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March 7th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

Meet America's top exorcist, the inspiration for 'The Rite'

Editor's Note: This story comes from a new CNN Special, "Stories Reporter," with Tom Foreman which features an in-depth look at the news of the day.

By Tom Foreman, CNN

The sun was shining on the Santa Cruz Mountains. The freeway from the San Francisco airport to San Jose was still buzzing in my ears when I stepped into the parking lot of an unassuming church and the most famous exorcist in America walked up.

“Hello, I’m Father Gary Thomas.”  At 57 years old, he has an easy smile, an abiding love for the Giants and strong convictions about the nature of evil.

"You believe there is a devil?"  I ask him as we settle in at a small, beautiful chapel near the church.

“Yes.”

“You believe that this devil acts upon people?”

“Correct.”

He says it with the certainty that I reserve for answers to questions like, “Did you bring your lunch?” but that’s no surprise.  He has faced skeptics many times and never more than now, because his life and training as an exorcist in Rome are the inspiration behind the Hollywood film "The Rite."

Father Gary Thomas at the premier of 'The Rite'

Indeed, at the premiere, as the cameras swirled around the star, Anthony Hopkins, Thomas walked the red carpet alongside him.  This movie, like salvation, is something the priest believes in.

“First of all,” he says, “it was very emotional for me.  I found some of those scenes very riveting.  I found some of them very profound.  They’re very accurate.  That’s what I’ve seen in real life.”

That’s saying something.  "The Rite" is chock-full of heaving, cursing, ranting characters, who, according to the screenplay, are possessed by Satan, people who one moment seem fine and the next are raging against all that is holy.

And yet, Thomas says people who fear that very fate come to him constantly.  “Well, often times they’ll begin the conversation with ‘Father, I need an exorcism.’  And my answer back to them is, ‘I don’t do them on demand.’”

But he does think a lot more of them need to be done.  It is all part of a push by the Vatican to make more exorcists available to the faithful.  Some in the Catholic Church believe the world is facing a rising tide of demonic activity, particularly in America, where millions are moving away from traditional faiths and looking for alternatives.

"A lot of folks dabble in the occult, or they will be involved in practices that … classical Christianity at least would consider to be idolatrous.  People can get themselves involved in Wicca, or people will go see some sort of fortune-teller, or people will go to a séance, or they can go and they can learn how to channel spirits. …"

A vision of politician Christine O’Donnell fills my head and I interrupt.  “But a lot of people would tell you up front, ‘I’m just playing around.’”

“Right.  Absolutely.  And it’s not,” he says, noting that those who feel adrift from the church and from others of faith are more likely to be drawn in.  “Demons are always looking for human beings who have broken relationships.”

Simply put, Thomas believes just as surely as a person can summon God through prayer, through other rituals, the devil can be called, too.

Father Thomas, left, and Tom Foreman

Thomas says an exorcism usually takes from 45 minutes to two hours and involves reciting prayers, reading scriptures and using sacramental objects such as crucifixes and holy water.  Of course, that’s like saying surgery involves a knife and some sponges.

It is vastly more complicated.  Before the rite is even considered, there must be psychological testing by professionals, extended consultations and questions about drug and alcohol addiction.

Thomas says fully 80% of the people he meets claiming demonic possession have actually suffered some kind of abuse.  An exorcism, he says, is the last step in a long process.

“I have a particular situation now,” he says, “where I think this particular person is suffering from a very unique psychological disorder, but she’s also been exposed to satanic cults, and I want to make sure that what we’re dealing with … is satanic or if it is psychological.”

Even when an exorcism is prescribed, it often must be repeated.  Judging from Thomas' comments, it takes something of a trained eye to decide whether it is even working.

Father Thomas and Anthony Hopkins at the premier of 'The Rite.'

The movie, to be frank, complicates this whole discussion.  Not "The Rite."  Thomas says he likes that one, and found Anthony Hopkins a “delightful” man.

But rather the movie from 1973.  "The Exorcist" captured America's imagination about demons taking over a person’s body and profoundly shaped the public's perceptions about the process of throwing those devils out.  It was lurid, violent and unforgettable.

It was also based on a real exorcism in Washington, which was far less dramatic than the film.  Thomas will tell you emphatically there are no spinning heads, spewing pea soup or levitating bodies.

But he has seen manifestations of possession.  "Sometimes the person's head will begin to move in very rigid ways.  Sometimes their eyes will roll.  Sometimes there will be epileptic-like seizures," Thomas said.  "Occasionally people will take on kind of a body language of a serpentine look, and they'll begin to stick their tongue out and use their tongue in ways that would look snake-like, and they'll coil up in a snake-like position."

“And these are things that you have seen in real life?” I ask.

"I have seen that," he said with a wry smile.

I’ve seen it, too.  A few years ago I went to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to report on a Protestant exorcist who was holding a session in a hotel meeting room.  Several dozen people filed in while, no kidding, "The Devil Inside" by INXS played on a stereo system.

Suffice to say, there were plenty of eye-rolling, seizure-like eruptions in the crowd as people cried out and the exorcist confronted them, pressing his Bible against their heads, and demanding that their demons reveal their names.

