Saturday, July 16, 2005

Is there an exorcist in the house?

I don’t know why but I have been recently inundated by news items about exorcists. I had been under the impression that these days exorcisms were only performed in places where everyone’s related to each other and drives a van, either that or in Hollywood. But no. It seems that the office of the exorcist is actually alive and well in the Catholic Church, with at least one on staff in Rome. Quite amazing, really. But it does show something I think. Which is that we are definitely not living in times that are as enlightened as some of us would like to think they are. I know that this is a trite thing to say these days. But, even so, even given everything and all of the ‘discounting’ we have been forced to by the Shoot-out at the Fanatic Corral that the world has been turned into, it is still true that the world is less enlightened. The Catholic Church – with its exorcists and medieval ontology, its self-mutilation and intellectual sophistry, its wish granting relics and battalions of saints – is, to a great degree, a part of it.

One of the most frightening things was that the news item about the exorcists seemed to suggest that these practises are perfectly legitimate and rational – a “to be applied once all measures known to psychology fail” kind of thing. A case of journalists failing dismally to maintain a single critical bone in their body and putting alien abductions on a par with senate proceedings – O.K., so senate proceedings might be a bad example of something that is real.

Indeed, there is a ghost to be exorcised. It is the spectre of religious belief that hangs to us even as we walk on the moon, even as we manage to send our thoughts around the world at the speed of light (or at least whatever the network servers will allow). An atavism that no ceremony seems capable of completely curing us of. Which, in its turn, reminds me of the interesting case of the Czech Republic – a place that from all that I have been told is largely irreligious. It is particularly interesting in so far as it shares much of its history with Slovakia and yet is so unlike that country in the strength of religious feelings in it. I wonder why that is. What caused the Czechs to largely give up on religion while their neighbours, the Slovaks, still indulge in it? Of course, much of the modern world has largely become secularised – with the US being the elephant-sized exception to the rule. Which leads to another question – why do religious faith and religious fanaticism prosper in The States while withering away in Europe? I don’t have the answers.

The biggest question, I guess, is to what degree religiosity is an inherent human trait? What is it about us and about religion that makes the match so resilient? And, can it be something that proper upbringing will rid us of?


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