A few days ago, The Daily Beast ran an article about Bob Larson, an Arizona-based minister who performs exorcisms via Skype. He’d been featured in The Huffington Post a few days before that. The Daily Beast piece wasn’t quite as snickery as the Huffington Post‘s: the Daily Beast author, Scott Bixby, noted that exorcism has a “relatively mainstream presence in most Christian sects (ever been baptized? Congratulations–you’ve had an exorcism).” Huffington Post author David Moye ended his piece with a little whipped-up controversy by getting a rival exorcist–head of the International Catholic Association of Exorcists–to cast doubt on the authenticity of Larson’s exorcisms, on the grounds that a truly possessed person wouldn’t sit still in front of a computer screen.
A couple questions that occur to me:
1. Presumably I, the online reader, am supposed to be snickering that there are people living in the modern age–as driven home by the fact that they’re Skyping, OMG–who nevertheless believe in demonic possession. But what does it say about contemporary American culture that these online news stories treating exorcism as laughable exist simultaneously with a film industry that seems to be advertising yet another horror flick about possession every time I go to a cineplex?
2. Did you know that the Book of Occasional Services of the Episcopal Church–the church so modern that it can boast having ordained the first openly gay bishop in the Christian mainline; the church so socially respectable that it runs the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. and has produced more U.S. presidents than any other denomination–did you know that that church’s Book of Occasional Services, as published in 2003, includes a rite for exorcism? Well, more precisely, it contains a page explaining that exorcism is a rite of the church, so if a priest believes that someone is possessed, not mentally ill, then they should contact their bishop for directions about how to proceed. I would love to see those instructions.