We talked to some of the participants before and after, talked to the exorcist, too. For all their heartfelt expressions of belief, I can’t help but ask Thomas the same thing I asked that night: Couldn’t all these folks just be acting?

"I don't think they're acting out in a conscious sense,” he says, “because many times … they don't remember the experience itself.”

What’s more, he says, occasionally the person will do something that defies explanation.  "Sometimes the person will begin to speak in a language in which they have no competency in.”

Meaning, for example, someone who knows no German might start speaking precisely and accurately in that language.  Thomas says he has witnessed that, too.

I stopped by the Pew Center in Washington, where some of the best research on religion is done, to ask about all this.  Allison Pond is a charming young researcher who kindly sat me down before delivering some startling news: A Pew survey found more than one in 10 Americans have witnessed an exorcism, and when you narrow it down to Pentecostals it’s about one in three.

“Forty percent of Americans said they completely believe angels and demons are active in the world,” she told me, “with 28% telling us they mostly believe this."

That is the kind of information that needs more than a priestly explanation, so I roamed over to Georgetown University to talk to Ori Soltes, a theologian.  The problem, he says, is that we can’t know for sure what people mean when they say they’ve seen an exorcism.  Was it a formal ceremony?  A personal revelation?  A changed way of life?

Still, he has no doubt that claims of demonic meddling are high, because, after all, the year 2000 rolled around less than a dozen years ago, and at every millennium fears of the devil’s influence rise.

"My sense is that we are still in the backwash from the millennium,” he says, “but then you know ... events have helped to proliferate that:  9/11,  the war in Iraq.  And now as we approach 2012, suddenly everyone is very interested in the Mayan calendar and how we interpret the idea that the apocalypse is coming in December of 2012 at the time of equinox ... all that sort of stuff.”

So maybe it’s no wonder that Thomas is getting calls for exorcisms from not only Catholics, but also from followers of other faiths.

"How often?" I ask.

"I would say probably one out of 10."

Thomas says there are about 50 Catholic exorcists in the United States, and that’s not nearly enough.  He’d like to see one exorcist in every parish.  But until that day, he does not mind explaining over and over what exorcisms are really all about.

“It's a healing ministry.  It's not hocus pocus.  It's not smoke and mirrors.  It's not magic. But I think if we don't respond to people who come in their very troubling moments, I think it diminishes us as a church."

Despite all that Hollywood has done to mythologize exorcisms, he still believes in the power of this rite, a power born not of fear, but of faith.

CNN's Eric Marrapodi and Katie Ross contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Christianity • Devil • Mass • Movies • Vatican

soundoff (1,247 Responses)
  1. Fenchurch

    Religion is psychological abuse. Period.

    March 7, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  2. Christfollower

    This got kind of long. When you have time, please read:
    If you don't want to believe in God, you don't have to. There are plenty of people with advanced degrees that convey convincing arguments in favor of a naturalistic explanation to the universe. If you stop there, your ears will be tickled, and you will walk away feeling free to live your life the way you want to. That will be a lie.
    The problem is, if you have not had your sins forgiven through faith in Christ, you are still a slave to your sin. You have no choice but to desire sin. You are not truly free without the grace found through Jesus Christ as your Lord as well as your Savior. That doesn't mean you will stop sinning altogether this side of heaven. But it does mean you will be able to approach the throne of God's presence and experience the joy that was meant for you, because faith in Christ will allow His Holiness to be credited to you, covering your sin and making you acceptable in the Father's sight. It does mean you will then be able desire a close relationship with God more than you desire your sin.

    Are you truly happier living without God in your life? I'm not talking about the sadistic god you have let others convince you about. I would not want to follow that god either. I'm talking about the real God, as revealed through scripture. The fullness of scripture, not a soundbite that you take out of context to bolster your current opinion. The Bible is full of God's revealed nature: covenant-maker and keeper, good Shepherd, faithful Father full of grace and forgiveness and second, third and fourth chances, and yes, He is also a God of judgement after a person or people have rejected Him long enough. Do not feel slighted that He gave us one way of salvation. Feel grateful that He gave a us chance at all: through His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him will not die, but have everlasting life!!

    I know you are dying to reply to this and show me how ignorant I am. That's fine. My goal is not to try to force you to accept Jesus through a powerful argument. That will never happen. Only God through the Holy Spirit can bring you to a place where you feel empty, alone, meaningless. This is a good thing. Because it is only at this time will you realize your need for someone, anyone, to help fill your life with meaning and purpose and joy. I pray that at that time you will remember these words or the words of someone else who God will put in your life at that time. All you need are a pair of empty hands to accept the free gift of grace that God the Father is offering to you through His Son Jesus Christ.

