Belief in Demonic Possession Has Led to Great Suffering


Theories of demonic possession and the belief that exorcism is an effective cure have done unimaginable damage to countless people suffering from mental illness over the centuries. I think it would be fair to say that these approaches have led to many of the unhealthy attitudes many people still have toward those struggling with mental illness. This is an important and very sad lesson about the evils to which religion has led (and continues to lead).

Just when we think that modern science has finally displaced these dangerous myths, we learn that there are religious believers in positions of power who are determined to return us all to the Dark Ages in the name of their preferred religion. Thus, we should not be surprised that even now there are Roman Catholic bishops insisting that we need more exorcists and even more of this superstitious bullshit! And sadly, the belief in demons is not limited to Catholics.

How many more people have to suffer efforts to exorcise demons? How many more will be led astray by belief in demonic possession, deprived of the benefits of medical and behavioral science? How many more lives must be wrecked in service to sustain the superstitions of others? Did we not learn anything from other dark chapters of Christian history like our infamous witch trials or the much more recent Satanic panic?

Admittedly, I have both personal and professional reasons for having little patience with talk of demons and exorcism. This is not be an issue on which I can be very objective. That said, I have studied enough about the history of how mental illness has been treated through the centuries to reach the conclusion that it is high time we stop doing this to people. You know how there are all those positive movements out there today aiming to reduce the stigma around mental illness by encouraging people to share their stories and talk about their struggles. Belief in demonic possession and exorcism takes us about as far as possible in the opposite direction. The fact that these beliefs are still around and still causing harm is mind-boggling.

Let me end this grim subject on a positive note. I learned about the recent call for more exorcists from a Catholic psychologist who also thought it was complete bullshit. I suppose that's progress.