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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. Padre Pio

    "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."

    Exactly – that is what the Gran Mal Seizures I've had are like. The others he sees are just fakers – what an embarrassment to the Catholic Church.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  2. what the

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAH

    THIS IS HILARIOUS

    who believes this stuff, seriously

    March 7, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      what the, all I can say is get back to us if you ever have to face evil face to face and survive to tell us. I pray that you don't ever have this story to tell.

      Peace.

      March 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  3. Sid

    People of faith are frightened by demons. Im frightened by people of faith.

    I wonder if the faithful believe that we atheists are possessed. I wonder if the Christian faithful think the Hindus are possessed. I wonder if Satan ever possesses someone, and then cannot be exorcised. I wonder why an omnipotent, benevolent god allows Satan to go on existing, and then allows him to possess people.

    I wonder a lot of things concerning the massive irrational contradictions allowed by faith. Unfortunately the faithful don't wonder enough about them.

    Sid

    March 7, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • Matt

      Actually, it is the other way around: Demons are afraid of Spirit-filled, Bible-believing, Christians. Jesus has given His followers authority over all the power of the devil. Unfortunately, most Christians don't walk in this authority.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Matt, I forgot that I could use that power at those times.

      Peace.

      March 7, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  4. Barbara

    What makes people thinks that they can expel demons? Didn't they read the bible, that only Jesus and his disciples (at the first century) can do that?
    What makes people thinks that they can cast out a demon? Didn't they read the bible in revelation 12:9, that demons were evil angels that has been expelled fro the heaven by Jesus Christ?
    Goodness.. what makes people thinks that they are more powerful than the ex-angels?
    Only one name that the demons feared [romans 10:13, proverbs 18:10, james 2:19].

    March 7, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  5. TheOverlord

    CNN treating some complete crackpot exorcist as "news" is very disturbing and certainly enough for me to move to a credible news source. I'm done CNN – you can join Fox News as a Christian entertainment and political channel. Any real journalist on your staff must be appalled and embarrassed.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      I wished those priest came and exorcised the evil out of the people who destroyed my life. Too late now. They conducted their evil on me and now they get to conduct their evil on anyone that comes in their paths.

      March 7, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  6. Rusty808

    It's not that many of you don't believe in the devil, but many of you hope there isn't one. Maybe you haven't lived a clean life and if the devil and hell were true, you might end up in hell after you die. You and I will find out once we die.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • GreggH

      Um, if that made any sense, wouldn't it be more logical that people would repent?

      March 7, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  7. James

    In the movie the "Rite" the devil clearly manipulated the career & life of the young priest. The young priest started out intelligent but ended up completely possess with dogma in the end. The Devil doesn't spit out pea soup, he actually spits out very nice ear catching phrases. (transformed as an Angel of light). There may or not may be a Devil but who cares. The real allegorical devil is disguised as deception. Deception is everywhere. At every level you and I encounter. The governments down to our very set of ideas. We deceive ourselves and Hell is never escaping from that deception. The only way out is to start realizing we are perfect like a white movie screen, but have a projection applied to our minds that create a flawed sense reality. We are perfect but presently manipulated to think differently.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Therefore James, the two sets of evil forces that destroyed my life (as I knew it) was my imagination being conditioned? Get over yourself! It happened. I survived the ordeal, battered and bruised and left as road kill. I got up, dusted myself off, remembered the Lords prayer to forgive others their trespasses against us, so it does not lead us into evil temptations and resumed my life. Differently than I was accustomed too, but I still went on. Besides me being tested, I'm sure millions of others can tell you how they survived pure evil.

      Amen.

      March 7, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • Frogist

      @James: I want to go to the movies with you! I like you rinterpretation and I haven't even seen the dang movie yet!

      March 7, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  8. JOHN IN AZ

    The Rite sounds like a terrible movie. What a waste of film or digital space. With all due respect, the priest is obviously misguided. Let there be Light!

    March 7, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  9. Marichuy

    Those serpant-look and alike are usual for obssesed viciousness in –xual way, and they are demons of lower rank, you can send them away more easily, for some others just pray and fast are necessary. There are some of a higher rank who don't want show any signs but with some ideas they are very very dangeruos for the people who listen to obssesed one, those idees come from failed anges of intelligence-cherubins... Chapelet of misericorde is good, but you have to proceed sometimes for months praying every day if you want get a rid from the possesion that you think you may have...