    "When you said, 'Seek My face,' my heart said to you, 'Your face, O LORD, I shall seek.'" Psalm 27:8

    March 7, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  3. Been There

    In my 34 years of life I have been exposd to felt a level of evil that could be have been formed by a human. i have desired things that would make Hitler and the SS scream in terror. I am not saying that thier is a "devil" or that there is a "God" nor do I want to drive you to believe in one or not. One thing I do know is that the human race has been spiralling out of control for the last 15 years and more and more evil has been taking us over. It is possible that thisis the natural progression of humans but it is also possible that some outside influence has been guiding us towards our own evil destruction. The idea of excorsisms scares people and upsets them because of the idea of God and Devil. But what if merely believing in something good and having it in u is enough to get rid of the evil that we as a species are being influenced by.

    2 Things before I go:
    1. Sorry for typos
    2. Not believing in the devil won't save you from him

    March 7, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  4. Mary Ann

    If there really was a devil, or satan, then I would be thin and rich, cuz I would have sold my soul decades ago.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  5. Anna

    Agnostic and proud! I'm not against any religion, they are all just opinions. No one knows the real truth. BTW: Agnostic does NOT mean we don't believe in your so called 'God', it simply means you cannot prove he or anything related (for example: the bible) exists or not – cannot be proven.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  6. cb

    To Tom: You must be atheist. All through the Bible talks about God, Satan,Jesus, angels and demons.Obviously you don't read and believe the Bible otherwise you would not have said what you said. If you read Genesis especially chapter 6 it states angels came unto women(daughters of man) became pregnant and had giant offspring. Zeus is one of the angels who had children by earthly women and God caused a global floor because of the genetic mixing and trying to destroy the human race as we know it. After every living thing drowned but Noah and his family, the spirits from these hybrids had no where to go and cannot fly like angels; so they roam the earth looking for bodies to inhabit and never are satisfied.These spirits are called demons and they try to cause havoc on any body they inhabit. Don't take my word for it-read the Bible. Archeologists have found skeletal remains of these hybrid giants and other strange creatures that lived on earth before the flood.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • dannyokie

      to CB...if these demons "cannot fly like angels", then who the hell keeps sh1tt1ng on my car every time I wash it?

      March 7, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Godless

      I see comments like cb's and I think, "Is he f***ing with us? He's f***ing with us, right? Yeah, he has to be, people can't really believe that to be a factual story. Right?"

      March 8, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  7. dannyokie

    jesus, what a bunch of nuts!

    March 7, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  8. morpheus

    (in my sarcastic voice)– You fools!! Their is no such thing as God,Devil,good and evil.. all those things are man made. That why I don't understand why you have laws and jails. As far as I am concerned I didn't see any of those " criminals" do anything so why are they in jail for. I think we should let them all out, and we can all just do whatever we want. At the end of it all it means nothing because when we die, the machines will come for our bodies.. lol

    March 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  9. Upperhand

    I'm sorry, I was looking for the religion page... I seem to have stumbled upon the atheist page.

    March 7, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  10. TheLeftCoast

    I personally believe there are energies all around us ~ some are benevolent, some malevolent. The malevolent ones are typically hanging around, waiting to glom onto people who are under the influence of substances and/or in a rage. Those with a history of unhealed abuse are also "at risk." Keep your energy clean, and forgive others, as well as yourself. Onward and upward!

    March 7, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  11. CalgarySandy

    Theresa:

    Actually, if you read your Bible you will see that Lazarus and the little girl he raised up without even seeing her were both raised in the flesh. People where amazed at Lazarus being physically whole after laying in the tomb rotting.

    A book that references itself to prove itself is bunk. How do you know there is a God? He says so. Where does he say so? In the Bible? How do you know the Bible is true? God said so.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      And this is where I have such a problem with the Bible. Yes, I agree that it is a wonderful collection of folklore with many valuable parables and morals (and some really ugly ones, too.) But when you try to make sense of its factual or "truth" value, you quickly get caught up in inecsapable circular logic.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  12. brad

    I believe in malevolent "intelligent" beings who spread hate and negativity throughout the world. They're called "atheists" and they possess this site. And they seem to think they're supernatural.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • CalgarySandy

      Thank you. It is your ilk that continues to convince me that too many followers of Christianity see only evil in others. A god of hate, a people of hate.

      Not supernatural. Logical and better educated than those who only look at their side of the argument. Critical reasoning faculties in tact. And, yes, kind of obnoxious in the face of deliberate ignorance.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • pat carr

      that's fine, that's the kind of thinking i've come to understand comes from religious people. everyone else but their belief system is "evil"

      March 7, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Tom

      Brad, I don't think I'm supernatural, but I do think I'm a lot smarter than you are. This is my belief...... not mean. Just the truth.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • brad

      My experiment succeeded. I based my comment on hard evidence taken from the atheists bitter comments on this site.
      But, while I made no claim to be religious, the atheists assumed I am religious because I opposed them.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • LemonSucker

      I'm bitter..... characterized by intense antagonism or hostility.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      Brad – I am simply asking for some real evidence of the proof of god. How on earth does that make me supernatural? Please, allow me to understand your thinking. I suspect you have atheists confused with devil worshippers or something else equally unsavory.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • brad

      @Free Thinker.

      I admit my "supernatural" comment was a barb. I was referring to the arrogance of SOME atheists who place their total confidence in science. And many atheists don't understand the scientific principles they profess to accept.

