Show Notes - Episode 57
Episode 57: Possession Obsession – Evangelicals and Exorcism
Fun facts about exorcism:
The concept of demon possession is largely absent in the OT, but the NT is rife with descriptions of people under demonic influence.
Nearly every description of demon possession in the NT reeks of mental illness, a concept that there was no scientific structure to define or treat at the time. WE KNOW BETTER NOW.
Countries that experience significant periods of religious upheaval are more prone to cases of demonic possession and the use of exorcism to remedy them than those who are largely atheist.
Nearly everything the average person knows about demon possession and exorcism comes from just one source: the movie “The Exorcist.”
Demon possession is the prevailing diagnosis for clients of christian counselors.
Even members of the scientific and mental health communities have been guilty of blaming demon possession for mental and emotional health issues. These pronouncements almost always come from theist counselors, doctors, and mental health professionals.
The patient's religious opinions are the biggest deciding factor in whether or not he or she experiences demonic possession and/or responds to exorcism as a remedy.
With the exception of 16th and 17th century Europe, exorcism is more popular today than it has ever been in recorded history, and it is far from an American or exclusively evangelical problem.
Like any other social blight, evangelicals have seized upon and go great lengths to exploit the concept of demon possession and exorcism in society and their phobias and alarmist reaction to otherwise treatable and manageable mental health issues outshine any practical response.
Everything from depression and anxiety to personality disorders to issues like obesity, epilepsy, high blood pressure, vision problems, and much, much more are routinely blamed on demonic influence in an alarming majority of evangelical communities and churches.
Exorcism is BIG business.
Exorcisms in the New Testament
Mk 1:21-8, the man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue at Capernaum
Mk 5:1-20, the demoniac (Matthew says two men) with a
legion of unclean spirits among the tombs in Gerasa
Mk 7:24-30, the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman possessed by an unclean
spirit or demon
Mk 9:14-29, the boy with the dumb spirit, often called the epileptic boy. Matthew and Luke use the same stories
Mt 12:22 and Luke 11:14, Jesus casting a demon out of a dumb man (a dumb demon)
Mk 1:32-34, 39, Mk 3:11; Luke 7:21 and 13:32 include summary references to Jesus' “de-demoning” ministry. Make no mistake: Jesus had a reputation for being an exorcist and made it clear that those who were true to him as followers could do it, too.
Jn 14:12: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
The Acts of the apostles makes this point clearer by also demonstrating that only real believers could do it. This was supposed to discourage charlatans and those with self-serving motives from attempting to cash in on Jesus' game. If you try to share the spotlight with the almighty, be prepared to get ripped to shreds (Acts 19:13-17). These verses also had a very sinister anti-Semitic message, but that's for another episode...
Early and Medieval Christianity
“Origen, an early Christian theologian, writing in the second century, explains how the name of Jesus is used by Christians to expel “evil spirits from … souls and bodies.”
Over the years exorcism came to be associated more widely with the Christian faith. Several Christian writers mention exorcisms taking place publicly as a way to convince people to become Christians. They argued that people should convert because the exorcisms Christians performed were more effective than those of “pagans.”
Early Christian texts mention various exorcism methods that Christians used, including making the sign of the cross over possessed persons or even breathing on them.”
Priests were “trained” to perform exorcisms – Catholic priests needed to be “certified.”
Minor Exorcism – Not for the “acutely” possessed. Wait, what? That's like being “a little pregnant.” Either you're possessed or you're not, right? “Minor exorcism” was a common practice before or during infant baptisms as a means of cleansing the child of sinful influences that might.... what? Cause them to hold on to their original sin?
Between the 15th and 17th centuries, there was “an increased concern” about demons throughout western Europe. And lest we forget... the Salem witch hysteria happened at the tail end of that timeline. European superstition followed the puritans and other strict Christian sects to America and it didn't take long before group hysteria and mob rule completely overshadowed logic to the point where a small New England town became the site of a bloodbath in the name of purging Satan from their midst. Or, at least, that's the excuse they gave...
Medieval exorcism extended not just to humans, but to animals, certain inanimate objects, and even plots of land that failed to produce crops or those that animals tended to avoid. Object possession is still a big thing in exorcism culture but the focus is much more often on people.
“The narratives are also much more detailed. When someone possessed by a demon was confronted by an exorcist priest, it was believed that the demon would be aggravated and cause the individual to engage in more intense and violent behavior. There are reports of physical altercations, floating around the room, and speaking or screaming loudly and angrily during the exorcism process.”
Protestants at that time took a more passive approach. They believed in demons but shied away from invasive forms of exorcism, relying on prayer (from a safe distance) as the primary combatant.