    March 7, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Marichuy, when I first bought my house and only had one pet, something used to sit on the edge of my bed as I took a catnap when I didn't have to rush off to school after working 8 hours. These naps were a gift to me, from me. Of, course I assumed it was just my pet jumping up at the edge of my bed. I'd wake up and look towards the end to find, my pet was on the floor, never jumping on the bed. I just shrugged it off and thought I was half asleep and still dazed. Then, it happened again and again for about 2 months. Same thing, my pet wasn't on the bed when it happened. I was on the phone with a Christian friend of mine, repeating the story. In a few weeks later, I was home again not having class to attend, and I was taking my nap before I got up to study. A loud noise came banging up my stairs. I jumped out of bed and ran to meet the intruder coming up my staircase. No one was there. The logical 2 reasons were that I was still in a daze and dreamed the noise. The 2nd explanation was that someone was outside my house banging the walls. Either way, it was more than something sitting on my bed. My friend heard this story too. Next night when I came home from work, I stopped to grab something out of the fridge to eat and head out for class. My friend that I spoke with the night before, was waiting for me with anointing oil to bless my home. After this was finished, we left. That night I got home from lab, I fell asleep and nothing sat on my bed, no noise came up the stairs. Same for the next few weeks. Nothing happened. No more was something sitting on the edge of my bed, no more noises coming up the stairs. It just stopped. My imagination while half asleep??? I know what I felt and I know what I heard. Can I absolutely rule out that it was just my imagination while half asleep? No.

      March 7, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  10. As

    Why is it that religious nuts have no proof of a "all powerful" "all knowing" god who's everwhere at all times? One would think an "all powerful" god would have left some evidence that he exists outside of the fairytale bible. The same so called evidence religious nuts use to prove god one can prove that Harry potter exists. I have faith that Harry exists it is written in the good books that he exists.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      As, He did leave evidence. Look at the sun, the moon, the stars, the lawns, the flowers, the trees, mountains, rivers, seas, all the humans being born, dying, existing as we write. Past existence of humans, animals, fish, birds etc. etc. etc. God created all, not man.

      March 7, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @Heaven Sent,
      Why do you think God created all of that?

      March 7, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      As, why do you believe He didn't? Oh, I forgot to mention rain (smile) but, that was included in the etc. etc. etc. list.

      March 7, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @HeavenSent,
      "[Nonimus], why do you think he didn't'"
      First, that does not answer my question. You made the claim; you should back it up.
      Second, I'll tell you anyway. Because there are credible explanations for most of those objects and phenomenon based on science and I have seen no credible evidence for any supernatural being, God or otherwise.

      March 7, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • morpheus

      @AS~ Why do you feel that in order to believe in God he needs to prove himself to you.. everything you see has a start and a finish. But God is eternal.. we act as if we know everything because of science but we cannot confirm why we die and what happens to us when we die. Science has done a lot but on a bigger scale of it all its accomplishments are very little. At the end of it all I believe in God and if I die and find out he isn't real then I lose nothing. If you die and find out he is real then you will find out what you lose.. because we all have a choice to believe!!

      March 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  11. MrEee

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

    What can you say but: "No one who speaks German could be an evil man."

    (Google that phrase if you don't get it...)

    March 7, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
  12. Richard McCarthy

    Faith and belief are powerful things, no matter what "religion" you profess. Otherwise there would be no such thing as the placebo effect in medicine. "....According to your faith, let it be done to you." Matthew 9:29. If someone believes they are possesed by the devil, they no doubt will act in ways that confirm it. Likewise if someone believes the devil can be exorcised from them, they can be healed in the same way.

    If God exists and is all loving and all powerful, then the devil cannot exist. Otherwise, there is a power let loose that God cannot control, which means God Himself is not all powerful. Now, some will argue and jump through theological hoops to say that God allows Satan or the devil to exist because we have the free-will to accept God or reject him. If that is true, then God does not love us as much as we think, because it also means God knows that some of us (many of us?) will not accept him and we are destined to burn in Hell. And being God, He already know who will and who will not come to know Him. Personally, while I believe God exists, I do NOT believe in a personified evil known as the devil. God loves all of us, even the worst of us, equally. We are not punished FOR our sins, but we are certainly punished BY them as we inflict untold suffering on our species. It is we who cause our own suffering and it is only we who can stop it.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Shamrock6