      As for proof of god? Well, the existence of god does not depend upon our proofs.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • DavidMichael

      I don't spread hate but fact. How can you believe in a story in which it contradicts itself near the beginning of the book. There are two distinct creation stories one of which man is created first then animals, the other animals first then man. I can't compartmentalize like that. I don't find myself even a little bit supernatural..

      March 7, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  13. Kelsey

    After 10 years of enduring progressive psychiatric therapy and being administered several mood stabilizing and antidepressant drugs, I can, most assuredly state that (after the failure of all) there is indeed demonic forces that are at war with our minds on a daily basis. It was only after a rather common experience (for me) with a razor, that I went to church the next day (as normal) and happened to be sitting next to two missionaries. They spoke to me, telling me I could be free from my oppression. I looked at them dubiously, as I had heard that story before. However, I was prayed over and set free in a way that I cannot even put into words. Like a veil was lifted. I was a Christian while experiencing these things, and I can say that demonic forces have little reason for tormenting those who already theirs. Christians are tormented as well as non-Christians, however there is little to gain by tormenting their own. I have seen this throughout the church. I am not discrediting mental illness or medications that have been proven to correct a very real medical imbalance. However, there is no physical medicine for a spiritual depression or illness that can envelope your very soul in a darkness more real than the medicines people claim will help it. All I know is that I do not need meds and I do not see visions that are worse than any horror movie you can imagine. You will say it was persuasion that changed things within me, but there is nothing new about your unbelief. "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish is foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18

    March 7, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  14. Ania

    @horrified

    I will never say that anyone who is religious is stupid or w.e. its not my palce to say that, I was once a very religious person. Im not mocking anyone, and i love to discuss GOD i find this topic very interesting, i find it enough interesting to ask questions then just to follow it. We are all allowed to ask questions, and we have the right to do so. I am definately not trying to hurt anyone in here or disresepct anyone, i am simply stating what is on my mind. The point is you say GOD is perfect, how so? What has he done that is so perfect? I dont have to believe in any god to know that i can do something, or that im strong enough to handle certain situations. I need to believe in myself, just me as a human being i am capable of things and this has nothingt odo w/h GOD. I dont want to raise my sons and make them think that praying will hlep them. Hard work pays off. and this hard work comes from you not from GOD. Why is it that ppl give credit to some GOD instead of themselves? Passing a test or getting a job is not GODs work. ITS URS

    March 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • morpheus

      Its funny how we all blame God for actions of man... but don't want to take the blame for how your children turn out..lol.. man was given free will. So blame man for why the earth is like this not God.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Anna

      Well said! Kudos!! - Facebook??? lol

      March 7, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Anna

      btw: i was saying kudos to Ania's comment

      March 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @morpheus

      You said: "Its funny how we all blame God for actions of man... but don't want to take the blame for how your children turn out..lol.. man was given free will. So blame man for why the earth is like this not God."

      Sorry, Sparky. Just not true.

      The problem is, that Christians have insisted on their god being Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnibenevolent.
      No god can be all three at the same time. They contradict each other.

      If god knows what He will do in the future and because He is Omnipotent, does something else, then He is not omniscient.

      If god knows what He will do in the future and cannot do something else, then He is not omnipotent.

      If God knows the future, that means that the future is predictable and unchangeable. This, in turn, means that our actions are predetermined. If god is all knowing, free will is an illusion.

      This also binds god, in that He knows what he will do in the future, and He must do it.

      Let's look at Jesus and his predictions that Judas would betray him and Peter would deny him.
      Those were future events. Do you think Judas could have used his free will to opt out? Not, if Jesus/God was omniscient. Same goes for Peter.

      The actions of Peter and Judas were predetermined. They had no choice.

      Biblical prophecy would not be possible, unless events and human actions were predetermined and there is no free will.

      What about the child who is murdered by a monster, or a people slaughtered by a stronger opponent (or a god)?
      Did they choose to be harmed? Where was their free will? These acts show that the strong or the people in power have greater free will than their victims. Hmmm...

      If god has a "plan for each of us", then that pretty much rules out free will.

      Jeremiah 29:11
      For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

      "You saw me before I was born and scheduled each day of my life before I began to breathe. Every day was recorded in your book!" [Psalm 139:16]

      Ephesians 1:11 "We have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will."

      "this man [Christ Jesus] delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23a NASB).

      The 6 point Calvinists believe our fates are sealed, even before we are born. This would mean that god allows humans to be born, knowing they will someday burn forever. Seems wrong to me, even for a mysterious god.

      There is no evidence that a god gives or safeguards free will.

      Cheers!

