What’s The Deal With Self-Styled Exorcists?

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Ghost Hunters claiming to clear spirits from a property is nothing new and yet many people who offer this nonsense service brand themselves as exorcists and they seem to be as popular as ever. So, what’s the deal?

A survey conducted in 2012 found that 57% of Americans believe in demonic possession. A survey in 2013 showed that 18% of Brits did too. In October 2013 the Pope commended exorcist priests for their fight against “the Devil’s works” and said that the Church needed to help “those possessed by evil.” The Catholic church responded by training more priests to perform exorcisms with a conference last year seeing at least 160 priests in attendance.

It seems that the “cool” new Pope that many people (atheists included) praise for being a more modern version of his predecessors is actually a bit obsessed with the fictional devil. When this man is praised by atheists it makes my skin itch, but that’s another blog post for another day.

“Pope Francis talks about the Devil all the time and that has certainly raised awareness about exorcisms,” Father Cesare Truqui  told The Telegraph, “but all Latin Americans have this sensibility – for them, the existence of the Devil is part of their faith.”

Traditionally people associated ill luck with demonic entities, and as the media modernises and we see news reports from all around the world 24/7 it is easy to see why people may turn to the more traditional aspects of their religion and believe in the work of the devil when they did not before. The world seems like such a darker place when you are constantly bombarded with news of terrorism, war, humanitarian crises, poverty and natural disasters.

Suddenly the darkness that was thousands of miles away is in your living room, invading your house. You can’t quite escape it.

The risk is, of course, that exorcisms often replace what should be a trip to see a health professional, and this is alarming given the number of people being killed or grievously harmed while being exorcised because friends or family members believe they are possessed.

People who are thought to be possessed are usually displaying symptoms of underlying mental or physical health conditions, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes you could have a lifestyle that is not approved of by relatives and they’ll consider this sin to be the result of evil in your life.

This is why I find it concerning that ghost hunters present themselves as people who conduct exorcisms when ridding homes of a ghost. This is probably done because it makes you sound important and mysterious –  an appeal to authority, if you will. Yet to do this adds a sinister layer to a haunting that could actually make the situation worse because of the negative connotation that the use of the word ‘exorcism’ drums up. Suddenly your traditional ghost is something much more scary because a ghost hunter is stroking their ego. It’s all quite vulgar really.

 

My grandfather died

On November 1st 2015 my lovely grandfather- Pappy, as we called him -died.

We knew he was going to die because he had dementia and had suffered two strokes, that didn’t make it any easier, but what did help was knowing that he wasn’t truly gone. Maurice Stevens hasn’t vanished and ceased to exist.

I know that he lives on because the first law of thermodynamics tells us that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. This is where the idea of ghosts comes into play for many, but I know that all of his energy, every joule of heat, every wave of every particle that was him remains here, somewhere. All the hundreds of billions of particles that encountered him have continued on their way, directed by his mere presence. Still.

As Aaron Freeman says in the Physicists Eulogy ‘according to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.’

This may have troubled Pappy slightly because he liked everything to be “ship shaped and Bristol fashion. A place for everything and everything in its place”, his career as a chef in the Royal Navy never truly left him. But look up at the stars, look at the world around you and know that this is our place and we are all in it.

Many of my geeky friends recite the lovely fact that “we are all made of stardust” because our origins are pretty inspiring, and so too is our destination. This is why I take comfort from the nature of the universe and our existence because deep down, beneath the feeling of loss, I know that I am statistically fortunate to have ever known Pappy and that his existence lives on in our genes, our memories, in his actions and in the universe.

Life is extraordinary, it’s bigger than any one of us which can be a bit overwhelming at times but, as Pappy would say, ‘it’s good here, isn’t it?”

Pappy

Thoughts On The “Religion Flies Planes Into Buildings” Bullshit

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Terrorism, according to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI) is ‘the threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation’.

According to the GTI, in 2014 alone 17,958 people were killed in terrorist attacks which is 61% more than the previous year. 82% of all deaths from terrorist attacks occur in just 5 countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria and 90% of these attacks occurred in countries that already have gross human rights violations. Four groups were the dominant contributors: the Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIL, and al Qa’ida.

science flies you to the moon

A friend of a friend today shared a photo of a t-shirt being sold by an atheist group on Facebook and it had the following slogan on it:

Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.

What a cheap way to score points at the expense of those whose only crime is to believe in the same god as people who commit acts of terror. Let’s face it, the ‘flies you into buildings‘ comment is aimed at Muslims because of the attacks of this nature on the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001. On a purely anecdotal level, I know a fair few people who are Muslim and none of them have ever been inspired to fly a plane into a building on purpose.