      Thank you for that. This has been one of the most intelligent posts I have read on CNN maybe ever. Couldn't agree more.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Richard McCarthy, you are missing one equation in your post. God destroyed the first earth age due to satan's pride wanting to bigger and better than God and took 1/3 of His angels with Him. God was furious (as we all would be if anyone went against us after we lovingly created them) and destroyed the first earth age. Then God decided to give us a 2nd chance to love and follow Him (truth) or love and follow satan (lies) by erasing our memories of Him and allowing our souls to be born unto woman and come to earth as humans in the flesh to love and follow Him or love and follow satan. He gave us free will to choose. He wouldn't send us to earth if it was under the conditioned we must love and follow Him and He didn't give us free will to choose. He also gave us a gut instinct that knows Him. When we do anything, we already have that instinct to remind us what is right versus what is wrong. It's whether everyone allows this instinct to be realized or not, is the question. The mind is very powerful, as you are aware.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  13. Reality

    Casting out demons in the ancient world was equivalent to eliminating a fever. (G. Ludemann, Jesus After 2000 Years). Could it be that JB and Jesus found a natural occurring aspirin? Ahh, the magic of first century healers and witch doctors!!!

    Then there is this observation:

    Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead, expelled devils etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

    Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary and somewhat NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction.

    A list of NT experts in the last 250 years:

    H.S. Reimarus
    R. Bultmann
    E. Kasemann
    Earl Doherty
    Alvar Ellegård
    G. A. Wells
    Gregory Riley
    Robert Eisenman
    John Dominic Crossan
    Robert Funk
    Burton Mack
    Stephen J. Patterson
    Marcus Borg
    Stevan Davies
    Geza Vermes
    Richard Horsley
    Hyam Maccoby
    Gerd Theissen
    Bart Ehrman
    Paula Fredriksen
    Gerd Lüdemann
    John P. Meier
    E. P. Sanders
    Robert H. Stein
    Karen Armstrong
    Albert Schweitzer (The Quest for the Historical Jesus)
    Mahlon Smith
    Karen Pagels
    NT Wright
    Luke Johnson
    Raymond Brown

    And members of the Jesus Seminar not noted above

    http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php/Works_Cited

    Other references of possible interest:

    1. Historical Jesus Theories, earlychristianwritings.com/theories.htm – the names of many of the contemporary historical Jesus scholars and the ti-tles of their over 100 books on the subject.

    2. Early Christian Writings, earlychristianwritings.com/
    – a list of early Christian doc-uments to include the year of publication–

    3. Historical Jesus Studies, faithfutures.org/HJstudies.html,
    – "an extensive and constantly expanding literature on historical research into the person and cultural context of Jesus of Nazareth"

    4. Jesus Database, faithfutures.org/JDB/intro.html–"The JESUS DATABASE is an online annotated inventory of the traditions concerning the life and teachings of Jesus that have survived from the first three centuries of the Common Era. It includes both canonical and extra-canonical materials, and is not limited to the traditions found within the Christian New Testament."

    5. Josephus on Jesus mtio.com/articles/bissar24.htm

    6. The Jesus Seminar, mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/seminar.html#Criteria

    7. Writing the New Testament- mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/testament.html

    8. Health and Healing in the Land of Israel By Joe Zias

    joezias.com/HealthHealingLandIsrael.htm

    9. Economics in First Century Palestine, K.C. Hanson and D. E. Oakman, Palestine in the Time of Jesus, Fortress Press, 1998.

    10. 7. The Gnostic Jesus
    (Part One in a Two-Part Series on Ancient and Modern Gnosticism)
    by Douglas Groothuis: equip.org/free/DG040-1.htm

    11. The interpretation of the Bible in the Church, Pontifical Biblical Commission
    Presented on March 18, 1994
    ewtn.com/library/CURIA/PBCINTER.HTM#2

    12. The Jesus Database- newer site:
    wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php?t-itle=Jesus_Database

    13. Jesus Database with the example of Supper and Eucharist:
    faithfutures.org/JDB/jdb016.html

    14. Josephus on Jesus by Paul Maier:
    mtio.com/articles/bissar24.htm

    15. The Journal of Higher Criticism with links to articles on the Historical Jesus:
    mtio.com/articles/bissar24.htm

    16. The Greek New Testament: laparola.net/greco/

    17. Diseases in the Bible:
    etd.unisa.ac.za/ETD-db/theses/available/etd-08022006-125807/unrestricted/02dissertation.pdf

