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Exorcisms Are Gaining Popularity in the U.S. (theatlantic.com)
42 points by prossercj 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 43 comments





This is one of the symptoms of the decline of religion. As the moderates abandon their faith, only the more radical members and fundamental adherents are left. Radicals who were previously moderated by the more centrist members now find their hands freed of any of checks and balances and only see fellow radicals in their social circle. There's no social shame or doubt left and they are free to test these abusive ideas.

See also: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/ZQG9cwKbct2LtmL3p/evaporativ...


Then why aren’t they on the increase in Scandinavia?

Better education and over all lack of fundamentalism

Religious institutions are being redefined in interesting ways in Scandinavia. See for instance:

"Half of Norwegian bishops are now women"

http://norwaytoday.info/culture/half-norwegian-bishops-now-w...


Scandinavia doesn't have a strong religious impulse, whereas the USA is Christian in the most fundamentalist way from top to bottom.

Fundamentalism is a recent branch of Protestantism. TFA is about exorcism as a rite and only mentions Catholicism. Scandinavia has always* been traditionally Lutheran rather than Catholic or Protestant. Lutheran and Orthodox (and maaaaybe Anglican) have exorcism rites, otherwise it's going to be a preacher doing an exorcism he invented after the DSM was created.

(* not "ALWAYS" but you know what I mean)


Belief in elves are, instead.

It’s so stupid. My parents got more and more into this bullshit as I grew older. All of a sudden I was a demon possessed teenager who, god forbid, had a mind of his own.

You don’t know the level of mental abuse kids deal with in families like this.


i do appreciate the comments here from people who actually have firsthand experience with this. i think a lot of people on HN find this story interesting because it's so far from their experience, but feel like commenting anyway.

and it's valuable because the writers at the atlantic can't say "boy this sure is stupid, it's obviously X or Y." they have to write in this awkward tone as if they genuinely can't tell if these people are really possessed or not.


Thanks, I think? Haha :)

I didn’t finish reading the article. One, because it’s long (normally not a problem for me) but two: because it pisses me off how churches are taking advantage of this.

I had anger problems after leaving my family. I never sought counseling, but I probably should have. I did break down during work one day (in the military no less!) and yeah...

Point is, when kids grow up in families like this, it’s a real shitty situation. The fact that people can’t, or won’t, try to seek real help for their loved ones when they “act out”, and the fact that religion preys and even profits from this, just really grinds my gears.

And why are these people having issues? Probably because of their family, or medical condition. Although I’m convinced most of it stems from families that are super-religious, fanatics, or radicals.

My family is self-proclaimed as “radical “ Christians. Everything , literally everything is not from god and is demonic.

I mean, shit. And people wonder why I’m agnostic.


"Polls conducted in recent decades by Gallup and the data firm YouGov suggest that roughly half of Americans believe demonic possession is real. The percentage who believe in the devil is even higher, and in fact has been growing: Gallup polls show that the number rose from 55 percent in 1990 to 70 percent in 2007." Wow that is scary. Intelligence is in strong decline.

I wonder if it's partly due to the growing use of "alternate/traditional medicine" pathways people are taking in opposition of modern medicine.

Whereby the use of exorcisms is now less of a religious driver, but that of a way to cure disease or behavior outside of traditional medicine.

I'm looking at you anti-vaxers...


Interesting article, I suppose.

This seems to parallel a resurgence of TLM that I've noticed over the last couple years.


TLM = Traditional Latin Mass, for the unfamiliar. It's the mass that was used pre-Vatican II, all in Latin and with the priest facing away from the congregation.

Cults and other extreme forms of magical thinking take root whenever survival seems difficult. Chris Hedges' latest book delves into paths to anomie, self-destruction and insanity that are more likely as a civilization crumbles and slowly cannibalizes itself into oblivion.

My (I would consider) fairly deranged father was astounded that repeated beatings, threats to kill or abandon me, encouragements to commit suicide etc. caused 12 year old me to have anxiety and develop odd social behaviors and diagnosed me with having a demon. He brought someone from his church (who later went to jail for pedophilia) to examine me for demons, and took my instant dislike of the guy as more evidence for them. My friend who immigrated from India at a young age was astounded that people believe in these things in America when I told him the story. I suppose he associated it only with less educated / developed parts of the world.

There is some underlying reason for this however. The Economist had an article (can't remember when) about children being accused of being possessed by demons in Africa and either thrown out of the family or village and sometimes being killed. On examination of these incidents by researchers, it was thought that the likely reason was economics and that the parents simply could not feed all the children they had and were dramatically forced to reduce their number. The incantation of evil spirits was simply the rationalisation the parents made to justify their actions.