      March 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  15. Upperhand

    He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. – Revelation 21:7

    March 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  16. Amber

    These things creep me out. I don't know if those that are exorcists are really getting their power from God or even performing an exorcism, I honestly haven't done any sort of biblical study to make a decision on such a thing, nor do I intent do. What I do know is that Jesus cast devils out of folks and gave his disciples the power to do so as well. But after Christ things changed, in this topic I have no idea what has changed and what has not. God is pure and more powerful than Satan, but I know that it is very dangerous to talk about the Devil and give him any sort of attention, it's like he'll take advantage of that and mess with your mind. Grant it, I am a Christian, Jesus Christ lives in me and so it is completely impossible for me to become possessed, I have nothing to worry about. However, the entire thought of giving attention to Satan and thinking and trying to learn about him freaks me out and I want nothing to do with him. He is very powerful....he's not that little red guy with horns and a pitch fork, nor is he ugly. He actually started out as a beautiful angel. But he got prideful and evil and turned against God and tempted Adam and Eve, thus he was cast out of heaven and so on and so on the story goes. He is a wolf hidden in sheep's clothing. God gave him a certain amount of power, but God has more. God has more power than we can even imagine and Satan knows that. In fact, God is his authority, which is why when we read of Jesus casting devils out over and over again we read the devils knowing right away who he was without any hesitation and they had to do as he said...leave the person. Funny, devils and Satan know who Jesus Christ is and follow his authority right away....but us humans fight so hard to not believe and to do our own thing. Sad.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Teresa

      s gospels being mostly fiction. Click here to cancel reply. Leave A Comment Teresa ckent880@gmail.com

      March 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      Amber, you sure seem to "know" a lot of things on the topic. Could you please share with us your evidence that has allowed you to "know" all that you do? Remember, evidence must be repeatable and verifiable. Anecdotes, Sunday school teachings, scripture and warm personal feelings are not evidence. Please allow into your world of knowledge, or is it merely a belief system?

      March 7, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Amber

      @Free Thinker:
      Yes, I hold my beliefs to the bible and faith only. I don't need to see God in order to know he's real. It's all around me, just look outside. No one can tell me and make me think that this gorgeous world didn't come from an evolution or a big bang or whatever else, I don't care how many years of schooling they have had or how many 'experiments' they have done, or how many books they have written. No book stands so true to me as God's word, the bible. Humans are hopelessly imperfect, so no matter who they are I can not take what they said as more truth than the bible, when the bible is a perfect God's words. You can say all you want against the bible, you can say it has inconsistencies, or that it contradicts itself, or doesn't make sense, but I believe it none the less, and I also believe that all we need to do is to study the bible thoroughly, with an open mind and not jumping to the first conclusion that comes to us. I love God with all my heart, he is my number one is life, more than my life, more than my own husband, more than my future children, I will always stand by his side.

      March 7, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  17. Rich

    such silliness.

    March 7, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  18. Drew

    I'd like to ask all you Atheists what science has actually done for humanity? Probably less than religion I'd say. Because of it we live longer but our lives are empty and meaningless. I'm not a Christian, but I think that the value of science has been strongly overstated. Thinkers and artists wiser than you have been believers, do you think you possess some sort of clarity that they didn't?

    March 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • RobSee

      Science is about discovery and truth. It has provided and will continue to provide humanity with knowledge and many of the conveniences and comforts we enjoy today. Stop and think about what your life would be like without science. You certainly would not be on your computer right now because there would be no electricity.

      Science has not provided all the answers we seek about life....yet. But that knowledge is constantly increasing. So, that doesn't give you a warm and fuzzy feeling? It doesn't provide your life with meaning? That is not the job of science. It is up to the individual to find their own meaning. If your life is empty and meaningless, that is your own failing.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Drew

      Obviously I'm aware of the irony of my use of electricity to participate in this conversation. I think there is a big difference between knowledge and wisdom, and I don't think all the knowledge in the world will necessarily help anyone. If you are capable of making the existential observation that meaning is determined by us subjectively, can't you also see that any religion or philosophy from science to wiccanism could be a path to enlightenment for a certain person? I'm just trying to point out that religion is as valid as science as a tool of meaning, as they are both merely philosophies.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • pat carr

      science has brought us Math, physics, chemistry, cars, higher learning, light bulbs, cars, computers, TV, and hundreds of thousands of things we enjoy on the daily basis. religion has brought us belief in ancient fairy tales, war, abuse, murder, genocide, divisiveness, arrogance and ignorance. it contributes nothing to modern society at all

      March 7, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Drew

      Science brought us the holocaust, Stalinism, and the utterly dehumanizing force that is capitalism. Were all people unhappy or unfulfilled before they had cars and TV's, or before they lived 100 years?

      March 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • pat carr

      "Science brought us the holocaust"

      it did?!!! how so?

      March 7, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Drew

      National Socialism sprang out of the nationalistic and materialistic concepts which sprang from the enlightenment and the scientific revolution. Not to mention the fact that such a wide operation was only possible through vast organizational and technological ingenuity.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Spiffy

      I can't believe that I am responding to a total crackpot, but to state the obvious, medicine. 200 years ago only one person in three lived to the age of 21. That alone is infinitely better than the war, torture, oppression and tyranny that religion has foisted on the world.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Drew

      You think that longer life is inherently better? Do you think that the larger a meal is the better it tastes?

      March 7, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • pat carr

      "National Socialism sprang out of the nationalistic and materialistic concepts which sprang from the enlightenment and the scientific revolution. Not to mention the fact that such a wide operation was only possible through vast organizational and technological ingenuity."