But also toward the end of the 17th Century, the Age of Enlightenment was a time when people started thinking more practically about the causes of so-called demon possession. Between the 17th and 19th centuries, people did begin attributing the symptoms of demon possession to more likely causes, particularly the emerging discipline of psychology.
Early mental health professionals viewed perceived possession as a manifestation of much larger, but also innate, issues within the human mind. They decried exorcism as an ineffective, counter-productive, and unnecessarily dangerous practice that was destined to fail as a long-term solution to mental health problems.
But even on the heels of these stunning revelations, protestant churches and charlatan traveling preachers did a stellar job of keeping the concept of exorcism in the front of people's minds and put on some very disturbing, over-the-top displays of exorcism to both entertain and intimidate the crowds, and to get them to pony up when the offering plate was passed. Many of these “practitioners” were part of the emerging movement that would come to be called Evangelical Christianity today.
And, like I said earlier, exorcism is big business.
The Catholic church still has an active and formal ministry devoted to exorcism in the year 2021. At least you can say they're consistent in all their travesties against humanity.
But even with a dedicated ministry to address instances of demon possession and exorcism, the level of activity around these things in the catholic church pales in both the number of documented incidences and the radical methods used by their own “trained” exorcist clergy when compared to a little, itty-bitty sect of evangelical Christianity: Pentecostalism.
“"By conservative estimates, there are at least five or six hundred evangelical exorcism ministries in operation today, and quite possibly two or three times this many," he writes, in addition to numerous exorcisms performed by charismatic, Pentecostal and other brands of Christianity.” Source: https://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=92541&page=1)
Part of the process of getting saved involves the new convert inviting Jesus into their “heart.” While few will have the balls to admit it, this is a form of possession with the added bonus of consent. Christians are taught to think in terms of being possessed – letting Christ live through you, decreasing so he can increase, etc. It puts thoughts in their heads that they're never alone even in their own bodies. How difficult is it really, under those circumstances, to get them to believe that other things could be setting up shop there too?
Now, many pentecostal sects flat out dismiss the notion that a Christian can be demon possessed, but there are two problems: First, when they want to target one of their own for exorcism, they simply make a small semantical shift in the language and call the situation a case of “oppression” as opposed to possession. Satan can't take up house in the temple of the Holy Spirit so, no you're not possessed. But those violent mood swings where sometimes you're you and sometimes you're a huge ball of anger and depression? That's demons. And we need to get them to go.
The other problem, though, is that any notion of a Christian not becoming possessed goes out the window whenever one of them starts showing “signs” of emotional or mental unrest. No one wants to watch people lay hands on an “oppressed” person. Nope. That's just not all that entertaining. Someone with untreated mental illness who is being slowly driven deeper and deeper into their illness? That'll really get the crowd going. Bring 'em down front and let's show these people the power of GAWD!
It's also very interesting how many church members suddenly come down with cases of demonic oppression and possession when a traveling preacher whose ministry focus is on possession and exorcism rolls into town. Time to deal with those unruly teenagers without stoning them. They have demons of opposition oppressing them! Margaret may finally be set free from those manic and depressed swings. “Maybe my husband will stop cheating on me if we can exorcise that demon of lust out of him.” “I keep eating because the voices tell me to. I hope this man can help get them to leave me alone...”
There is literally a demon out there for every sin and if they can convince you that your problems are supernatural and not emotional or medical, the fear of this THING oppressing or possessing you is something that they NEED TO feed in you. They can't offer any practical solutions because practical is not entertaining and it doesn't put dollars in offering plates. We've said it many times: they will say and do ANYTHING to keep you coming back and keep you dependent on THEM.
And their plans works. An astounding HALF of Americans believe that demonic possession is a real thing, even those who aren't particularly religious.
Popular media – The Conjuring, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, etc.
Among atheists, the numbers of perceived demon possessions are much lower, and coincidentally, atheists almost never experience the kinds of things that are associated with demon possession. This is mostly because by the time someone suggests it as a cause, that person has already been to a doctor or licensed mental health professional to deal with the issue(s).
Not only does the practice of exorcism not solve a single one of the problems I mentioned or the plethora of others I didn't, it can, and does, turn murderous in an alarming number of cases. I'm going to steer away from incidents that don't involve evangelical influence, but there are a number of indigenous religious traditions that also use exorcism to this day with the result being people, and far too often children, dying at the hands of their spiritual “deliverers.” This is a religion problem first, and an evangelical problem second, but like with many things, the cultural influence of evangelical thought spreads these kinds of beliefs with the destructive force of an aggressive cancer. Here are just a few examples:
“Seven people were killed in a bizarre religious ritual in a jungle community in Panama, in which indigenous residents were rounded up by about 10 lay preachers and tortured, beaten, burned and hacked with machetes to make them “repent their sins”. Ten people were arrested.
