A friend of mine posted this on Facebook yesterday and I couldn’t resist following the link:
Yes, I’m a glutton for punishment. It may be a remnant of my past religious life. It also may be a remnant of my past religious life that I feel compelled to share part of the linked item, plus some comments, with you.
The Aurora Murders and Demonic Possession
Father Dwight Longenecker
What makes a mild mannered, promising young scientist decide to arm himself to the teeth, walk into a suburban movie theater and start killing innocent people at random?
Did he have a bad childhood experience? Doesn’t seem that way. Everybody says he was a nice, very smart, shy kid. Maybe a bit of a geek, but there are millions of geeks who don’t go on killing sprees. Was he insane? There weren’t any warning signs that he was crazy. Was he politically or religiously motivated? No evidence. Was he driven crazy by violent video games? He didn’t seem to play more than most kids. Was his mind poisoned by the nihilistic second Batman movie? It was a dark film, but millions saw it and didn’t go on a rampage. Was he somehow “possessed” by the Joker character? Some say the demonic Joker drove Heath Ledger to kill himself.
Now it’s getting spooky. There was a weird phone message with bizarre guttural voices and moans. Was he demon possessed? Maybe. It happens.
Father Longenecker doesn’t waste much time getting to his primary point. Notice how he tosses out and dismisses several plausible ideas. Then, notice how he tosses out two implausible ideas and tries to pass them off as more credible than the claims he dismisses so glibly. Take the Heath Ledger reference: “Some say the demonic Joker drove Heath Ledger to kill himself.” Who are “some” people? How many of them are there? Where are his references for this claim? Well, how about that – he offers no references. Why am I not surprised? Let’s not overlook the fact that the “demonic Joker” is a fictional character. The last time I checked, imaginary creatures had no power to drive anyone to do anything. But maybe I’m making too much of the demonic Joker reference. After all, it may just be a segue into the topic Longenecker really wants to address: demon possession.
Demonic infestation is a rare, strange and terrible psycho-spiritual affliction. In simple terms, a malevolent, separate intelligence infests the mind and spirit of a person. It takes over the rational faculties and dominates the personality. The phenomenon is real, but anyone who has ever dealt with the problem realizes that the demonic realm is complex. The human person is an intricate organism in which the physical, mental and spiritual aspects are totally interwoven. Therefore, in most cases, trying to diagnose the possibility of demonic influence is extremely difficult.
This is because, in theory, demonic influence in a personality can exist on several different levels. Experts disagree about the terminology and extent of the diabolical influence, and in this arcane discipline, for reasons that will become clear, there are few set rules or guidelines. However, some levels of demonic involvement can be observed.
I’m not sure what to say about this mess of gobbledygook, except to note that no one has ever actually demonstrated that demonic possession is a real phenomenon, let alone that it is complex, strange or terrible. I will admit that I’m morbidly curious as to how one becomes an “expert” in an “arcane discipline” for which “there are few set rules or guidelines.” It sounds dodgy to me. Let’s take a look at what the “experts” have unraveled so far.
The first level of demonic influence is temptation. This is not just the mild desire to drink too much, overindulge, or have a sexual dalliance. That’s just part of being human. If there is a demonic element, the “temptation” is to do something radically and extremely vile. This can happen in a person’s life without any sign of supernatural activity.
The second level of demonic influence is obsession. At this level, there is still no sign of anything paranormal happening. The person starts to give in to the temptation. He may become reclusive and secretive as he becomes obsessed with the evil that he is entertaining. This evil may be in the form of occult activity, violent video games or movies, pornography, drug abuse, sexual perversion, sexual promiscuity, or obsession with power and violence.
Ah, temptation – the root of all evil. Some say temptation got Eve into trouble in Eden and it’s been the downfall of humankind ever since. So, it stands to reason (or what counts for reason when one is talking religious nonsense) that demonic possession, surely as terrible an evil as any, must begin with temptation. Where else could it start? Believers reading this nonsense may be comforted to know that most of the mundane “temptations” they deal with can likely be attributed to being normal humans rather than possessed humans. Unless they want to do some really disgusting stuff. In those cases, they may be on slippery paths to possession. Notice Longenecker’s increasing use of “hedging” language: the person who progresses from temptation to obsession “may” become reclusive and so on. Then again, he or she “may” not do anything of the sort. Notice also that “obsession” is not defined. How does one determine whether one is merely being tempted or is becoming dangerously obsessed (and possessed)? Too bad the good father doesn’t offer an answer for that question. Perhaps I moved too quickly with the comfort.
The obsession with evil will probably have an addictive element. The personality begins to change. The individual may seem “normal” most of the time, but he’ll have “dark moments” when his “inner demons” take over. The difficulty in diagnosing demonic influence is that these same symptoms may indicate substance abuse problems, mental illness, social maladjustment, emotional inadequacy, relationship problems or a complex web of such difficulties. Demonic influence will cause these symptoms, but these symptoms are not necessarily a sign of demonic activity.