      I may have never read a bigger piece of nonsene than that. NS sprang out of many factors, anger at the outcome of
      WW1, a cult of personality, etc. Saying that science was responsible for it has to be one of the most ridiculous things i have ever heard

      March 7, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • pat carr

      most rational people think that a longer life is better yes. Unless you think that a high mortality rate is somehow good.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Drew

      I'd say longer life can be better, but it is really far more important how people are choosing to live. And I don't think that people who feel that conveniences such as television and automobiles enrich their lives are likely to make the most out of an extra 70 years on earth

      March 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Drew

      Its true that NS was also fed by the factors you mention, but it wouldn't have been possible without increasing scientific understanding, just as the crusades or the inquisition wouldn't have been possible without Christianity. My point is really that people seem to have a need to harm each other, and science and religion both provide the occasion

      March 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • brad

      I agreee, Drew. People of faith can look at anyone and say "You are a unique manifestation of God." But once Darwin's bestseller hit the streets, it became easier to say " you are the product of dumb evolution. If you are weak, you shouldn't survive." And now, the fittest can survive using a hydrogen bomb if necessary. Human nature trumps scientific discovery.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • DavidMichael

      Science didn't bring about the Holocaust, religion did since its books were what made people think it acceptable action. You might want to browse Martin Luther and antisemitism to see some of the proofs. Vatican 1 stands alongside to pave the way for cultural acceptance of the Holocaust. Stalinism was purely a vehicle of political control and had nothing to do with religion or science. Capitalism also stands alone and has nothing to do with science or religion. Heck, on can capitalize on both and verily i attest to you that man has done so.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Drew

      You make a good point of anti-semitism being present long before the holocaust, but the fact remains that it was facilitated by science. In saying this I'm not "blaming" science, whatever that would even mean, but pointing out how it has facilitated as much harm as religion. NS, Bolshevism and Capitalism all have their roots in materialistic AKA scientific thought. My purpose here is simply to illustrate how a purely materialistic world view has stunted modernity.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Nick

      "I'd say longer life can be better, but it is really far more important how people are choosing to live."

      Pretty ironic that coming from someone defending religion you apparently think you have some kind of right to judge how people live their life? Grow up already.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • Drew

      I'm not judging, I'm merely suggesting that how one lives his or her life is more important than its length. At the end the day an individual can only know for his or herself (or maybe even they cant?) if they have done it well. I also expressed some doubt that cars and TV could make us happy, but maybe they can make some people happy. More power to them

      March 7, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Drew

      This is a list of the greatest scientific achievements of the 20th century. These inventions have changed the face of the world and the way we live.

      Transistor: Transistor is a semiconductor device that is used to amplify or switch electronic signals. It is an important component of many electronic devices such as telephones and computers. In 1925, Julius Edgar Lilienfeld, an Austrian-Hungarian physicist filed a patent for the principle of field-effect transistor. Dr. Oskar Heil, a German physicist patented another field-effect transistor in 1947. William Shockley contributed to a deeper knowledge about the working of a transistor, which is regarded as one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century.

      Television: Today, one will hardly find a home without a television set. Watching TV is a favorite leisure activity for most of us. But not many know about the discovery of television. During its early stages of development, a television included the technologies, which were used to capture, transmit and display images. Leon Theremin, an inventor from Russia developed a drum-based television system. Later that year, moving images were transmitted for the first time ever from Washington DC to New York City. By the end of 1930, televisions were available in markets across the globe.

      World Wide Web: The World Wide Web, commonly abbreviated as WWW is defined as a system of hypertext doc_uments that are accessed over the Internet. Tim Berners-Lee, an English scientist is credited with the invention of the World Wide Web. Its development began in 1990 and it was made available to the public in April 1993. Thanks to the WWW, we can access the Internet through easy means.

      Xerography: It is a technique of photocopying doc_uments and visual images. Charles Floyd Carlson, an American physicist and inventor developed this technique in 1938. The technique was patented in 1942. Today, it is used in laser and LED printers as well as photocopying machines worldwide. It is interesting to know how the name ‘xerography’ was born. It is derived from Greek words, ‘xerox’ meaning ‘dry’ and ‘graphos’ meaning ‘writing’.

      DNA Profiling: The technique that is used in the identification of individuals on the basis of their DNA profiles, is known as DNA profiling. Forensic scientists use this technique commonly. Sir Alec Jeffreys, a British geneticist working at the University of Leicester in England reported the DNA profiling technique for the first time in 1985.

      Microprocessor: A silicon chip that contains the central processing unit of a computer is referred to as a microprocessor. It is the central controlling unit of most of the digital devices as also computers and workstations. Microprocessors were introduced in the 1970s. Following their introduction, there has been a continuous growth in their capacities and speeds. Today, they are a part of a wide variety of electronic devices, ranging from embedded systems right up to supercomputers.

      CD: Everyone knows what a CD is. Yes, it refers to an optical disc format that is used to store digital data. It was originally developed to store digital audio, but came to be used as a standard data storage media. It is capable of storing about 700 MB data. CDs hit the market in October 1982. The CD-ROM was introduced in 1985 and the CD-Recordable format came up in 1990.

