The devil is the latest thing

The US Catholic church is giving the gnu atheists support for their claim that science and religion are not epistemically compatible. Very obliging and civil of them, I must say.

There are only a handful of priests in the country trained as exorcists, but they say they are overwhelmed with requests from people who fear they are possessed by the Devil.

Now, American bishops are holding a conference on Friday and Saturday to prepare more priests and bishops to respond to the demand. The purpose is not necessarily to revive the practice, the organizers say, but to help Catholic clergy members learn how to distinguish who really needs an exorcism from who really needs a psychiatrist, or perhaps some pastoral care.

So they are operating on the assumption that some people really do need an exorcism, and that there are reliable repeatable teachable ways to distinguish between those people and lunatics. Right. Well this is our point, isn’t it – there is no evidence that anyone “really needs” an exorcism, but the Catholic church thinks that some people do, all the same.

“Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., who organized the conference. “It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person.

“But it’s rare, it’s extraordinary, so the use of exorcism is also rare and extraordinary,” he said. “But we have to be prepared.”

Thank you Bishop Paprocki for spelling it out some more. The bishop is telling us that (according to his religious belief) there is an entity called “the Devil” and the Devil (however rarely and extraordinarily) can be “in possession” of a person, by which is meant can magically inhabit a person and make the person do things. This is a pre-scientific belief. There is no evidence of the existence of an entity that fits the description of “the Devil,” or of anyone inhabiting another person and making the person do things. It’s a magical story, yet here is the modern church taking it seriously and holding conferences on how to spot it.

“What they’re trying to do in restoring exorcisms,” said Dr. Appleby, a longtime observer of the bishops, “is to strengthen and enhance what seems to be lost in the church, which is the sense that the church is not like any other institution. It is supernatural, and the key players in that are the hierarchy and the priests who can be given the faculties of exorcism.

“It’s a strategy for saying: ‘We are not the Federal Reserve, and we are not the World Council of Churches. We deal with angels and demons.’ ”

Bingo! That’s just what we say. No, the church isn’t just one more institution, the church thinks it deals with angels and demons.

“People are talking about, are we taking two steps back?” Father Vega said. “My first reaction when I heard about the exorcism conference was, this is another of those trappings we’ve pulled out of the past.”

But he said that there could eventually be a rising demand for exorcism because of the influx of Hispanic and African Catholics to the United States. People from those cultures, he said, are more attuned to the experience of the supernatural.

“More attuned to the experience of the supernatural” being a euphemism for less educated and more credulous, which of course the priest doesn’t want to come right out and say is the best path to belief in Catholic nonsense.

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