Friday, June 12, 2009

Recent Reads, Reality of Hell

I just finished re-reading The Ball and the Cross by G.K. Chesterton. It's not a very good novel (as Chesterton himself admitted), but I enjoyed it--it's a good story, with some fun, interesting ideas, just executed poorly.

Although Chesterton would surely blanche at the suggestion that he was a universalist, he seemed to think so well of everyone he met, I doubt he could imagine any person being worthy of eternal damnation. And that's played out in the ending of the book, which makes it rather a curious statement for someone so concerned with "orthdoxy."

I went from finishing The Ball and the Cross to beginning Hostage to the Devil: the Possession and Exorcism of Five Contemporary Americans by Malachi Martin. It was a pretty shocking contrast. It was quite a thing to go from G.K.C.'s romanticized and relatively harmless figure of Prof. Lucifer to descriptions of the kind of raw, unmasked evil present in exorcisms.

If you are not familiar with what goes on at actual exorcisms (and I'm not talking about the kind performed by televangelists, but the ones performed by Catholic priests who have done extensive research to eliminate the possiblity of other diagnoses), I don't suppose you'll have any idea what I mean.

Even having read Hostage to the Devil before, I'd forgotten the intensity of the descriptions of people's experience of the possessing demons. There is actually nothing romantic about it. It's just pure evil, inspiring a depth of revulsion most of us will, thankfully, never experience.

Thinking back on that televised debate on the existence of Satan I mentioned a while back, I wonder how the discussion would have been different if they had had present a Catholic exorcist. Belief in the existence of demonic powers is not just a matter of what kind of worldview one holds, or what kind of faith one puts in the Bible--it also happens to be the simplest, most reasonable interpretation of the plain facts in cases of demonic possession. Even a theological "liberal," trained in recognizing various psychological disturbances, like M. Scott Peck was thoroughly convinced of Satan's existence after having met it in person during an exorcism.

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