Like me, you will have had adventures, episodes, moments which are ever engraved in your memory. They’re very precious. Reflecting on ‘evil’ this week, I re-called one of mine.

Years ago, I was confronted by a young woman who seemed to have totally ‘flipped’, lost herself. She was shrieking like a banshee, waving her arms about – well, when she wasn’t actually throwing things, a rock, a dustbin lid, a metal chair. Initially, I didn’t have a clue what to do, but suddenly, spontaneously, from somewhere or other, with right arm raised I intoned these words: “In the name of the God who created you and of His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for you, I cast you out unclean spirit. Begone!”

As I say, I don’t know what caused me to say those words. They were entirely reflexive. But, as you’ll readily understand, they were words of exorcism, of banishment. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t consciously ‘exorcising’ her. There’s obviously much more to it than that. But, in any event, the result was remarkable. The woman stopped screaming. Her body shivered. She began to cry. The torment was gone. She became human again.

I suppose that what happened was more like what Pentecostals call a ‘deliverance’, a relatively brief public ‘banishing’ in the name of the Holy Spirit, in which the subject often ends up falling over. Jesus himself simply told the demon to depart from the possessed. There was no lengthy exorcism. Of course with that you never quite know whether the subject has become obsessional about something which troubles him, maybe his own personal sinfulness. It might just be a cop out to blame everything on ‘devilry’. We might just be misreading the psychiatric signs. Mind, I don’t claim that what I did was a deliverance either. Frankly, I don’t know what it was. I simply report that for some reason my words MAY have caused the woman to return to normality.

In the earlier months of this year, there were many public suggestions by some church leaders that in our personal lives and in our institutions, in which corruption was suggested to be rampant, the devil – a foreign import of course – had been working overtime. Effectively they were saying we live in a new age of Satan. Frankly, I found it all a bit excessive. Let’s call it ‘devil mania’. There’s an element of scapegoating about it, blaming the snake rather than blaming ourselves. Poor parenting causes problems for kids. Excessive smart-phoning causes problems for everyone. And institutional greed…? These same people would almost certainly be outspoken against all forms of occultism. Yet they preach the power of Satan in today’s world, and so themselves have become as much victims of occult bondage as those they castigate. In the end, they corroborate the forces they would otherwise oppose.

Well, are good and evil objective realities, or is this kind of dualism outdated? We all have a dark side, a shadow side, and certainly we’re all capable of doing pretty horrible things. “For we, like sheep have gone astray…” The Church is proof positive. But if human kindness, beauty and love are God given sanctifications, how do we characterise human wickedness? Sure, it’s always easier to ascribe our own brokenness to the devil – the scapegoat – than to ourselves. And yet we know there are those whose God given humanity seems so far suppressed that to label them ‘non-human’ seems irresistible. We might say they’re ‘possessed’ – in which case there’s hope. For me, Trump, a man with a hole instead of moral sense and clearly ever commissioned in the Liar’s cohorts, falls into one or other of those categories. The idea, in some of his supporters, that he’s some kind of angelic messenger is simply laughable, and actually very dangerous indeed for our world.

The Church is clear. “Evil is…a terrible reality. Mysterious and frightening. It is contrary to the teachings of the Bible and the Church to refuse to recognise the existence of such a reality” (Pope Paul V1 in 1972). We see the consequences of that evil in war, disease, famine, hatred and ignorance, to be sure. Yet when we speak of evil, we’re speaking not so much in the general but rather in a personified evil, entailing, at its narrowest, the invasion of the body by an alien conscious personality which displaces the personality of its victim – possession. It’s an ongoing process. The subject, who’s been hurt in some way, even by the Church, ultimately cooperates with the demonic. There’s a sell out after conflict and resistance. And once the evil has found its home, it digs in deep. Even young children may evidence it.

But we must be cautious. The alleged victim may suffer psychological problems, mental illness. His responses may be hysterical, schizoid, not demonic. There may be borderline or multiple personality disorder. His confusions may be mental, not possessional. Yet “by their fruits you shall know them”. Has his life become meaningless? Was it ever meaningful? Does he suffer self-destructive tendencies? Does he mutilate himself? Does he display powers far beyond his normal condition? Does he recoil from holy water? Very well, maybe we call in the exorcist.

Go safely, then – until the next time.

Caution, from the boundary: “Be careful, lest in casting out your demon you exorcise the best thing in you” (Nietzsche).

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