I have stated this before on this website and I will state it again because I feel quite strongly about it. This alleged possession business can be especially harmful for children. To tell an impressionable child that he or she is possessed by an evil demon - without knowing that to be true with 100 percent certainty (and there is no 100 percent certainty of such knowledge) - is at best irresponsible and at worst abusive. The potential for psychological damage - especially if the child is already psychologically compromised - is high.
NO LONGER PRIVATE
The Catholic Church has been conducting exorcisms for centuries, and until recently the practice has been kept pretty quiet. And for good reason: it is an intensely private matter. The Church also conducts a thorough investigation before resorting to an exorcism, including medical and psychological examinations of various kinds. It is only when these tests are exhausted that the Church grants permission for an exorcism. It is a last resort, and the case must be convincing and severe.
Do you think such care will be taken in the hands of TV-educated demonologists? I doubt it.
(Note: Originally, the PR for the show The Exorcism Files stated that it was being produced with the cooperation of the Vatican. The Vatican has denied this. A Fox News article states: "According to multiple Vatican officials, the Church had no official involvement with the series and the Vatican does not even have a group of exorcists.")
The Catholics aren't the only denomination to perform exorcisms, of course. There are several Christian fundamentalist groups that conduct public "deliverances," and the ones I have seen (on TV of all places!) are farcical sideshows that have little to do with spirituality and everything to do with entertainment value.
And now we'll have a TV show devoted to the ritual. That's not surprising, I suppose, in our current culture in which anything and everything - no matter how personal or sacred - is reduced to an entertainment in the form of a cable television show.
PEOPLE ARE FOLLOWERS
How can I predict there will be a springing up of home-grown demonologists as a result of this show? Because people are followers, especially of stuff they see on TV and in the movies. We live in a cult-of-celebrity culture (how else to explain Paris Hilton and Snooki?). We worship fame, no matter how notorious, and we want to be like the people we see on the screen.
We certainly would not have the vast number of ghost hunting groups out there if it weren't for Ghost Hunters and the other ghost investigation shows. This has actually not been a bad thing, for the most part. Most ghost hunting groups conduct themselves with professionalism and respect for their clients, and they have contributed to the study of the ghost phenomenon in the form of innovative technology and the collection of anomalous data, including EVP, photos and video.
A better model for how wrong-headed this follower mentality can be in this field is the current obsession over vampires and werewolves, thanks to the Twilight books and films, their copycats, and the various TV shows. Take a look at this comment thread for my article "Are Vampires Real? There you'll see a long list of commenters - mostly young teens, presumably - who have mistaken fiction for reality and believe that vampires and werewolves are real. Several even claim that they are vampires or werewolves... or want to be. Their comments are actually a sad commentary on their own lives and the state of a vacuous American culture.
But this obsession, too, is harmless for the vast majority. It will pass along with their youth and naiveté. I dread, however, the negativity and harm that might result in the wake of an exorcism fad.
COMPOUNDING THE PROBLEM: MORE SHOWS
As I've said above, if this show is a success, you can expect more of the same... and worse:
- The Women Exorcists
- Possessed Kids
- Cruise Ship Exorcisms
- Ralph Nebbish, Neighborhood Demonologist
- Exorcisms of the Stars
- Law & Order: The Demon Squad
- Charlie's Angels... and Demons
- Priests 'n' Pitchforks
- Hell's Kitchen - Literally
- Demon Autopsy
- ... create your own show.