October 26, 2018

Do Most Catholics Believe in Demons and Exorcism Rituals?

The Rite coverI watched The Rite (2011) recently. As far as mildly scary exorcism-related horror films go, it isn't bad. It involves a young man who is pushed into the seminary even though he's questioning his faith, almost quits, and ends up at the Vatican in a program to train exorcists. You know, because we need more of them. Once there, he finds that his skepticism does not subside. Even when he learns more about the Catholic views on exorcism, he continues to suspect that mental illness is a more likely culprit than demons. He is referred to an unconventional exorcist played by Anthony Hopkins in order to participate in a few of the rituals and be persuaded that demons are real, etc.

I almost always enjoy the exorcist-related horror films, and this one was better than many, mostly because of Anthony Hopkins. I have not liked every film he's been in, but I have appreciated his performance in every film I've seen him in. He's one of those fantastic actors who seems to transcend acting and truly inhabit his role. There were moments in this one where he did so. The rest of the cast was adequate, and the production values were good enough that those who are not crazy about low-budget horror would have little reason to complain.

I suppose my main complaint, aside from this being yet another in an endless series of skeptic-becomes-convinced-of-the-supernatural horror films, had to do with the pacing. The film was a bit too long, had some unnecessary scenes, and would have benefitted from tighter editing. This has to be one of my most common complaints when it comes to mainstream horror films. It took away from much of the suspense and made it a less engaging watch.

While watching The Rite, I found myself wondering how many average Catholics really believe this stuff. Do they really think that there is a literal devil walking among us and interfering with our affairs whenever possible? Do they believe demonic possession happens, not in the abstract sense that it could happen but in the sense that it is a real danger? And do they believe that their priests have the power to fight these threats through prayer and arcane rituals? I suspect that at least some of them do.

Decades ago, I had the opportunity to see The Exorcist, one of my all-time favorite horror flicks, in the theater. I remember seeing a few people get up during the movie and run out of the theater. I also remember seeing a woman crossing herself the way Catholics do. I'd guess she knew that she was watching a movie, but I'd also guess that she believed that what it was depicting was a real threat.

As much as I enjoy supernatural horror in general and exorcism-related themes in particular, I've always found the idea of demonic possession to be less scary than the possibility that some people do horrible things on their own without any supernatural influences. It is not that I don't think evil exists; it is just that I view evil as more of an adjective rather than a noun.