Against Satanic Panics > Exorcism

Exorcism, "spiritual warfare," and anti-occultism

by Diane Vera

Copyright © 2005 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.

  1. Brief introduction
  2. Exorcism in general
  3. Roman Catholic exorcism
  4. Exorcism, the Vatican, and the recent Italian Satanic panic
  5. Eastern Orthodox exorcism
  6. Evangelical/fundamentalist Protestant exorcism, a.k.a. deliverance ministry
  7. Exorcism and the "ex-gay" movement and social conservativism in general
  8. Beyond exorcism - other, more aggressive kinds of "spiritual warfare"
  9. "Spiritual warfare" and dominionism
  10. Non-Christian exorcism traditions
  11. Exorcism-related deaths and physical injuries

  1. Brief introduction
  2. Ever since the 1973 movie The Exorcist, exorcism has grown more and more popular in the West - not just because of the movie, but also because of the growing popularity of emotionally intense forms of Christianity such as Pentecostalism. At the same time, Christianity has been growing rapidly in parts of the world (e.g. Africa, parts of Asia) where exorcism always was popular to begin with. For both these reasons, exorcism has become more and more prominent within Christianity again, as it was back in Bible times.

    And, in Christianity, a belief in demon possession naturally tends to go hand in hand with worries about the occult (all forms of occultism, no matter how benign) and about Satanism. Anti-occult statements can be found sprinked throughout many of the Christian articles on exorcism listed on this page.

    Belief in demon possession also tends to go hand in hand with a general social conservativism. Various social changes of the past 50 years, e.g. women's rights and decreased prejudice against gays, are assumed to be Satanic in origin.

    Note: Many of the articles linked on this page are written from a Christian and/or pro-exorcism point of view. A listing on this page does not imply endorsement of the author's views.

  3. Exorcism in general
  4. Most of the articles listed above are by skeptics. Most of the articles listed in the categories below are by believers.

  5. Roman Catholic exorcism
  6. The Catholic Church has much stricter standards than many Protestant deliverance ministries have regarding the circumstances under which it is thought that a "demon" is present. Also, it is Catholic policy to insist that a prospective exorcisee see a doctor and a psychiatrist first.

    Because the Catholic Church tends to be secretive about exorcism, it is difficult for an outsider to determine what's real and what isn't. It seems to me that the Catholic Church wants to avoid criticism both from skeptics and from the more ardent Devil-believers both in its own ranks and in rival forms of Christianity.

    Below are some skeptical articles on Catholic exorcism claims:

    Note: I would very much appreciate being informed of any other skeptical articles - especially well-researched ones - regarding Catholic exorcism claims. I would also appreciate being informed about any well-researched articles examining Catholic exorcism from the viewpoint of any non-Abrahamic religion.

  7. Exorcism, the Vatican, and the recent Italian Satanic panic
  8. In Italy recently, there seems to have been quite a bit of panic about Satanism in the wake of an infamous murder case involving members of the "Beasts of Satan" metal band. For information about the "Beasts of Satan" murders, see my collection of links to news articles about The "Beasts of Satan" in Italy.

    Apparently spurred by the Satanic panic in Italy, a Vatican university has begun giving a course on "Satanism and exorcism." Below is a collection of news articles and interviews that deal with Catholic exorcism in relation to worries about Satanism, mainly in Italy.

    I haven't yet found very many skeptical writings about Italy's current Satanism scare. Most of the articles below repeat, uncritically, various hard-to-believe claims about Satanism, such as the alleged existence of hundreds of "Satanic cults" in Italy.

    Below is some information about the Legion of Christ, which runs the Pontifical Academy "Regina Apostolorum," at which the Vatican's course on "Satanism and exorcism" is being taught:

    The only web articles I've found so far that are skeptical of Italy's current Satanism scare, and which also deal with exorcism, are the following:

    Here is some other skeptical commentary about Italy's recent Satanic panic:

    For my own comments on Italy's "Satanism" scare, please see my page about Italy's recent Satanic panic (Attention: scholars of new religions).

  9. Eastern Orthodox exorcism

  10. Evangelical/fundamentalist Protestant exorcism, a.k.a. deliverance ministry
  11. Protestant evangelicals, fundamentalists, and Pentecostals hold a wide variety of beliefs about exorcism and how and under what circumstances it should be performed. The collection of links below provides only a sampling.

    Not all fundamentalists and evangelicals support the idea of "deliverance ministry." Below are some writings by the small minority of evangelicals and fundamentalists who reject the concept outright:

  12. Exorcism and the "ex-gay" movement and social conservativism in general
  13. Apparently quite a few evangelicals regard homosexuality as either a cause or a symptom of either outright demonic possession or at least demonic influence. And, apparently, quite a few deliverance ministries attempt - with notoriously little success - to "cure" people of homosexuality via exorcism.

    Belief in demon possession also tends to go hand in hand not only with anti-gay attitudes but also with a general social conservativism. For example, according to an article about Michael W. Cuneo's book American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty, "Many [exorcists] are deeply conservative, seeing demonic possession as a result of the flaws of a liberal society in which drugs, sex, and feminism have opened people to evil spirits."

  14. Beyond exorcism - other, more aggressive kinds of "spiritual warfare"
  15. These days, it would seem that most evangelical Christians and especially most Pentecostals and charismatics do believe in demon possession and exorcism. There are also other, newer, more aggressive forms of "spiritual warfare," such as "strategic-level spiritual warfare," that are more controversial among evangelical Christians.

    From a non-Christian point of view, the salient points are these: (1) Nearly all fundamentalist/evangelical Christians, on all sides of the "spiritual warfare" debate, believe that all non-Christian worldviews and spiritual practices - no matter how benign - are of the Devil. (2) Because the methods of the more aggressive spiritual warriors are derived from sources other than just the Bible alone, they themselves are regarded by their critics as venturing into forbidden spiritual territory. (3) The more aggressive kinds of "spiritual warfare" are apparently used in some of the fastest-growing churches.

  16. "Spiritual warfare" and dominionism
  17. "Dominionism" is the belief that ultra-conservative Christians should take over the government and turn it into a theocracy. First, some articles about dominionism itself:

    Both dominionism and the more aggressive forms of spiritual warfare have roots in the Latter Rain movement, an extreme form of Pentecostalism. Below is some information about the Latter Rain movement:

    Not all dominionists also practice exorcism or "spiritual warfare," and not all exorcism advocates are also dominionists. Indeed, one of the best-known forms of dominionism, Christian Reconstructionism, was founded by otherwise rather staid Calvinists. However, dominionism has become more popular among Pentecostals and charismatics than among Calvinists or among other types of fundamentalist or evangelical Christians. Thus, "spiritual warfare" and dominionism often do go hand in hand. In any case, political dominionism and the more aggressive forms of "spiritual warfare" share a common conquer-the-world-for-Christ attitude, albeit on different planes.

  18. Non-Christian exorcism traditions
  19. Exorcism isn't just a Christian thing. Many older religions practiced it too, and still practice it.

    1. Among Jews:
    2. In India:
    3. Stories on other non-Christian exorcism traditions will be added later.

  20. Exorcism-related deaths and physical injuries
  21. No page on exorcism would be complete without a mention of the many deaths and physical injuries that have occurred during exorcism. It would be unfair to suggest that physical violence is an intrinsic, unavoidable aspect of all exorcism rituals. However, some kinds of exorcism rituals do involve physical violence and/or restraining people against their will for long periods. Some other exorcists may just be so focussed on interpreting the exorcisee's behavior as "demonic" that they may overlook otherwise obvious warning signs of bodily malfunctions.

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