

  52. Really?  How many Wiccans, Pagans, Tarot card readers, or Occultists have been responsible for gun massacres in our United States?  What coven was Holmes involved with, again?  This is rather like blaming 9 /11 on Pagans and Lesbians…

  53.  AFAIK, and just to formalize this, the answers are:

    He wasn’t.
    Yes, it is.

  54. Some Christians (traditional Calvinists) might not speak in terms of “demon possession”, but they do speak in terms of the inability of any human to do anything that is “good”: humans are only capable of evil, and are thus deserving of eternal damnation. Only due to the fact that God has “elected” some for salvation, is their hope for *some* of us, and this hope manifests only in heaven, not on earth.

  55. I made a very specific case that there is a general problem throughout sub-Saharan Africa with respect to the power and influence wielded by Christianity, and then I made two very specific proposals for how I think this problem must be addressed. Do you want to address that or not?

  56. I almost snapped in grad school too, especially after my thesis advisor told me I should just quit and go back to working at Barnes and Noble like I had been doing part-time as an undergrad before.  Uh, the whole POINT of me getting that education to begin with is so that I WOULDN’T end up working in retail for $8 an hour my whole life! (I was in a biology program BTW.) I became suicidal and had to start seeing a psychologist and got on some pretty powerful antidepressants just to function. I was sure I had ruined my life and was worthless as a human being because I’d completely failed at something I’d been working at before I even graduated from high school.

    They also had absolutely no advice for a person who was perhaps unsuited to becoming a Phd doing research at a university like them, but still wanted a career somewhere in the field of biology. They only knew about how things went in THEIR careers, and had no idea about any other options. I never ended up finishing a thesis, but I was able to be switched to a non-thesis option so I’d at least graduate.

    But then I was just kind of dumped with no job prospects (at least I didn’t know what kind of job I could get with a Master’s degree in biology with no thesis). I then spent 10 months on unemployment, and finally became an adjunct biology instructor at a community college. That’s where I’m at now. I actually really enjoy teaching, but my loans are also in deferment because I don’t make enough money to pay them back.

    So… my point is, we may never know, but if this guy was already a kind of violent, mentally unstable individual, doing poorly in a neuroscience grad program could have pushed him over the edge.

  57. Demonic Possession?  What is this, the Dark Ages? 
    He sent a journal to his therapyst prior to the attack.  [which since it wasn’t part of his discussion with her should be admitted as evidence] He’s been planning this for a very long time, perhaps since he heard when the Batman movie was coming out or even before that. 
    The point is, he PLANNED this.  He should NOT be placed in an instutution.  There are times when i truely believe in ‘An Eye for an Eye’.  This is one of them.  It’s unfortunate he can only die once.  Do they have death by firing squads anywhere?

  58.  I’m confused… you state that “A person can be born evil there is not doubt” but then say that  “there are no Excuses, those are for cowards, we are all responsibile for our OWN actions no matter what it may be.”

    It seems to be simultaneously supporting predestination, in this case that a person can be born evil due to celestial influences that are outside of his or her control, and yet they are entirely responsible for their actions, since “he alone commited them knowing what he was doing”, or am I missing something here?

  59. Creationism doesn’t end any discussion concerning science; the only conflict between Creationism and Evolutionism is HOW a biological system emerged, not WHAT it does. Evolutionism does more to end scientific discussion than Creationism does. Example: What does this organ do? Evolutionist: “I don’t know, and therefore it is ‘vestigial’ and does ‘nothing’.” Creationist: “I don’t know, but God created it, and therefore it has a purpose, which requires more research.”
    The argument of “Junk DNA” and “Vestigial organs”, “Convergent Evolution”, etc., is nothing more than “give up puzzling and blame natural selection” logic.

  60. “Junk DNA” is certainly a poor choice of term; “unexplored DNA” would be more accurate.

    “Vestigial organs” is a category that can become smaller as we discover some “vestiges” actually do something.

    I’m not going to go to “covergent evolution” because I’ve been out of school too long.

    Creationism ends the discussion because it is not possible to propose hypotheses and theories to test and experiments to perform those tests, because there’s no way of parsing “God wills it.”

  61. Grad student here, and I’m not even in a sensible field of study! I’m one of those people it’s easy to look down your nose at because I have nobody but myself to blame for my troubles, devoting time and money to an industry in a very shaky position right now just because of passion.

    I’ll save you the confessional I almost posted,but it’s kind of comforting to know I’m not just particularly emotional and unsuited to this sort of thing. I’m often told I’m not the only one, but it always feels like I’m the only person who’s never emotionally aged beyond 8.