      Penicillin: The discovery of penicillin is attributed to Sir Alexander Fleming, a biologist and pharmacologist from Scotland. His research on antibacterial agents resulted in the discovery of an antibiotic substance called penicillin, which was derived from the fungus Penicillium notatum. The year 1928 witnessed the brilliant discovery of this antibiotic. This achievement of Alexander Fleming earned him the Noble Prize in Physiology and Medicine.

      Flip Flop: An electronic circuit that has two stable states is referred to as a flip-flop. British physicists, William Eccles and F.W Jordan invented the flip-flop in 1918. Initially it consisted of two radio tubes. Today’s flip-flops consist of two control signals and a clock signal and require power and ground connections. They are used to store data and can be used to build finite state machines.

      Computer Mouse: A computer mouse is a pointing device that detects two-dimensional motion in relation to a computer screen. It is an integral part of a computer system. Do you know when was it invented? Well, it was invented in 1968 by Douglas Engelbart, an American inventor working at the Stanford Research Inst_itute. The invention of the computer mouse was taken as a very small discovery that was a part of a much larger project and Engelbart received no royalties for his invention. He continued with research on pointing devices and conceptualized many more. He is surely to be thanked for his brilliant discovery of this most popular pointing device, a computer mouse.
      Source: Scientific Achievements: Top Ten Scientific Discoveries of the 20th Century Buzzle.com

      Science is drowning your god in a sea of discoveries. LOL

      Cheers!

      March 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Drew

      First off, I'm not a believer, I just don't worship science the way the rest of you do. Secondly, all the things you list are that only: Things. They may change, lengthen or convenience or our lives, but to me at least it is doubtful that they will enrich them. The way I see it, the most important thing in life is having a reason to live, and I'm certainly not going to find such a reason in TV or penicillin.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • pat carr

      "worship science the way the rest of you do"

      who said we "worshipped science"?

      March 7, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Charlie

      Drew, just stop. Your points are spiritually based on Christian and/or other religious beliefs. That's circular logic. It doesn't work here. I would think that all of science's advancements have certainly made my life better. Clean running water definitely keeps me from suffering from E. Coli or something. And isn't suffering what makes lives worse?

      March 7, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Walker1404

      Obvious troll is obvious. "What has science done for humanity?" Come on, at least put some thought into your trolling here.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
    • Drew

      @ Charlie

      If your definition of a good life is one free of suffering then you probably have a lot of thinking/reading to do. Suffering can actually enrich life in certain cases. What makes life worse is not even being able to see beyond the binary of suffering/comfort

      March 7, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • Drew

      @ pat carr

      By worshipping science I mean that your conception of the universe is purely materialistic AKA scientific. This is just as limiting as a purely spiritual/religious worldview.

      March 7, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • pat carr

      "By worshipping science I mean that your conception of the universe is purely materialistic AKA scientific. This is just as limiting as a purely spiritual/religious worldview."

      if that is what you call "worshipping" then yes that's true. I'd rather be grounded in reason thank you instead of "spirituality" which really isn't anything more than believing in other people's fairy tales and fantasy. The whole "Spiritual" thing is such an intellectual fraud and doesn't really merit any worthy discussion. I can make up a god called the Great Cosmic Spatula and start a following but it's really just my imagination

      March 8, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Drew

      @ Pat Carr

      If spiritualism doesn't warrant any discussion then why is it so widely discussed by so many of the greatest thinkers and intellectuals in human history? Do you think that they weren't exercising reason, or at least not as much as you? I guarantee you that atheism had occurred to them, as there have been atheists for all of recorded history. Maybe you ought to think about what "reason" really entails; I don't think it means a blind faith that the material world is the only reality.

      March 8, 2011 at 7:32 pm |
  19. horrified

    After reading all your comments I must say I am truly horrified. As a Christian, reading comments full of hatred toward God is truly sad. Mocking God and Faith is very disrespectful. Saying that believers are stupi-d and have no education is terrible and so untrue. The Church has never been and will never be perfect, nothing that men do will be perfect. God is the only perfection. I have questioned my Faith before, and always find my way back, maybe you haven't yet experienced the beauty of that feeling. Anyways, you certainly pay tons of attention to it, so many comments, time and energy put in to this. You're drawn to God and are curious and that's great. Just try not to hurt people along the way to discovery, you don't have to be religious or spiritual to know that its not correct to hurt others feelings. Come on! So educated!! Where did your manners go?

    March 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • b4bigbang

      Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • HEY-ZEUS

      It is called backlash. For thousands of years these fairy tales have been forced upon the human race. In the old days to not beleive would mean certain death (Gee I wonder why this nonsense caught on then – BECAUSE YOU WOULD BE KILLED IF YOU DID NOT BELEIVE) Now for the last 600 years or so we have had modern human science. We understand the DNA exists, and not just to solve crimes on CSI. We know that evolution is real (look up the Porpoise for an easy example of a once 4-legged land mammal that is now an ocean dwelling mammal) Then we hear religious people say things like "you have to beleive in science as well as religion so what is the difference?" that statement is not true. Science not about beleiving, it is about finding the answers of the universe, not pretending we already have them. Sure people create theories in science. These aren't pulled out of our butts like the story of the guy who lived in the whale for 3 days in the Christian bible, these theories are based upon data or observations. If something is discovered that disproves a paticular theory – then the theory it is ammended. When was the last time that 2000 year old Christain bible was amended?

