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Demon possession, still

May 11, 2014

Depending on your viewpoint, parts of Nigeria and Ghana have been suffering either an epidemic of witches, or an epidemic of witch-hunting. The witches usually are women or children, and if children, especially those who are albino or have a cleft lip. They suffer banishment, torture, and exorcism, sometimes by burning alive. The cultural impetus for this is shifting from traditional beliefs to evangelical Christianity. One preacher, Helen Ukpabio, who has published pamphlets and films on identifying witches, now has immigrated to the UK.

That seems to me the relevant cultural backdrop to the Catholic Church’s annual conference on exorcism. One of its organizers, Guiseppe Ferrari, explains the growing need for exorcists:

We live in a disenchanted society, a secularised world that thought it was being emancipated, but where religion is being thrown out, the window is being opened to superstition and irrationality.

Mr. Ferrari doesn’t seem to have noticed the paucity of witches and demon possessions in the most secular corners of the world. And I’m at a loss to find less superstition in the beliefs of Mr. Ferrari and the priests he trains than in the beliefs of the witch hunters in Africa.

Alas, belief in demon possession is not restricted to Africa and the Vatican. According to a recent Pew poll (pdf), about three-fifths of American Hispanics believe in such. The good news in the poll is that 31% of American Hispanics in the age range 18 and 29 are religiously unaffiliated, compared to 11% of those over fifty. And the religiously unaffiliated neither suffer demon possession nor look to exorcise others.

Update: An article yesterday describes how Pope Francis has made a point to approve of exorcism. The blood of thousands of women and children tortured and killed in Africa is on his hands.

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