    18. Religion on Line (6000 articles on the history of religion, churches, theologies,
    theologians, ethics, etc.

    religion-online.org/

    19. The Jesus Seminarians and their search for NT authenticity:
    mystae.com/restricted/reflections/messiah/seminar.html#Criteria

    20. The New Testament Gateway – Internet NT ntgateway.com/

    21. Writing the New Testament- existing copies, oral tradition etc.
    ntgateway.com/

    22. The Search for the Historic Jesus by the Jesus Seminarians:
    members.aol.com/DrSwiney/seminar.html

    23. Jesus Decoded by Msgr. Francis J. Maniscalco (Da Vinci Code review)jesusdecoded.com/introduction.php

    24. JD Crossan's scriptural references for his book the Historical Jesus separated into time periods: faithfutures.org/Jesus/Crossan1.rtf

    25. JD Crossan's conclusions about the authencity of most of the NT based on the above plus the conclusions of other NT exegetes in the last 200 years:
    faithfutures.org/Jesus/Crossan2.rtf

    26. Common Sayings from Thomas's Gospel and the Q Gospel: faithfutures.org/Jesus/Crossan3.rtf

    27. Early Jewish Writings- Josephus and his books by t-itle with the complete translated work in English :earlyjewishwritings.com/josephus.html

    28. Luke and Josephus- was there a connection?
    infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/lukeandjosephus.html

    29. NT and beyond time line:
    pbs.org/empires/peterandpaul/history/timeline/

    30. St. Paul's Time line with discussion of important events:
    harvardhouse.com/prophetictech/new/pauls_life.htm

    31. See http://www.amazon.com for a list of JD Crossan's books and those of the other Jesus Seminarians: Reviews of said books are included and selected pages can now be viewed on Amazon. Some books can be found on-line at Google Books.

    32. Father Edward Schillebeeckx's words of wisdom as found in his books.

    33. The books of the following : Professors Marcus Borg, Paula Fredriksen, Elaine Pagels, Karen Armstrong and Bishop NT Wright.

    34. Father Raymond Brown's An Introduction to the New Testament, Doubleday, NY, 1977, 878 pages, with Nihil obstat and Imprimatur.

    35. Luke Timothy Johnson's book The Real Jesus

    March 7, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Thank God that you've never faced real evil and survived to talk about it. When, and if you do. Write believers to tell us how your opinion changed or didn't change.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • yeshua1

      Here's a fact for you – your opinion about God or the lack thereof is really only important to you. I like to read the works of C.S. Lewis – dead now, but an atheist who had a change of heart. And there are just as many "educated scholars" who believe Jesus WAS the Christ. It is called "Theology," and it is possible to earn a Doctorate in said subject. So much for fairy tales.

      March 7, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  14. beth

    They should call this section, "superstions" instead of "belief". Are there really people who still believe in this lunacy?

    There is no devil. There is no god. There are no angels. There are no demons. There are no fairies. There are no zombies. There are no ghosts. The things that go bump in the night can be explained. Usually it's your dog or cat. Or maybe your furnace kicking on.

    It is time for humanity to grow up and realize that we are all we have. We need to treat each other better in THIS lifetime because THIS is ALL WE GET. So go out in the world and make nice. Do something for a child who is hungry, a person down on his/her luck. Help a single mother without judging her. Go abroad and teach.

    It is when we begin to act ethically that this planet will begin to be a better place to live for ALL of us. At least that's one atheist's opinion. Now, I must go feed lunch to some homeless folks, down on THEIR luck. Be well and live with courage!

    March 7, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      beth, did you ever face evil and survive? Real evil. Not just some pest bothering you.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Simple

      My house is haunted.........................................by my ex-wife!!!!!