The t-shirt and the slogan upon it is just indicative of a bigger issue that I want to address. I’m atheist. I believe in no gods or goddesses but that doesn’t automatically make me a good person. I identify as a secular humanist and that’s why it makes me so sad to see other atheists turning their apparent anti-theism into anti-humanism. If you cannot attack/debate religion without attacking religious people then I don’t think that makes you a very rational person.

It’s true that some people use religion to justify their acts or regimes of hatred, intolerance and violence but such hateful and murderous acts have no place at the feet of others who peacefully practice the same religions. Their religious beliefs do not automatically make them bad people. So why does society feel so compelled to keep putting them there? Why do we hold religious people accountable for the actions of others whom they have no control over?

Maybe it’s because we need someone to blame and Mohammed next door is the most easily accessible target? I don’t know, I’m not a psychologist but I do know that it gets really tiring really fast to see some atheists acting this way.

Extremism flies you into buildings. Extremism leads to the kidnapping of girls who dare seek education. Extremism leads to the burning of hostages. Extremism harms everyone… but as shown in the statistics from the 2014 GTI report, the very people this stupid t-shirt targets as bad people are those most likely to be affected by acts of terrorism. Talk about kicking someone when they are down… 

Oh, and by the way, Muslims died in the 9/11 attacks, and some of people who flew humans to the moon were religious, including the astronauts.

The Demonic Humanists and the Insecure Christians

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In December the British Government blocked the legal recognition of humanist marriages because it was seen as a ‘fringe’ issue.  Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association called this decision an insult, pointing out that ‘under this government, Scientologists have been added to the list of religions that can perform legal marriages, joining Spiritualists, the Aetherius Society (which believes in aliens and that the Earth is a goddess), and dozens of other religions. To describe the legal recognition of humanist marriages as a “fringe” issue insults the many couples – much larger in number than these many small religious groups – whose planned marriages next year will not be able to go ahead if Number 10 blocks this change.’

Today on The Big Questions aired by the BBC (available to view here for the next 29 days), one of the questions for discussion was “Should humanists have equal rights to religions?” and this, apparently, was just way too much for some of the guests to handle.

Taiwo Adewuyi of Discuss Jesus jumped straight in and described Humanist weddings as “entirely demonic.” He said “It all goes back to the origins of humanism, humanism is the cancer of thanksgiving, it is the devils PR, it is a first class ticket to the sea of Wantonness and debauchery.”

He explained that humanism is apparently attempting to knock god off of his throne, just as Lucifer himself attempted, explaining that “the issue with humanism is that it tries to knock God off of the throne. The bible talks about lucifer, whose name is The Devil and his attempt to ascend to the most high, and basically replace god.”

“Humanism” he explained a bit later “is a 1st class ticket to the very hyper-sexualised society that we are now seeing.”

Perhaps he has been to a few Humanist orgies that the majority of us were not invited to? Not sure, but I think that Adewuyi has a very perverse view of the non-religious around him. I wonder what it is about us that he finds so repellent?

I think the answer lies with an insecurity in his belief system that is knocked so badly when someone who doesn’t agree with it asks for equal representation in society. After all, Adewuyi himself suggested that two people who identify as non-religious getting married in a non-religious context could overpower his god. It seems he doesn’t think his god is that mighty after all.

I also think that the question being discussed should actually have been “Should the religious have more rights than non-religious people?”

This might have been too much for Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin to process though because she apparently couldn’t even get her head around why non-religious people would want to get married.

In fact, Hudson-Wilkin who is the Speakers Chaplain in the House of Commons didn’t even seem to understand what humanists were, mistaking us for some anti-religious group rather than just people who are a-okay without religion.

She said “I am puzzled why a group that is anti-religion is then trying to keep the religious practices. Marriage is a sacred act. We see it as a gift from god, so it is not something we think anybody just gets up and, stands in front, and says I’m marrying you. If humanists are anti-religion I don’t understand why you want to keep and do all of the things that religion does.”

Well, that’s a good point Rose, you’ve totally got us there except MARRIAGE PRE-DATES RELIGION ACTUALLY SO BE NICE AND SHARE.

Interestingly Hudson-Wilkin would not provide an answer when asked by other guests if she would attend the Humanist wedding of a friend if invited, or if she would attend a Muslim wedding ceremony if invited. It was extremely uncomfortable to watch her battle with whether or not to commit herself either way. Perhaps she was afraid that her words would be used as rope to hang her with by people on either side of the debate at a later point? Either way, how insecure must you be with your position on a subject that you’re so afraid to admit or deny that you’d attend a ceremony that was conducted away from your personal religious traditions?

Taiwo Adewuyi finished off by explaining that he isn’t exactly happy with the way in which humanists are trying to force their doctrine down other peoples throats (more evidence of secret humanist orgies?), he said “They’re trying to copy the very thing the bible does. I think teaching young people about humanism, that there is no god is a problem. I think the teaching of evolution is a lie. If we are evolving what are we evolving to. If we are subject to matter, time and space then if it is finite then when did it come to be?”