Police freed 14 members of the Ngabé Buglé indigenous group who had been tied up and beaten with wooden cudgels and Bibles.
Alerted by three villagers who escaped and made their way to a local hospital for treatment earlier, police were prepared for something bad, but were still surprised by what they found at an improvised church at a ranch, where a little-known religious sect known as “The New Light of God” was operating.
“They were performing a ritual inside the structure. In that ritual, there were people being held against their will, being mistreated,” prosecutor Rafael Baloyes said.
“All of these rites were aimed at killing them, if they did not repent their sins,” he said. “There was a naked person, a woman” inside the building, where investigators found machetes, knives and a ritually sacrificed goat.”
About a mile (2km) away from the church building, authorities found a freshly dug grave with the corpses of six children and one adult. The dead included five children as young as a year old, their pregnant mother and a 17-year-old female neighbor.
“They searched this family out to hold a ritual and they massacred them, mistreated them, killed practically the whole family,” said Baloyes, adding that one of the suspects in the killing is the grandfather of the children who were slain. One of them said God had given them a message,” Baloyes said. “That message apparently boiled down to making everyone repent or die.”
The sect had reportedly only been operating in the area for about three months.
This all happened LAST YEAR.
Sept. 12, 2016 – ROCKVILLE, Md. — A Germantown mother pleaded guilty to killing two of her children and stabbing her two older children during an exorcism in 2014.
Zakieya Avery, 31, dabbed her eyes with a tissue as Montgomery County prosecutors described what a judge called a “gruesome and chilling” attack. She pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.
Avery and housemate Monifa Sanford told investigators that they believed evil spirits had moved between the bodies of the children, ages 1 and 2, and that an exorcism was needed to drive out the demons.
The psychiatric evaluation performed at Clifton T. Perkins Hospital — Maryland’s psychiatric hospital — was inconclusive.
Prosecutor Peter Feeney read an 18-page description of the horrific attacks on Avery’s children that caused some of her family members to cry, gasp and leave the courtroom.
Avery’s youngest child, 1-year-old Norell, was stabbed more than 20 times by his mother, while Sanford spoke in tongues and “laid hands” on the boy.
Her daughter Zyana, 2, was choked and stabbed to death, although it is unclear which woman stabbed her.
Two older children — 8-year-old son, Martello, and 5-year-old daughter, Taniya — begged their mother to stop, before each was stabbed in the chest.
As her son yelled to his mother, she told the boy, “These are the sort of demons that can get inside of you.”
After the intended exorcism, the women cleaned up the scene and “prepared the children to see God,” according to prosecutors.
After accepting Avery’s guilty pleas, the judge heard testimony from a childhood friend of Avery’s, who recalled her speaking to herself and hearing voices.
Avery’s mother testified that she had her daughter involuntarily committed to an institution when she was “manic and suicidal.”
In January 2015, Sanford pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder, under a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Sanford was found not criminally responsible — the Maryland equivalent of an insanity defense — and has been committed to the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital for an undetermined period of time.
October 2, 2019 - A man was arrested and charged with first-degree murder after he allegedly killed his 6-year-old son while trying to exorcise a demon from him with hot water.
The boy’s father, Pablo Martinez, reportedly told officials that he “saw something evil” in the child and “knew that he had to cast the demon out.”
Romelia Martinez told police that her husband was giving the 6-year-old and another unidentified child a bath. The other child left the bathroom crying at some point.
She said she “heard a gurgling sound coming from the bathroom" but the door was locked. When she unlocked it, she said she witnessed her husband holding their son under the faucet.
She shouted at him to stop but her husband allegedly said he “needed to save him."
Pablo Martinez told police that he guessed the child was underwater for about five to 10 minutes. He then attempted CPR and poured cold water on the boy.
Romelia Martinez said she called a pastor, who did not answer, before she called 911.
The 6-year-old was taken to the Banner University Medical Center but was pronounced dead. He had burns covering 15 percent of his body.
Nov. 30, 2019 – A nine-year-old boy died during an ‘exorcism’ carried out by members of a religious sect including his own parents. The boy, named only as David K, was gagged to stifle his screams as he was whipped by his father and other adults in an effort to ‘drive out demons’, it is claimed.
His mum is alleged to have held him down during the violent ritual. Both parents are among a number of sect members detained on suspicion of murder in connection with the horrific case in Yekaterinburg, Russia.
Following the boy’s death, the members of the Disciples of Jesus Christ group is alleged to have prayed by his body for two days in a bid to ‘resurrect’ him. When that failed, David’s body was buried in woodland close to a lake. Police discovered it following a tip-off from his aunt.
David’s father was held in Russia alongside a female sect leader named Zemfira Gainullina.
