In this terrific column
, fellow blogger Dakinikat snickers at Governor Bobby Jindal's "scholarly" writings about exorcism. In a scoffing mood, she then links to a news story about exorcism in the Catholic Church
After clicking on the link, I was a little surprised to discover that the RCs have all of six
exorcists to serve the American consumer's infernal needs. A surprisingly low figure, that. To put the numbers into perspective, we should look up how many Protestant exorcists are open for business:
Michael Cuneo, a sociologist at Fordham University, claims "By conservative estimates, there are at least five or six hundred evangelical exorcism ministries in operation today, and quite possibly two or three times this many."
And you know damned
well that those evangelical Satan-spotters (unlike their Catholic counterparts) don't bother to consult medical doctors and psychiatrists before bounding into action.
But if you are a liberal writer decrying America's ever-tightening embrace of the irrational, don't go after the Protestant denominations, whose exorcists number in the hundreds, possibly in the thousands. Instead, concentrate your fire on those half-dozen Catholics. They
are the real problem.
You may not know that exorcism is a cross-cultural phenomenon. Muslims do it; they call it ruqya chariya
. Hindus do it too, although they believe that worship of Hanuman can make you impervious to demonic attack.
There's more. It seems that...er...well, sorry to have to break this to you, DK, but Buddhists practice exorcism too
. (Dakinkat happens to be a Buddhist.) As a matter of surprising fact, there are many more Buddhist exorcists
than Catholic exorcists.
A large number of Buddhist exorcists work in Japan. A Buddhist exorcism is performed by a temple's chief priest and his assistant, reading an appropriate sutra (the scriptures of Buddhism) and burning a special incense. The priest also carries a shakujo—a wooden staff with metal rings threaded onto it, creating an unearthly sound to scare evil spirits away. In some Buddhist traditions, spirits are driven out of a person's body by causing physical discomfort such as fasting, bathing in extremely cold water, or slapping the skin of the possessed person.
(A similar double standard applies to the tradition of priestly celibacy. A lot of people who think that Catholic celibacy is inherently evil also regard the Dalai Lama as the king of the hipsters.)
Personally, I find the very idea of demonic possession hard to swallow, although I admit that this theory does a lot to explain Dick Cheney. Still, we must admit: Compared to most other religions, and contrary to the impression conveyed by Hollywood, Catholicism is quite sparing in the application of this rite.
Still, I don't mind having the occasional snicker at the church's expense. If you go back to the news story
that began this investigation, you'll find this amusing quote:
"Jesus' words of prayer and fasting and a good sacramental life are the best anecdotes," the Cardinal said.
Funny story about that...