On two occasions I have seen something similar in the USA. First was in the airport at Atlanta where a early teen girl was having difficulties dealing with the noise and stress of airplane travel. The two women she was with were having an equally hard time dealing with her and were trying to persuade her that the reason she was behaving badly was because The Devil was making her do it. The second occasion was again with an early teen boy but this time at the top of Hart's Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail in the north Cascades. The kid clearly did not want to be there and again the women in charge were dealing with the situation by accusing him of being possessed.

In both cases the kids were stressed out enough to be on the verge of hysteria and the protestations of the adults were only making it worse. It seemed pretty obvious to me at the time that the solution was simply to get everyone to calm down. Doubly so, since becoming a parent I discovered that stress and anxiety are extremely contagious.

So the appeal of demons, for me, is simply a coping mechanism by parents to deal with children they cannot cope with or understand, albeit a a pretty drastic one.


Frankly I don’t understand how people with access to the rituals, writings, scripture etc of such a complex religion end up with a worldview of “Thing I like - God. Thing I don’t like - devil”. A typical toddler or infant will probably arrive at a similar morality unaided by such powerful structures I would think.

When my teen years grew tough for my single mom to handle she often accused me of being possessed. She was very emotionally unstable, so when things got rough for either of us, things went to utter shit. Her last resort was to carry around her bible and ask God to bless every corner of the home.

Later, one of my first boyfriends said something similar-- except I was now the demon. At one point he said I was "the demon at the center of the universe, which spawned all other demons". Of course this all occurred when we were fighting.

Anyways, my point is that I think you're correct. It's a last-resort coping mechanism. Very harmful. I'm still trying to figure out whether or not I'm actually human or some kind of universal mistake.


I wonder if in many cases we use a mental disorder diagnosis as a secular substitute. Replace demons with ADD/ASD and witch doctor with child psychologist.

> I suppose he associated it only with less educated / developed parts of the world.

Anyone who's been through the one of the US public education systems can presumably concur with that assumption.


While I agree the public school system in the US has a great many flaws, there are plenty of well-educated people who hold irrational beliefs.

Consider the frequent use of various vitamins and supplements with mixed or outright negative research backing them for some conditions.

(I am not attempting to start a debate over whether various supplements are beneficial for some or all people with various health problems, merely observing that it's a contentious area of research while a great many people take one side as correct.)


> there are plenty of well-educated people who hold irrational beliefs.

I was quite surprised to find out when I was at MIT that a surprisingly high percentage of graduate students studying cosmology / astrophysics were fundamentalist christians.

Given my naive upbringing (I'd never previously met any devout people) I was surprised to meet any religious people at MIT at all; inexplicably I was somehow smart enough not to investigate as I am sure I would have come off as impolite and obnoxious in the process, which would be unfair and mean.

(I am sure I have plenty of firmly held irrational beliefs too but of course I can't identify most of them)


Eh, the public school system doesn't generally teach (any) of the traits that OP's father had/have.

It's the other way around: kids need to learn, among the bare minimum, critical reasoning skills and basic epistemology. OP's father and his coreligionist certainly lacked those fundamentals, which is what surprised the immigrant.

What a horrible way to treat a kid BTW. Sounds like the poor OP's father might have had some other, perhaps biological, issues. I'm glad OP survived!


> I suppose he associated it only with less educated / developed parts of the world.

And he's not wrong.


Long time reader, first time commenter.

I witnessed something very similar to what this article describes in my mother when I was only 14.

It was absolutely horrifying, being a 14-year-old kid in Texas with Bible-thumping white-trash parents, and seeing this. I now understand it to be mental illness and I can point to many health-related commonalities that underlie thousands of such cases, but as a 14-year-old kid? Shit, I was terrified.

Unusual voices? Check. "Come to kill her"? Check. Odd facial expressions and totally different demeanor? Check. Exorcism? Check.

It was so bad I still, now in my 30's, have nightmares about it from time to time. I'll probably have one tonight after drumming all this up, but screw it - people need to know the damage this kind of stuff can cause kids, families and of course those who suffer.

It went for about 3 days. Early February, 1997. It was a 3-day school weekend for some reason and I was to go back to school the next day. I lied awake in my bed trying to fall asleep when I heard screams coming from the living room. "Eh, mom will be fine," I thought, "Dad's in there with her. They're watching TBN." (TBN = "Trinity Broadcasting Network", a religious TV network, Bible-thumping 24/7.)

My dad was the stereotype of a cowboy living in modern times. You know the voice of Arthur Morgan in Red Dead Redemption 2? It shook me pretty hard because he sounds exactly like my dad did. Same accent, looked the same given the mustache, and even had a nearly identical voice. He was the kind of guy, just like that character, that if he was MISSING A LIMB, blood spurting all over the place, he'd shrug it off and go about his business.