      I cast you out in the name of (Fill in blank)

      March 7, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • yeshua1

      I don't understand why atheists follow articles about faith, only to seek to offend people who may agree with one or more points of the article. If your life is so fulfilled without faith in God, why do you continually seek Him out? I don't understand the hostility toward something that you insist you cannot relate to. Belittling other peoples beliefs is an act of hostility. That is not being neutral, or questioning. If I don't believe something doesn't exist, I don't seek it out to insult others in order to continually reaffirm that belief within myself. It's one thing to have your own beliefs, and something else to seek to belittle others for their beliefs.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @yeshua1,
      "I don't understand why atheists follow articles about faith..."
      If the believers kept their faith out of other people's lives, Atheists (not that I am one or speak for them) might not feel the need to comment. Unfortunately, beliefs do affect others and this article is a good example. How many children have died because some parent "believed" that the child needed an exocisism rather than a visit to the doctor. I seem to recall one fairly recently where the child died because she was diabetic, which well understood and easily managed with insulin.

      When questionable beliefs no longer kill people, perhaps then the questioning of beliefs can stop.

      March 7, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • neoritter

      Beth, have fun with your hate and bigotry. Yeah you had some real loving parents if they also taught you to insult people around you.

      If you don't like reading this stuff, don't click on it! You're an atheist, there's no "man in the sky" telling you what to do.

      March 7, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Dave

      @Nominus: "If the believers kept their faith out of other people's lives, Atheists (not that I am one or speak for them) might not feel the need to comment"

      Sorry, that's a horrible argument. First, if the atheists are repeating a "wrong" that they dislike, they are also "wrong." As everyone's parents must have said to them at some point, "if all the other kids were jumping off a cliff, would you want to, also?"

      Secondly, while it's true I don't know of atheist groups sending missionaries door-to-door or to foreign lands, I challenge you to go search articles mentioning the word "Priest," "Vatican," "religion," "church," etc., and go to the comment section. On literally every one I ever read, there is a flood of "Religion is a myth for idiots" posts, not to mention the "all priests are pedophiles" rants. The internet has simply made it easier for the unorganized to preach, eg, atheists who are apparently highly motivated to enlighten via bludgeon.

      You can see the same thing happen with any story mentioning a politician (immediate response of "you're side is all wrong" and "you do it too.")

      I absolutely side with yeshua1 on this point. It takes a strange set of ethics to justify going somewhere only to bash the occupants. Like wearing a KKK costume to an NAACP meeting.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Dave and yeshua: Seeking out knowledge is not forbidden. And speaking out an opinion against something you consider patently absurd isn't either. Neither is it rude or unethical. Your assertion that non-believers should just keep away from criticising things that they consider harmful to the world, is as one-sided as it gets. It is especially so regarding the original post by Beth who prescribes doing good in the world in which we live. Vitriol, hatred, hostility I cannot find in what she said. Certainly there is a bit of a belittling tone, but none nearly as egregious as neoritter's response. Compare the two and you have no ground to stand on.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @Dave,
      I probably wasn't clear. I was not saying, 'Believers started it,' or 'believers did it first.' What I was trying to say is that believers and their beliefs, primarily Christians in the US, have an impact on lives of everyone in this country and that is why many non-believer feel not just a right but often a duty to challange what they see a irrational thinking. One example, as I stated before, is when exorcism or faith-healing take the place of real medical care. If non-believers fail to speak out against procedures that have no basis in reality, e.g. exorcism, and someone dies that could have been saved, then they missed an opportunity to make one person's life a little bit longer and this world a little bit better.

      Likewise, to varying degrees, for things like, psychics, homeopathic "medicine", creationism/ID in science classes, reproductive choice, anti-vaccination, religious conflict in general, the US being or founded as a Christian nation, blue laws, UFOs (in the visiting aliens sense), etc.

      In addition, the 'About this blog' section above states as part of its purpose, "...fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives," and like I said before, unfortunately for me and others like me, your beliefs and the beliefs of others like you can play a role in our lives, so we are involved already. And, I think that, in order for it to be valid, this "conversation... about the role of religion... in readers' lives" should include the viewpoint of "none."

      March 7, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Dave

      @frogist: Beth's list of "absolutes" – there is no god, devil, etc. and equating such beliefs with childhood tales, then later saying "grow up" is condescending at best. Vitriol? Debatable (certainly there are more mean-spirited posts than Beth – I think you'd admit that). Not to mention the error of asserting unprovable negatives (prove to me there is no tooth fairy anywhere in the universe). Never did I say people should stay away from criticizing. I merely pointed out that it's very prevalent and I question the motivation. If you think that people putting stock faith in exorcism over medical care is a danger, I think that's a relevant reaction to THIS ARTICLE. (However, if you read the article, you'd see the priest himself believes this, too). If you read this article and think, "I need to tell everyone who believes in religion that they're fools / idiots / simpletons," as a way to discuss the danger, I'd argue that you're not as enlightened as you may feel.