      March 7, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • pat carr

      "It is called backlash. For thousands of years these fairy tales have been forced upon the human race. In the old days to not beleive would mean certain death ("

      that's correct. what about all the harm that has been caused by this religion? the centuries of violence, murder, abuse and injustice? now you folks cry and whine because people are gagging on that garbage and rejecting it, standing up to it.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Teresa

      Jesus brought the passover and the feast of God when he came yet todays churches are focusing on demons

      March 7, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • pat carr

      "I must say I am truly horrified. "

      oh and ask the natives of this land how they feel about "Christianity". they will tell you they are horrified about it's destruction oh them and their culture in the past.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      Outside of scripture and anecdotes, can you produce evidence of the existence of this god character you speak so highly of? Remember, evidence is verifiable and repeatable. I see people all over this blog saying how they "know" there is a god, but no one has yet offered any evidence whatsoever to support that grand claim. When you say you "know" there is a god but then offer no evidence, you are simply stating a belief. And a belief is just that – a belief. It is a guess or a feeling, but it is far, far from fact, let alone truth.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Ken

      Teresa said "Jesus brought the passover and the feast of God when he came yet today's churches are focusing on demons" ,,,,, I don't think the Church is only focusing on demons these days if you really look into it. But also, if you'd read the gospels closely, you'll see that Jesus was one of the greatest exorcists. He exorcised demons on many occasions.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Flora

      I wouldn't even bother trying to reason with these people on the issue of manners. Atheism is basically the church of "Don't tell me what to do, DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!!" It's very much not okay to even try to speak to them about anyone elses' religion, but they can shove thier in your face all day – and if you point that out, then you're "close-minded" or a "sheep".

      And that, folks, is the reason why I – a devout Christian – would much rather be friends with a Satanist than an Atheist.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Red

      I'm so with you on this one.. 🙂

      March 7, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • pat carr

      "Atheism is basically the church of "Don't tell me what to do, DON'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!!" It's very much not okay to even try to speak to them about anyone elses' religion, but they can shove thier in your face all day – and if you point that out, then you're "close-minded" or a "sheep"."

      Yes w're tired of being told what to do by religious people. As for shoving it in people's faces, you HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING.

      let's see who passes out tracts: christians. who stands on street corners screaming about hell: christians. who tells everyone else their belief system is leading them to "hell": christians. let's see who puts "evangelical" before their religious designation: christians.

      Give it up with the pathetic persecution complex. You aren't fooling anyone

      March 7, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • cb

      To Horrified-Thank you so much for your comments on the article. Maybe some souls will be saved because of it.

      March 7, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Hunt

      @horrified
      I want to break your comment down:
      1)”Mocking God and Faith is very disrespectful.”
      Just because you hold your concept of god and faith to be important does not protect it from scrutiny and ridicule.
      2)”Saying that believers are stupi-d and have no education is terrible and so untrue”
      This is true; those opposed to belief must not automatically assume that believers are foolish or ignorant. Some of the most highly educated people in the past and present are people of faith. Despite this it is important to remember that ones academic authority has little bearing on faith based claims if they don’t hold up against objective academic scrutiny.
      3)”nothing that men do will be perfect. God is the only perfection.”
      Firstly, how do you define perfection? Is perfection the ability to act consistently? Is it the tendency to only have a positive effect on the world? Is it displaying a behaviour that adheres to a rigid and justifiable moral system? If so then both man and god are imperfect.
      Secondly, where do you pull your conclusion from? Saying that man is imperfect does not automatically result in god being perfect.
      4)”I have questioned my Faith before, and always find my way back, maybe you haven't yet experienced the beauty of that feeling.”
      Well I have, and I can tell you that no unsubstantiated belief or relationship with some absent deity has ever compared to the realisation that I am in control of my own life.
      5)”Anyways, you certainly pay tons of attention to it, so many comments, time and energy put in to this. You're drawn to God and are curious and that's great.”
      I am not ‘drawn to God’, in fact I could quite happily live my life without ever raising the issue again……if only other people did the same. At work and in social situations I am constantly bombarded with irrational claims and attacks on my character because I happen to not subscribe to the idea that there is such thing as the divine. Government policy in my county is largely secular, but we still have an array of laws that are clearly based in Christian morality and infringe on my personal freedoms. I do not wish to pay attention to this matter, I am forced to.
      6)“Just try not to hurt people along the way to discovery, you don't have to be religious or spiritual to know that its not correct to hurt others feelings. Come on! So educated!! Where did your manners go?”
      I refer you to point 1. Grow up, toughen up, come back later with a better argument

      March 7, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
  20. InFaMoUsLy_AgNoStIc

    all i know is that Bill Maher is a F*****G pimp

    March 7, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Free Thinker

      Next time, think about adding something thought-provoking and worthwhile.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.