    (I used to work at B&N. Not that bad a job as far as retail goes, but after a while you develop….. tics. And my coworkers were so misanthropic, it very much disturbed me. I suppose I was also on my way toward that, as well, developing my weird little tics and obsessions in my imaginary war between me and the customers)

  62. As a senior aged gay man who suffered so many exorcisms I lost count, for the two to three years in phase two of my ten years of strenuous ex-gay church life and counseling? … I have to say that the deliverance prayer rituals along with their intellectual (and above all, emotional plus spiritual?) underpinnings that had the most evil impact in my teenage and young adult life.  Thanks to the incredible fear of my inner self that this sort of belief flowing into church practice generated, I adopted various dissociative habits to defend against the nearly intolerable and incomprehensible preachment that I could only experience attractions for other boys because a demon from hell was inside me, making me feel sub-human and in-human attractions.  The damage of the ways too many faith communities like to (mis-) treat sexual minority folks often appear years after people have ceased all assent or connections to these faith communities.  But just because as an adult, you no longer consciously believe in all the nasty, terrifying things your family or faith happened to tell you about being LGBTQ, doesn’t mean you have departed and left, to live maturely and freely.  Down deep inside, toxic irrational ‘truths’ can skew and even destroy good fine living that dares to arise, contrary to the demonic possession and other false lines of thought which claim to comprehend LGBTQ folks better than anybody could possibly understand or know herself or himself.  Alas.  Lord have mercy.  (drdanfee)

  63.  Well, it is a bit self defeating to make suggestions for how this can be changed whilst also saying that non-Africans can’t help.

    I honestly do not know that there is a general problem throughout the southern half of the continent. I don’t know enough about the various countries and cultures to make that kind of generalisation.

    I guess the first thing would be to establish how widespread an issue it is and if there are any places that do not have the issue.

  64. Indeed. It’s been said everyone should work retail at least once to “understand the human condition.” However, I think it’s more than just working with the public. There’s a toxic mix of factors in big box retail work that make it the mind and dignity killer it is, all of which I’m sure are present at McDonald’s in probably an even worse way. Right now I’m working another retail job part time, and it’s not too bad. Could be better could be worse. It’s a smaller store that sells a different kind of product. The way stores like B&N are set up just invited SO many problems and things to get angry about.

  65. Was this young man demon possessed?  Did he snap because of the pressures of going to graduate school in a very difficult ciriculum?  Does he have an organic brain disease (mental illness) or biochemical imbalance?  We don’t know and, speaking for myself, I am unable to know because I have no contact with this person.  Do I reley on the media to accurately report his actions and condition?  Not very much.  I’m left to consider all of the above as possibilities in an attempt to get my mind around this awful event. 

    As far as his spiritual condition and potential demon possession is concerned I can suggest a classic book entitled, “People of the Lie”  published in 1983 and written by M. Scott Peck, MD.
    Dr. Peck was a psychiatrist and his book deals with medical and spiritual diagnosis of very difficult cases.  This book is still in print and available from many book sellers.  Perhaps Dr. Peck’s conclusions would surprise you.

    Dear readers, before a rush to judgement, please do some reading and researching

  66. For most of my life, I thought evil somehow existed but I didn’t think  very often of the existence of evil forces. Then I had an experience that changed my view. Someone entered my life who tried to do me harm with persistent malice that did not fit the circumstances or even make sense. The force of evil in this person’s intentions seemed to go far beyond ordinary or even extraordinary human imperfection. I could not think of how to explain or understand what was happening. Then, one evening at a work-related social event, I came face to face with my enemy. He looked at me with his usual hostility. Then, I saw something that I had never seen before. I saw the hostility in his eyes change. I saw something enter his eyes, exhibiting intense hatred of me. To all appearances, another intelligence seemed to be viewing me through the eyes of my enemy, with even more intense hatred. The moment passed; however it was a surprising learning experience, one which I remember vividly.

  67. Heh, sure, its gotta be the bunnies. Whats with all the carrots? Why do they need such good eyesight for anyways?

  68. I find it strange that speculation as to motive and cause for the evil deeds of a white, urban, American college educated male should be attacked with rhetoric about its past accidental use in the oppression of 3rd world women.  The OP needs to move his sights to where  it is still relevant:  North African fundamentalist interpretations of sharia.

  69. I don’t know that the typical Catholic knows enough about what goes on to consent. Does ‘willing’ cover actual physical abuse? The very nature of the situation assumes consent is irrevocable, and this ‘no safeword’ nature puts me on the side of categorically criminalizing the entire affair. 

  70.  You’d be surprised. Of all the denominations of Christianity, the one I know best is the Church of England.

    It seems to have this reputation as being ‘mellow’ or moderate, yet I found it to be only superficially different (in tolerances) to Catholicism.

    If nothing else, they are unlikely to not offer a service that their ‘competition’ provide. If there is demand for it, and all that.

  71. Non-Africans cannot simply “stay out of it” altogether, despite the fact that Africans themselves must ultimately be responsible for what happens in their own societies.

    In the first place, Pagans know very from our own historical experience as Pagans that the kind of violence that is today associated with Christianity in Africa (especially Witch-hunting and anti-gay violence) is something that can be explained by Christianity’s own natural tendencies, without recourse to explanations involving African traditional beliefs and practices.

    In the second place, all of us in “the West” (Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand) live in societies that are directly culpable for the imposition of Christianity on sub-Saharan Africa. This is not limited to the period of Colonialism, but continues to this day due to the relentless spiritual and cultural aggression of Christian missionaries, which are funded with money from the West. In the specific case of the U.S., Christian missionaries in Africa are directly funded by our tax dollars!