      @Nominus – you got me on not reading the discussion header and therefore I'll give you that. I'll get you back on assuming you know what my belief system is by the fact I defended the comments of a person who made their beliefs known. I just agreed with his point, and made no mention of my own religion or lack thereof. Even? 🙂

      March 7, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @Dave,
      "I just agreed with his point, and made no mention of my own religion or lack thereof. Even?"
      Point taken, yes.

      March 7, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  15. rev richard

    Note "Next Entry", bottom right of this page,

    March 7, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  16. Religious sects

    Even if It's just psychological, it makes no difference, if it works it has value.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      Oh, really? Are you therefor suggesting insurance should cover it, since it has value? Fairy tales have value, too. it's entertainment value.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Religious sects

      Yes "Doc", if it helps cure a psychological problem, like psychotherapy does, it has value to the one cured (and the insurance company since it saves them $ for treatment of "other" issues). As a "Doc" you should not dismiss the value of a cure. Yes, there is an entertainment value, but entertainment is not covered by insurance as something of medical value is.

      March 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  17. Krreagan

    God and the Devil, like fairies, Santa Clause and ghosts and goblins should be left for children's books. Exorcism started because the church felt that the mentally ill were possessed! So they tried to torture the bad spirits out of them. unimaginable torture for the unlucky who were mentally ill.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Enoch_knows_whos_names_are_written

      Are you trying to convince us or yourself? I love when atheist evangelize their non-belief. Got mad when daddy left mommy and you didn't get that bike for Christmas?

      March 7, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      Absolutely. It's really pathetic how many people actually fall for that ignorant nonsense.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • beth

      Exactly. Now we know better. Get the people psychiatrists and anti-psychotic drugs.

      And to your poster who taunts you, I'm an atheist who loves my parents very much, thank you. I had a lovely childhood. I just don't believe in fairy tales. Thank my parents for teaching me to question and be skeptical.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      The sin of PRIDE and it's blindness.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • Steve

      Enoch, what do you believe if it allows you to respond to someone like that? No venom, cruelness, or hypocrisy in your comments.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • yeshua1

      *affort should be effort in my previous post.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • neoritter

      Maybe you should go back 70 some years and tell that to the doctors who put insane patients in small caged boxes. Or repeatedly immersed a person in freezing water then in boiling water, so that they would be shocked into their senses. Or how about the doctors that liked to put leeches on people or drill holes in their head?

      Exorcism doesn't physically torture the person. Yes there's fasting or "starving" the person, but that's about it. The rest is saying prayers, speaking loudly, and sprinkling some water (to put it simply) on the afflicted. Yeah, that's unimaginable torture alright. Call the UN, the person got yelled at and drops of water thrown in their face. Get real.

      March 7, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
    • Frogist

      @neoritter: Maybe your insistence should be tempered by the fact that people have been known to die during these procedures. That doesn't sound harmless to me. Torrance Cantrell's story wasn't from 70 yrs ago, just 7 yrs. At least science evolves and grows better. Religion fights to stay the same, no matter how cruel or ignorant its practices are.
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3179789.stm

      March 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  18. DACOOLE

    For those who have not witnessed this phenomenon, it is easy to dismiss it. It does exist, and it is very real, and there are very well-educated and very sane people who have witnessed and had do deal with this type of possession, which can occur in varying degrees of severity.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Not All Docs Play Golf

      In more primitive times, people with medical seizure disorders were thought to be possessed, or worse, burned as witches. Your belief in this is only a testament to the failure of our school systems to teach people science. And it's 2011.
      It's amazing to me that people believe this crap. I had a patient who came back from a trip to Africa, and while there had some uncontrollable arm movements. She was "exorcised," and whie there, andbelieved it (since she was on a "mission trip" she would be predisposed o this kind of belief). When she got home, symptoms recurred, and she was diagnosed by a neurology consultant with myoclonus and is responding to medicine (ie, science).

      March 7, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • stongej2002

      You are a fool. It is not anymore real that the tooth fairy...