So hearing that fear in his voice was almost as frightening as what followed.

The screams kept coming. After a while I got out of bed to see what was going on. I found my mother sitting in a chair shaking violently and screaming bloody murder. "Dad, what the hell is this?!" I asked. With a fear and desperation I'd never seen before, and never again even in death just last year, he said, "PRAY."

"But Dad," I went on, "what-"

He smacked me up-side the head. Not to hurt me, but to get my attention. "PRAY!" he said, louder and with greater fear this time.

I began to do what I was taught - pray in tongues. After a couple hours of this, she seemed OK, and my dad immediately started looking for "doorways". We gathered up all the VHS tapes we rented from Blockbuster and my mom and dad went to take them back - early. I went back to bed thinking "well that was weird."

By the time they made it back, she was shaking again. Screaming, too. I heard them come back in and my dad told me to start praying again. After a few minutes, he left the room to make a phone call. He'd called a friend of the family with the same beliefs and woke them and their two kids up to take my mother to their house for prayer.

On the way over, in the car, "the demon" began to speak. NEVER had I heard such force and volume in a human voice as when my dad told it/her, "SHUT UP!". The windows in the car shook from the sound waves. "It" complied.

We got to our family-friend's house, a much nicer suburban home than our crappy little apartment. My dad's friend and his wife, along with their two kids and me, prayed over my mother for hours. Thankfully some one was thinking about the kids, and the eldest of us, Amber, who was in high school with a paper route conscripted myself and her younger brother, my friend who committed suicide only two years later, to help. That got my mind off it for a little while and when we got back from delivering newspapers, my parents and I left and went home.

Things seemed calm until sunrise, roughly, when the behavior started again. As I prayed over my mother to keep her calm and from hurting herself or us, my dad stepped away to call the school and tell them I'd be "out sick". I mean, good luck explaining what was really going on, amirite?

Not being Catholic, my dad next called a local Christian TV station that only broadcast in the west Texas area, and asked to speak with one of the preachers that had a regularly aired program. Later that day, that preacher and his wife showed up to conduct an ad-hoc exorcism over my mother. It wasn't inscribed in ritual like the Catholic church version mentioned in the article, but featured a lot of the same ideas like getting rid of "doorways" and commanding the demon "in the name of Jesus".

The part that scared me the most was when I was in the living room with everyone praying over my mother. Ever since I was a very young kid, I always had this ULTIMATE fear of my mother dying. It was literally the worst thing I could imagine; it gave me frequent nightmares and when I was younger than at this point in time, she couldn't leave the house because I was so afraid she'd never come back.

Well, there I was with four adults in the living room of our tiny apartment participating in an exorcism over my mother. The preacher commanded the demon to tell us why it was there.

> "I have come to KILL HER!" "it" said violently in a deep voice.

I don't remember what happened next; I think I yelled at it with equal violence. But the next part I remember scared me just as much.

I had been dismissed to my room and told "you can watch TBN on your TV - no video games, no books, NOTHING ELSE." So I went to room and turned on the TV. I was so bored and frankly freaking out over the religious stuff that I channel surfed and found a basketball game. "Eh this can't hurt anything," I thought, so I watched it.

While the San Antonio Spurs were sinking baskets, more "demonic talk" and "pleading the blood of Jesus" stuff was going on less than 3 feet behind me, through the wall.

Then the preacher commanded the demon: "I the name of Jesus, you will TELL ME YOUR NAME."

I quickly put my hands over my ears and made a little noise to drown out the ambient volume. I was so frightened I didn't want to know.

Overall bizarre behavior went on for 3 days straight. By the end, I myself was having auditory hallucinations. My dad told me this was "insight into the sprit realm" and a sign that "we were winning." In hindsight, that's a much better explanation to give a 14-year-old than "you're going fucking crazy," which was what was really happening.

Now, nearly 22 years removed from this and having renounced religion all together, I recognize this for what it was: dissociative identity disorder brought on by a combination of menopause and extreme stress.

You see my mother's father had died just six months before this happened. She was going through menopause, and although they tried to hide it, my parents marriage was going through some serious trouble while we didn't have enough money to make ends meet. I later learned that she'd also been having extremely graphic, horrifying dreams where she was watching her husband (my dad) and me both being crucified simultaneously AND having our skin flayed off our bodies. Very graphic stuff.

When deeply immersed in religious dogma as we were in our home (thanks to my dad), all these things combined to make my mother somehow "snap". Her mind created an alternative personality that thought it was a "demon" because of all the religious stuff she'd been subjected to, including notions of demonic possession, the "power of Christ", the mythological story of post-crucifixion conquering of hell (what Jesus supposedly did for 3 days after he died before rising again), all that. My parents were hardcore into what the non-denominational Christians often call "spiritual warfare".

