Why All the Fascination With the Devil and Exorcism?
The curiosity exhibited by many Catholics toward demonic activity is real — and troubling.
I’m going to begin this article with a disclaimer. I am not an expert on demonic possession or the occult. In fact, one of my goals in life — and I’m willing to work very hard on accomplishing this goal — is to never become an expert on such matters.
Though I cannot point to a specific survey to support this assertion, my goal seems to be increasingly in the minority. Novels, non-fiction books, Russell Crowe interviews, Catholic podcasts, and films about demonic activity and exorcism are all the rage among many Catholics lately. (Even writing about this subject from the counterpoint position, this blog is likely to receive exponentially more views than anything I have written about Mary, grace, the sacrament of Penance or Matrimony in the past five years.)
The curiosity exhibited by Catholics toward demonic activity is real — and troubling. Why troubling? Because while occult activity does not always originate in curiosity of the occult, it often can. Many years ago, St. Augustine warned against the “curiosity” of “seeking knowledge from the demons.” And curiosity can quickly grow into fascination. That’s trouble. And I’m speaking here about those shows that are generally friendly toward the Catholic Faith.
Of course, my point will be countered by some of those who listen and view various media presentations on the subject — especially those conducted by fellow Catholics. They may argue that it is helpful to the spiritual life to delve into the topic of demonic activity because, after all, these presentations illustrate that the Church wins the battle through exorcism. And exorcism is good.
On that final point, we agree: the practice of exorcism is good. It dates to biblical times: The Gospels relate numerous instances of Jesus and the Apostles casting out demons. They liberated many souls, while limiting spectacle. Exorcism remains both a tremendous good and a terribly necessary function of the Catholic Church. It is also more common than many Catholics recognize: in the Catholic Church, exorcisms precede baptisms.
Exorcism is good. Agreed.
Yet, as far as I know, no movie has ever been made — nor has any popular book been written — about the minor exorcism that occurs before baptism. Why not? If it is exorcism itself that attracts our interest, why aren’t more Catholics routinely attending baptisms?
Is it possible that some listeners, viewers and readers are enticed more by curiosity about the demonic activity than by the prayers of exorcism? If so, this might point to the curiosity of which Augustine speaks. It is important to acknowledge that the devil exists and that he hates us, but this must produce neither curiosity nor fascination.
Again, there are those who will argue that watching films of this sort has brought them closer to Christ. I’ll concede the point that this can occur. But even in that case, there’s something to consider: I can’t unsee things. I can’t unhear things. Many movies about demonic activity are chock full of sacrilegious images — portraying the possessed victim abuse sacramentals, for instance. Many movies portray the possessed speaking heinous blasphemies. Beyond the immorality of portraying such things even in a fictitious way, we can neither unsee nor unhear these things. For some viewers, even those who watched such a film with noble intentions, it might be difficult to ever look at a crucifix the same way ever again. That’s well beyond sad.
Though many Catholics defend the rise in the portrayal of demonic-themed media, it’s worth noting that this has occurred at a time when formal satanism is a fast-growing “religion.” Why the widespread fascination now, as opposed to 50 years ago, or 500 years ago? It strikes me that at least some of the current fascination with such subjects is the natural consequence of a world that is “spiritual” without being “religious.”
The world seems fascinated by the devil, but bored by God. That’s as backward as it gets. C. S. Lewis once commented that of all his books, writing The Screwtape Letters was the only unenjoyable assignment — one that was “dry” and “fatiguing.” Once again, I find myself in agreement with Lewis, and have been wondering why more people don’t agree.
And when we see movie after movie, more interviews, more podcasts, it might serve us well ask to why we’re giving the devil so much attention. The devil, as it turns out, seems to enjoy celebrity too. And if any press is good press, well … it’s something to consider.