      March 7, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Aramis2000

      It's not the failure of our school systems to teach science, it's the failure of our parents to embrace it. When schools are bombarded with religious idiots demanding Intelligent Design be taught, it isn't the failure of the school. When teachers are threatened with their jobs for teaching about scientific theories that challenge the bible, it isn't a failure of our schools. Religious idiots, poisoning the minds of their children and suing our schools is the problem.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • DACOOLE

      Apparently you did not read my post. I'm sorry, but medicine can do nothing to solve a spiritual problem. If you read the article at all, and I agree, first it must be determined whether the problem is biological or spiritual. IF YOU HAVE NOT WITNESSED THIS PHENOMENON, IT IS EASY TO DISMISS, AS YOU HAVE OBVIOUSLY DONE. My science is just fine thank you very much, with extensive medical background.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Matt

      Dacole- Amen. I have several degrees (science and business) and I have witnessed several exorcisms first-hand. I was surprised to read the priest's description of "serpentine movements" because I saw one possessed girl drop to the ground and move around like a snake before she got prayed for. She was eventually delivered (in the name of Jesus), and she didn't remember a thing.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @DACOOLE,
      "My science is just fine thank you very much"

      So exactly how do you determine "whether the problem is biological or spiritual," scientifically?

      March 7, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • neoritter

      Nominus, it's called the scientific method. In this case used to incorporate previous knowledge into determining a diagnosis.

      March 7, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • DACOOLE

      The article and video make the point that modern exorcism goes about eliminating biological problems, scientifically. Second, spiritual things are spiritually discerned, for example, as "having an eye" to determining if the exorcism is working, as described above, but it is much more than that. Lastly, these cases have an overty repulsive dimension, that is clearly evil and perverse by any standards. There is also a quite violent reaction to any prayer or adoration of the Savior Jesus Christ or mention of His Blood.

      March 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @neoritter,
      How exactly does the scientific method apply to a "spritual" problem or "previous knowledge" for that matter?

      @DACOOLE,
      Eliminating biological problems is a good start, but what about psychological problems and biological/psychological problems that we can't diagnose yet.
      Also, "having an eye" and using standards of "clearly evil and perverse" doesn't sound that scientific to me. Has anyone tried a double blind study for prayer and/or holy water.
      Such as, giving the exorcist multiple bottles of water and holy water where the exorcist doesn't which is which and see how the "possessed" reacts to each. Or, have multiple people come in who speak languages that neither the "possessed" nor the exorcist speak and have some pray and some read grocery lists and monitor the reactions to each.

      Science may not be able to test the supernatural but it should be able to measure the effect on the natural, if any.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Frogist

      @DACOOLE: So when you have run out of scientific questions or methods, you then say it's demonic or spiritual? That's a bit of a leap of faith.

      March 7, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  19. William S.

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

    March 7, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
  20. OyVay

    I would like to implore the makers of the Ouija Board to stop manufacuring them. This is NOT a toy, but a gateway to the other side. Laugh if you want, but I know from personal experience, that this object is definitely spiritually manipulated, and believe me when I say that you WILL get more than you bargained for afterwards. This is a warning to STAY AWAY from this. I can't believe it is in the game section of most stores. This is no game.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Boheme

      Forty percent of Americans said they completely believe angels and demons? Oh you statistically illiterate priest demagogue....What did you enlist, a telebank of teleoperators that called 100 households in Oklahoma??

      March 7, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      Wanna buy the Brooklyn Bridge?

      March 7, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • evoc

      "The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist."
      — Charles Baudelaire

      March 7, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Lucifer

      Try as you might - you can't catch me!

      March 7, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • OujiiMaster

      Stop giving Ouji boards a bad name or I will send an evil demon your way...You have been warned!

      March 7, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • yeshua1

      Whatever the cause of disturbances, I have heard many stories from people about "playing" with a Ouija board, and strange things happening after. Whether it is a self fulfilling prophecy situation where things happen because people expect them to happen, or another source, I've never heard anyone talk about how playing with a Ouija board was constructive or benign.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • GJH

      The 40% is a Pew Research stat, not from the priest. Pew is about as credible as it gets. Put away your prejudice and read the actual words on the page.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Matt

      OyVay- Amen to that.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
    • Kardiac

      Hahahahahaha....thanks for getting my week off on the right foot

      March 7, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • Bill

      What are you talking about? The Ouija board is great! I've met plenty of my friends through it. - Captain Howdy

      March 7, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
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About this blog

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.