Exorcism: The Devil’s in the Details

December 30, 2008

A new television series,   The Real Exorcist , has debuted on the Sci-Fi Channel, whose executives and producers continue to promote pseudoscience and worse. The show features fundamentalist minister Bob Larson,   whose Web site pleads for help in fighting demonic evil with “prayer and financial help.” Jesus, Larson claims, has actually “chosen” him for this work.

I was invited by CNN to study Larson’s televised “exorcisms” and debate him on an afternoon show hosted by Kyra Phillips—on Halloween 2008 no less. (The segment may be viewed on YouTube.) I began by suggesting that we “exorcise the nonsense” out of Reverend Larson.

Larson employs an approach similar to that used by many faith-healing hucksters. Just as Benny Hinn and Peter Popoff supposedly are catalysts for “miracle” cures, prompting the recipients to “speak in tongues” and “go under the Power” (of the Holy Spirit), Larson provokes similar theatrics. As he stares into the eyes of someone he suggests is “possessed,” the individual typically responds, perhaps speaking in a guttural, “demonic” voice, falling down, thrashing about, or the like. It is a process well known to professional stage hypnotists, depending on the selection (usually self-selection) of credulous persons, utilizing suggestion, and resulting in role-playing.

The respondents are predisposed to act out the drama of being “possessed,” prompted by their desire to engage in potentially cathartic behavior and by the potent power of suggestion. Even those less suggestible may be motivated to comply when they are surrounded by others expecting them to act a certain way.

It is ironic that, in the twenty-first century, fear mongers like Larson are harking back to medieval ignorance and superstition. With the recognition of brain disorders like epilepsy, and mental conditions such as schizophrenia and hysteria, there has been a consequent decline in reports of demonic activity. (For more, see my book,   The Mystery Chronicles , University Press of Kentucky, 2004, pp. 14—27, 261—270.)

However, the less enlightened still manage to be possessed—not by demons, but by belief in them, aided by exorcists and predatory television executives.



#1 Clabber Grrl (Guest) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 10:43am

Notice that allegations of child abuse by Christian clergy nearly always turn out to be true, while allegations of Satanic child abuse always turn out to be false. Naturally, any prudent parent would want to send their child to a Satanic day care center rather than a Christian one.

#2 teacherninja (Guest) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 10:58am

Thanks, Joe!  Can’t tell you how glad I am to see you on this blog.

#3 Teamonger on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 12:34pm

Alas, it’s very sad the Sci-fi channel has turned out to be the source of so much TV hokum.  I was hoping it would show move influence of people like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, etc.

#4 Doctor Who on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 7:33pm

It is bizarre that people who run non-print media sci-fi outlets think that sci-fi fans are dupes for any old nonsense. They seem to feel we will equate spaceships and robots, both real, with ghosts and possession, both unreal. An excellent sociological study by William Sims Bainbridge in the 1980s (Dimensions of Science Fiction, Harvard University Press, 1986) shows that science fiction fans are no more prone to favoring occult literature than the general readership (what Bainbridge calls a “weak correlation” p. 186), and that science fiction fans constituted a “subculture of freethinkers” (p. 164). Among the findings were that science fiction fans were more likely to be nonreligious, above-average intelligent, politically liberal, college-educated, and above-average in income than the general American population. There is no reason to suspect any dramatic shift has taken place in any of these categories. Sadly, the idiots who run Sci-Fi Channel have no understanding of their audience.

#5 T'Atal (Guest) on Tuesday December 30, 2008 at 11:29pm

Ugh, if Gene Roddenberry or Mr. Spock were to watch the crock that this once-great channel espouses, they’d grovel in their graves! Save that load crock for WGN, but please, stop polluting science-fiction.

#6 bill archer (Guest) on Monday January 05, 2009 at 5:12am

Who’s going to exorcize the demons of confusion to which too many subscribe? The policies world leaders impose that create chaos, starvation, cataclysmic weather phenomena, deadly wars, and a growing toxic environment for the planet give Secularists plenty to battle.

The confusion perpetuated when a “spiritual” war is waged,that is mistakenly accepted as real, becomes the reality for many as they create a Sci-Fi world for the rest of us to either accept or challenge.

When an exorcist, and the one possessed, do their tandem dance, too many find it believeable as they succumb to the magic show. Too many have been suffering from the results of a magic show that has been fostered as reality for the masses by those who wish to define that reality.

What actually is, however, is another reality altogether. One that provides an opportunity for people to think and act rationally in order to perpetuate an existence that is free of toxic confusion, full of love and equality and offers the best path for our planet’s survival.

#7 Moe (Guest) on Thursday January 08, 2009 at 1:51pm

I’ve been a critic of Larson since 1985 when he had his radio show. Yes, the stage hypnosis he’s using is obvious, but I need to add a few things here. Larson and his staff of blind followers screen those he ” exorcises” and has them sign legal documents before he films their ” exorcisms”.  YouTube has ” The Paranormal Preacher” with a number of audio interviews with people Larson has used and their stories show how callous and manipulative Larson really is.

Simply put, Bob Larson is in this for the fame and for the money. He’s changed his ” expertise’ over the years as Christian fads warrant. In the seventies he was an ” expert” on rock music. In the eighties he was an ” expert” on cults and the occult. In the nineties he did the ” compassion” act about victims of ” satanic abuse”.

One of his slogans is ” Doing What Jesus Did”.  Larson has two mansions in two gated communities and always flies first class and goes to at least three star hotels. Jesus in the New Testament was the opposite.

I haven’t been a fan of the Sci-Fi Channel in awhile. When I found out that Larson sold his ” Real Exorcist” series (that originally was aired on the UK before viewers voiced their outrage and Virgin1 canceled the series) to the Sci-Fi Channel, I emailed the web site warning them about Larson. Obviously they did not listen. What Larson did do is omit the Donna/ cemetery ghouls ” exorcism” episode after he found out that Donna spilled the beans to Rev. Motal ( The Paranormal Preacher) about what actually happened to her. The Sci-Fi Network is about ” entertainment” not about scientific fact. That one ” international” ghost hunters series, for example is so obviously fake it even borrows from the “Blair Witch Project”.

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