Wow. Yeah… I don’t think we have any reason to even pretend that Adewuyi is a man to be taken seriously, or even a man to be given the position of speaking on behalf of other Christians. Especially considering he shouted “POL POT!” at Andrew Copson for no apparent reason.

However, to be serious for a moment, doesn’t it speak volumes that when humanists- or even non-religious people who don’t identify as humanist -ask that their beliefs are given the same treatment as the beliefs of religious people one of the main reactions is absolute panic, fear and confusion? What a great indicator of how privileged the religious are in Britain. What a great indicator of how much this needs to change.

A Depressing Conversation With A Times Journalist About Exorcisms

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“Do you know of anyone who thinks they or their house has been possessed by a demon?” a Sunday Times journalist asked me over the phone just the other day. Several names popped into my mind instantly but there was no chance that I was letting her have them. “We’ve got about 20 people on a list to speak to about a piece my colleague is doing about exorcisms” she pressed.

Despite explaining that I couldn’t put her in touch with anyone I’d worked with or advised over the years because it would be ethically questionable of me to do so she still didn’t get it, so I went into a detailed explanation.

People who think they’re possessed or think that there is an evil entity in their house disturbing them are usually exhibiting signs on an underlying mental or physical health problem. They’re usually disturbed, scared or hysterical. The last thing they need is my involvement.

“That isn’t to say that everyone who thinks they’re possessed is mentally ill” I explained “but there’s a good chance that they need the attention of a medical professional and not their local ghost hunter, demonologist or exorcist who will do them no good at all.”

To my surprise the journalist on the other end of the phone asked “do them no good how?”

I got the immediate impression that she had been talking to others who had suggested differently while humbly describing what spiritual superheroes they were – saving the general public from evil, and so on.

“Well, just an example… a percentage of people who have dissociative identity disorder report that their alternative identity is a demon, however those people do not need an exorcist, they need a psychologist to help them. Exorcists, demonologists, ghost hunters… they’re all the same, they’ll tell you what they want to be real and often they don’t consider how much their actions could harm you because really they just want to prove to themselves that they are right. That kind of approach stigmatises those with mental illness as evil and dangerous when they’re not, and it also denies them the access to the proper care that they require.”

There was a silence over the phone so I carried on,

“Imagine a different scenario – imagine that something is happening in your house that makes you think there’s something malicious or evil in your house but it turns out to actually have a pretty rational cause like, say, your cupboards weren’t hung on the wall properly and that’s why they’re always open when you come home from work, right?”,

“right…” she replied.

“Well, imagine that you get told by a ghost hunter that it’s an evil spirit that they’re going to banish from your house. They sound pretty convincing when they tell you that by doing a clearing ritual they’ll get it to leave, and for a few days afterwards you don’t notice the cupboards open so you think that it must be because there was an evil entity like the ghost hunters told you but it’s gone now just like they said it was. In reality this is just a sort-of placebo effect. The real problem isn’t gone because you haven’t had the cupboards adjusted, then one day you come home and the cupboards are open again and you’re 100% certain the evil entity has returned and nothing – absolutely nothing anyone says to you will convince you otherwise. That’s pretty harmful, right?”

“Right” the journalist responds – “do you know anyone that has happened to that I can talk to?”, “Well that was a case I worked on” I replied, “but I can’t give you their details…”

That was the second time she tried to get the names and contact details of people I’d just explained were potentially vulnerable. It wouldn’t be her last attempt.

“When someone contacts me I have to be pretty strict about whether I take on their case” I continued, “I cannot be the person who convinces someone that there’s a demon or evil entity with them. If they need medical help then I cannot be the person who gets in the way of that happening. It’s unlikely that I would take on a case today where someone thought they have a demon following them or possessing them because it would be unethical of me to do so-”

“So what do you do?” she asked. “I tend to work on a lot of public cases that have been in the press, or cases where the potential to harm someone is limited. If someone has a weird photo, for example, I can try and work out what it really is, or something like that.”

“Do any of the people you’ve worked with think they’ve been possessed? Can you give me some examples of places you’ve investigated?” “There are some listed on my website, but apart from those, no… I can’t give you details I’m afraid” I explained, for the third time.

“I’ll add you to the list and my colleague who is writing the piece may be in touch with you” the journalist explained. “Great” I replied, wondering if I will be mentioned in the piece at all, and which potentially vulnerable people the paper are going to go to town on without considering the damage their feature will cause to those mentioned and those who read it.

The stigma of possession is real and it is harmful to those in minority groups and those with mental illness. There is nothing mysterious or glamorous about it. What a depressing conversation.