Gainullina posted shortly before her arrest: ‘Many times we were persecuted for the name of Jesus Christ, but no-one could blame us for anything, because there was no crime in us. ‘No-one could forbid us to live the way the Lord Jesus Christ leads us.’ Zemfira Gainullina is said to be one of the leaders of the Disciples of Jesus Christ responsible. Dr Alexander Neveev, an expert on religious cults in Russia, said: ‘In this sect it was believed that sinfulness should be beaten out of children. ‘It was necessary to fight the devil. ‘When punishing a child, you should not pay attention to his or her suffering, because in hell, he or she will suffer even more. ‘Of course, a person whose head is filled with such nonsense is simply not able to understand that a child should not be hurt.’
Dec. 28, 2020 - The parents of a 4-year-old Missouri girl allegedly killed by neighbours to remove a "demon" pleaded not guilty Monday to charges connected to the case. Mary S. Mast, 29, and James A. Mast, 28, both of Lincoln, Missouri, were charged Thursday with felony child endangerment resulting in death and are jailed without bond. The couple's other children, a 2-year-old son and an infant, were placed in protective custody, Benton County Sheriff Eric Knox said in a news release.
The girl was found dead at the family home on Dec. 20. Knox said she had been severely beaten and dunked in an icy pond as part of what appeared to be a "religious-type episode."
Across-the-road neighbours Ethan Mast, 35, and Kourtney Aumen, 21, were charged last week with second-degree murder and other offences. Both are jailed without bond. Ethan Mast is not believed to be related to James and Mary Mast, Knox said.
Both families attend the same church, but Knox said that the actions involving the girl are not condoned by the church, which he declined to name.
A probable cause statement from Benton County Sgt. Chris Wilson said the girl was already dead and had "severe purple bruising" over her body, along with ruptured blisters, when he was called to the home.
Knox said the girl's parents also had been beaten along with the 2-year-old. The infant was unharmed.
James Mast told investigators he and his wife observed the beating of their daughter but were told they would be beaten or shot if they tried to intervene.
Still, Wilson asked James Mast "how he could let people do this to his family and he stated they were told (his wife) had a `Demon' inside her and her children would end up just like her if it was not taken care of," Wilson wrote in the probable cause statement.
Ethan Mast told investigators that he and Aumen used a leather belt to beat the girl on Dec. 19, the statement said. She was then taken to a pond behind the home where she was "dunked" in the water on a day when high temperatures were in the 40s.
So these are the kinds of things that are happening all over the world, all fueled by evangelical thought. And while there are definitely incidents of murder by exorcism that exist outside the realm of evangelicalism, the numbers are tiny in comparison (Australian girl, pagan medium...).
One of the things I like about our show is that we don't typically report on this stuff without also offering ways to counter it. In this instance, I think the answer is simple.
The only way religious sects, organizations, and ministries get away with any of this is because they're well-funded. So here's my call to ex-tithe-payers who are still in the mindset of giving, but want to do something significant with the money they give: support mental health charities. Here's a list of charities you can vet and decide if your money will be used the way you intend:
There are an innumerable number of churches out there touting exorcism as the solution for nearly every mental health issue. Counter their messaging by channeling those dollars into organizations that understand the nature of the symptoms and can educate the public on the real causes without resorting to supernatural ones as the explanation.
We can also be vocal when people start talking about demon possession and exorcism as legit ways to deal with mental health issues. This is where the concept of counter-apologetics comes into play. Educate yourself about not just the whats but the whys involved with these kinds of behaviors. Plant better thoughts in people's heads and give them the opportunity to weigh practical thought and productive actions against the purely nonsensical thoughts and actions that result in things like young girls being drowned and beaten with bibles.
For those still in this, take a leaf from your own book and make strides to “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter (Prov 24:11).” If the point is deliverance, but murder is the result, is it ever right? Did Jesus ever kill someone in his effort to exorcise them? If you are honest with yourself, you would have to come to the conclusion that these methods, practices, and outcomes are unacceptable especially when weighed against observable biblical mandates and examples.
Stop attending deliverance services. Stop giving money to demon-hunting preachers. Don't engage in conversations where you are forced to agree with assessments of demonic possession when it is clear that the subject of the conversation has actual, treatable illnesses and disorders that will never, ever, EVER be solved or treated properly with olive oil, laying on of hands, forcible restraint, beating, waterboarding, scalding, or burning.
Stop advocating for and standing up with practices that keep people sick at best and lead to their deaths at worst. Don't be complicit in the loss of life and sanity that comes from their or other people's beliefs in demonic possession and exorcism. Think differently about the nature of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders and try – just try – to approach the subject of demon possession and exorcism from an angle that leads people away from harm and toward finding real help for their issues. It's a practical, empathetic and rational way of helping people counter real problems with real solutions that lead to longer, happier, healthier lives, but much more importantly, leads to them getting and staying unbound.