Oh, oh, oh! Maybe the line between “temptation” and “obsession” is the “addictive” element. Oh, wait. The addiction thing is only a probability. Maybe the obsession can be identified by an addictive nature. Or maybe not. Moreover, sometimes people have addictions that aren’t related to demonic activity at all. Remember when I told you to pay attention to the “hedging” language? I hope you’re keeping track because it’s cropping up everywhere now. Have you also noticed the repeated statements that demonic activity is really difficult to detect, diagnose, etc.? We all know what that’s called, don’t we?
In the first two levels of demonic influence, the malevolent spirit is still outside the personality. On the third level, the malevolent spirit seems to enter the whole person in a spiritual, mental and even physical dimension. This level of influence is called infestation. This is the stuff of exorcism movies—when the person exhibits disturbing physical, mental, and spiritual signs of infestation. The individual is “taken over” by the demonic spirit and paranormal phenomena are exhibited. When the signs of preternatural strength are seen, horrible alien voices come from the person, vile blasphemies are heard and perverted and violent actions are witnessed, one can be fairly sure that a demonic infestation is happening. However, many of these symptoms may also be signs of a deep mental or spiritual illness which is not demonic in origin.
The final stage of demonic influence is possession. This is when the malevolent spirit does not manifest itself any longer, but hides within the personality rather like a parasite. The person will appear to return to normal, but there is a shadow within. Even if they do so in a respectable and “normal” manner, they will live only for themselves and the darkness within.
Previously, we encountered two junior levels of demonic influence: temptation and obsession. Now, we’re moving into really dangerous territory: infestation and possession. I’ll point out that Father Longenecker has been sloppy with his use of the word “infestation.” He used it earlier in the piece as a general term: Demonic infestation is a rare, strange and terrible psycho-spiritual affliction. Now, he’s using it as a technical term to define one specific stage of demonic activity. If he’s confused about the language, how can he expect his readers to keep the ideas straight? I’m sure you noticed that “infestation” is when a demon “seems” to enter a “whole person.” Seems? Have I missed something? I haven’t yet seen any specific symptoms that can ever be used to derive a reasonably secure conclusion of “demon infestation” or “possession.”
If you can bear with me a bit longer, we’re coming to the home stretch.
In analyzing these levels of demonic influence, one must remember that each level builds on the former and there may be no sequence, predictability or diagnostic tests. In dealing with the interface between the paranormal realm and the complexities of the human person, the exorcist often feels like he is walking blindfolded through a minefield set in quicksand. He is wrestling with a pool of oily octopuses. He is on the edge of chaos where there is no foothold.
Is James Holmes demon possessed? It is impossible to say without a detailed diagnosis. Even then, it is a slippery question. We are dealing with a reality that is rubbery. In many ways this is the wrong question. Better to ask, “Was James Holmes taken over by Evil?”
Oh, my. I’ll start with this bit: each level builds on the former and there may be no sequence…. Excuse me. The notion of levels building successively on each other implies sequence. Father Longenecker has just provided a step-by-step progression from temptation through obsession through infestation through possession. Now he’s trying to say the sequence may not actually go that way. Or it may deviate sometimes. What, demons are going to start, say, at infestation and work their way down to temptation? I also like the bit about there being no predictability or diagnostic tests for demon possession. This brings me back to my earlier question about expertise. If there are no reliable symptoms, patterns or tests re: demon activity and possession, how does one know whether one is dealing with demons or mental illness or substance addiction? And how does one earn the right to hang an exorcist’s shingle on the door? The whole thing reeks of scam. As an aside, I’ll suggest that, if you have the heart for it, maybe you can spare some pity for the poor exorcist who has to work his or her way (probably his, we all know how most religions feel about women) through all those dreadful metaphors.
Now, the coup de grace. Longenecker has gotten us all this way, he’s asked the question he’s been leading up to at length, and the best answer he has is, “We can’t answer that question at this time.” Then what the fuck was the point of this whole damned article? He teases by throwing out pictures of demons, then, when it’s time for a gut check, he backtracks to some weaselly notion of “evil.” Argh!
I’m so frustrated with this jackass that I’m not even going to discuss the rest of the article. He goes on about “evil” at some length. If you’re interested in reading it, follow the link and help yourself. If you want some idea of where he goes from this point, here’s the end of his piece:
Love is the meaning that makes us remember in a compassionate connection that this dark act took place in a town named Aurora, which holds a hopeful meaning: “Daybreak.”
Is that saccharine or what? The stuff leading up to it, several paragraphs of it, is just as bad. It’s nauseating. I think what Longenecker really wants to do is scare the shit out of people by ranting about demon possession. But, realizing that he can’t leave his readers feeling hopeless, he has to wind his way around to an uplifting conclusion. Thus, he chides that demon possession is real and people must be wary of the devil. But, they don’t have to let him (or evil, Longenecker’s devil without a face) get them down too much because love always wins.
Contrary to what Father Longenecker wants us to believe, love doesn’t always win over evil. Sometimes people treat each other like shit, and even more vilely than that, and they never answer for their behavior. More often, people behave with awesome nobility. People are not driven by demons. Rather (barring mental illness, etc.), they have the power within themselves to choose how they will live and behave. That is the most uplifting thought that anyone need offer to another.
– the chaplain