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Deliver us from evil and exorcists who do more harm than good
by Graeme J. Davidson
25 November 2007

While most mainline Christian denominations regard the need for exorcism as rare, some Charismatic groups are keen on the practice. That can result in untrained exorcists ignoring symptoms of psychiatric illness, guilt or shame, and using practices more akin to the methods of the Spanish Inquisition.

....Several students at my college in England believed there was an evil presence dwelling in an ancient black chest. Their speculation was the stuff of gothic novels. Maybe the chest had held the body of a murder victim, the wedding trousseau of a jilted bride or been used for black magic.
....The cynics suggested shifting the chest from the dark stairwell where it resided into a brightly lit area so it wouldn’t look so sinister. That solution got the thumbs down. The susceptible insisted the college call in the Church of England’s best exorcist to expel what had to be a poltergeist.
....Intrigued, we all watched as the exorcist pointed a crucifix at the chest and prayed in the name of Jesus Christ for the spirit to return from whence it came and bother us no more. Other prayers followed, along with liberal doses of holy water splashed over the chest, the stairwell and us – an act of ritual cleansing.
....The result: two of the susceptible students slipped on the wet stairwell and broke their arms, and bedbugs besieged the exorcist as he slept in the college guestroom. The susceptible insisted they saw the lid of the chest open and felt a rush of wind that the rest of us never experienced.
....Was anything positive gained by this exorcism? It hit the front pages of the national press, so the embarrassed college authorities shifted the chest to a well-lit spot after all.
....Exorcism brings to mind the Dark Ages when life was seen as a struggle between the forces of good and evil. Everything untoward – pestilence, natural disasters, plague, illness and things that go bump in the night – were the Devil’s work. Evil spirits could possess things and people. If a nasty demon, sprite or goblin had infiltrated folks’ minds so they were no longer themselves, the fiend needed evicting. And to help good triumph over evil, each culture developed wisdom, techniques and specialists for freeing the possessed.
....According to the bible, Jesus performed many exorcisms, including casting out seven demons from Mary Magdalene. In one instance, the evicted evil spirits moved into a herd of pigs, causing them to plunge to their deaths over a cliff. Jesus was accused of colluding with demons. They certainly recognised him as having power over them. Jesus also encouraged his disciples to cast out evil spirits, but they were not always successful.
....We’ve virtually left behind the dualistic worldview of good versus evil spirits. Apart from our morbid fascination with stories and horror movies featuring exorcism – The Exorcist, Repossessed, The Exorcism of Mary Rose – we now live in an age where science, technology and advances in psychiatry provide more enlightened views. Or do we?
....As the incident at my former college shows, there’re still deep feelings among some of us that evil spirits are at work. And, whatever the cause, that feeling of oppression from alien spiritual forces still is a frightening reality for people who seek deliverance.
....While most mainline Christian denominations regard the need for exorcism as rare, some Charismatic groups are keen on the practice. That can result in untrained exorcists ignoring symptoms of psychiatric illness, guilt or shame, and using practices more akin to the methods of the Spanish Inquisition – forcing water into their victims to cleanse them of evil, violently trying to shake, beat or choke the devil out of them, or imposing fasts. It’s little wonder there have been exorcism-related deaths over recent years and the methods have been like salt on the wounds of the distressed.
....Father Michael Blain, former exorcist for the Wellington Anglican Diocese, says he never had reason to exorcise anyone. Instead, he offered help to distressed people and “integral to this is prayer for their deliverance from the sense of guilt, or of oppression”.
....Whether you believe in occult evil spirits or not, we can agree that plenty of evil things happen in the world. Maybe that’s why the Lord’s Prayer has the phrase, “Deliver us from evil”.




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