All these factors combined, it's easy to see how a person could lose it and how something like this could manifest.

I also want to point something else out. From what I've seen (although it's hard to get real/good stats), most demonic possession victims ("patients"?) appear to be female. In my mother's case, she was going through menopause. In this article, the main subject had incidents after major health issues - a C-section, a bout with e-coli, a second birth. I wonder if hormonal imbalance could somehow make a person more susceptible to triggers?

And speaking of triggers, did you notice how in this article they use things like crucifixes, holy water, reciting prayers, etc. "judge" if the person may be possessed? Well, if it's psychological in nature, putting these triggers in front of somebody is just going to make the situation WORSE!

Finally, I hate to say this, but the use of exorcism rituals may actually be the only immediate (in the moment, non-chemical) treatment for a while until we figure out what's going on here, because they play into the same psychology that causes the problem. Anyone who believes they are possessed by an evil demon almost always also believes in the power of a good "god" over said evil. Performing exorcisms (or allowing them to be performed), while not a treatment or cure, can help via psychosomatic effect.


Nice read, thank you. Glad you got out of there

You write beautifully.

"[...] in the form of people seeking salvation from demons through the Catholic faith’s most mystical ritual."

Funny that they used the word "salvation" in that sentence, given that exorcism is NOT on the list of the Catholic faith's four "most mystical rituals".


Other Christians just call it deliverance, not salvation. You seek deliverance from demons, or demonic strongholds.

My point is that the "most mystical rituals" are centered around what the Catholic church calls "salvation".

What parts of the U.S.? I understand all the states are supposed to be united, but that's not so true in practice.

Their example is in Tacoma, WA. If I had to guess it would be in the south west U.S. and up the west coast where Catholicism has the highest population numbers because of Latino populations. Maybe up into the north eastern U.S. where it held sway with Italian and Irish populations traditionally, but I thought it had been on the decline. Maybe not.

cf. "the princess of darkness" on "disenchanted", netflix

we go through exorcism ritual with our code once a week. still it isn't cured of the devil defects. :)

Can we ban the Atlantic for being total clickbait?

The Atlantic, while a mixed bag like any major media, is the source of intellectually interesting submissions to HN: https://hn.algolia.com/?query=theatlantic.com%20points%3E10&.... So we won't ban it.

I don't see clickbait in this case. We did change the title to something a bit more neutral.


Interesting.. but why is this on HN ?

Just because it's interesting. That's the point! See https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html.

It's not BS. That's for sure. Coming from someone who used to think it's all BS also.

Yes there's cases where they're due to mental illness, or other reasons that could be explained scientifically. But don't let that make you think that these sort of cases don't happen neither.

If you stay away from the doorways that the article mentioned, you should be good. Believe whatever you want to believe on how the world works. But the rabbit hole goes deep.

To be honest I much rather think that these sort of things don't exist also but I've known the truth.


That's a lot of words to basically tell us that you believe in demonic possession.

There's a politics to exorcism and in the whole accusation of witchcraft, especially in less developed countries where accusation of witchcraft is a social safety mechanism to enable parents to eject extra children they can't afford without carrying a burden of guilt for their action. However there is also a real phenomena of trance states and people going into trance and seemingly being "taken over" by an external entity. However this doesn't come from outside the person it springs from what Jung called the "collective unconscious." In the context of a religion like Vodoun the people being "possessed" have a long period of physical and mental preparation such that when they do experience this its in a controlled and ritualized setting. The other thing is because they have syncretized the original Yoruba religion with Catholicism, a catholic vodouist will have far different expectations and assumptions than a normal catholic. For a vodouist they are not being "ridden" by a demon but rather a saint. For the ordinary catholic because every spiritual experience outside the control of the repressive patriarchy is considered evil and demonic any catholic who has a spontaneous experience of an atavistic eruption of the collective unconscious will interpret the experience as evil and negative. Ultimately in the trance state its just an energy that over takes the person, how they interpret and accept or reject the experience is colored by the politics inherent in their religion. The glaring hypocrisy in the catholic church where it gives itself a free hand to abuse the most vulnerable while placing itself as a gatekeeper for all that is moral and good, sets itself up to have more of these kind of atavistic eruptions as the harder the mind tries to ignore these kind of basic contradictions the more the mind is being setup for any spontaneous trance experience to be interpreted as "being taken over by an evil spirit." This creates a feedback loop for the church where the deeper they drive their contradictions the more people have these experiences but because they are mentally trapped in their religion they put themselves at the mercy of the very people driving them into psychosis, when these experiences could be interpreted as harmless and inconsequential in which case people would simply shrug these experiences off.



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