    Thirdly, in the West we know from our own historical experience what it takes to put restraints on the dangerously violent and intolerant proclivities of Christianity. We have shown “what works”: well reasoned public criticism of Christianity + insistence on the recognition of the validity of non-Christian (and especially pre-Christian) religious traditions + strict limitations on the influence of the Church in politics and in society as a whole.

  72. Sadly, I am familiar with some aspects of what James Holmes and his family are experiencing…the sadness and despair, societal  accusations, the stigma, the relentless misunderstandings of the underlying physiology of mental illness.  If James had had a disease like cancer, he and his family would have been afforded sympathy…. but mental illness, especially involving delusions/ hallucinations, is met by harsh accusatory judgement.  “What did he and his family do wrong?”  Isn’t it “funny” how certain forms of mental illness occur within certain developmental time frames?  For males, the occurrence of schizophrenia occurs generally between the ages of 15 and 24, usually with the onset of hormonal changes.  Many times, Aspergers is a risk factor.  Why is that?  Is it evil to fall victim to a disease?  What if by no willful intent, a person contracts the deadly pathogen Ebola, and then unwittingly, never “in sane heart,” infects hundreds more with the deadly contagion.  What was that person’s intent?  Was it evil to infect others?  Why is it so hard to conceive of mental illness as a neural misfiring, perhaps an imbalance of dopamine, or broken brain receptors, or a flawed chemical response to stress…. any one of us could have been born vulnerable, any one of us may BECOME vulnerable under certain circumstances.  It really all comes down to a simple consideration:  “There but for the grace of God, go I.” 

    To those who think this happens only to others, think again. I’ve seen previously “normal” people in psychiatric care because of an accidental bump on the head –- or from a TBI (traumatic brain injury) from a car accident on the way home from work, or from the grocery store –an unexpected event that rearranged life. Hallucinations, violent anger, depression, isolation.  It can happen to any of us, at any time. And then there are people, perhaps James Holmes is one of them, who came into this world with a brain chemistry that is more fragile, more susceptible…. people with Aspergers, for example…. who are persecuted every day for their inability to respond to social cues.  I believe the people at Salk Research Institute, his former teaching assistants, were quoted as saying they remember Holmes as being “socially inept” and “a dolt” … harsh words against a young 18 yr old., and a harsh reality to endure and negotiate.  Sometimes keen intelligence comes with precarious developmental vulnerabilities.

    As for James Holmes, yes, perhaps stress was the tipping point of a fragile brain.  In any case, his reality was horribly distorted—-and when you don’t have a grasp of what is real, any darkness is possible.  Where does that darkness come from?  I feel deeply for the victims and their families, for the parents of James Holmes, and for James Holmes himself.  I can’t imagine the gut wrenching realizations he faces now, as his brain cycles in moments of lucidity, when the neurons connect, when brain receptors rebalance.  He is a prisoner of a disease that has taken his life and the lives of others.  This tragedy begs our compassion.  There but for the grace of God.

  73. look at this loser. Trying to use the “crazy card”.
    The dude is a B*i*t*c*h.
    Freakin changing his hair color. lol

  74.  look at this loser. Trying to use the “crazy card”.
    The dude is a B*i*t*c*h.
    Freakin changing his hair color. lol

  75. Yes , this is a tragedy but i believe our compassion needs to be directed towards his victums . This guy is a major wacko , and this incident was premeditated. Also the boobie  trapping of his apartment designed to kill and or maime as well . To me from what i’ve seen he seems sociopathic to me , his blank stare, looking straight ahead no emotion . He may have snapped , but that doesn’t excuse mass murder and injury to complete strangers . This guy needs to be locked up for a LONG time, as in  never getting out . Maybe once he’s locked up , deal with his mental issues . But being crazy is not a get out of jail card for a possible sociopath , but definate mass murderer.  Kilm   

  76. AP, i agree the Christians have made a horrendous mess in africa , but i’m not sure what this has to do with demon possesion and the whacko in colorado .seems just a wee bit off topic to me . The listed topic is heavy duty enough .    Kilm

  77. Kilmrnock: “seems just a wee bit off topic to me”

    I was responding to Jason’s claim, as part of the original post, that
    “When missionaries inserted Christian triumphalism and a spiritual warfare dynamics into traditional African beliefs about malefic magic, they created deadly consequences the missionaries could not (or would not) understand.”

  78. Hi Kilm…. According to what little we know of James Holmes, he does not fit the behavioral pattern (and thus definition) of a sociopath. A psychotic break does not mean one is a sociopath, if this is what has happened to him.

    And yes. We should have compassion for the victims. Absolutely. But compassion has no limits, there is enough to go around, for everyone, including Holmes and his family. Actually my personal belief is that the ONLY way to stare down true evil, is with Compassion. Compassion for the human condition…. to me, it’s a way to fight the darkest aspects of ourselves. I mean this in all sincerity.

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