Tag Archives: Catholic Church

21st century exorcisms: Examining the psychology of possession

james-randi-69Via James Randi Education Foundation – JREF

A video has surfaced of a reported exorcism as it was taking place last February behind the closed doors of a Roman Catholic church in Vranov nad Dyji, Czech Republic.  A 26 year old visitor heard screams and filmed through the keyhole of the door. Not much is visible; there is plenty of screaming and obscenity (in another language) but nothing supernatural happens from this perspective. The drama that unfolded is what we would expect an exorcism to look like from our familiarity with sensational news reports. Pope FrancisOnly in the movies, in fiction, are there visions of horror that break the bounds of physics or human capabilities. In reality, exorcisms at their most basic, are an interaction between the victim in some disturbed state and the people who are enacting the ritual. Some might say the ritual enables the victim, encouraging the expression of possession. For some afflicted people, they may benefit psychologically from the process.

The Czech priest confronted over the released video says they were asking for God’s help to protect the anonymous person in the church. He is quoted as remarking, “Of course it helps.” Does it really help, or is this reinforcement of an antiquated belief system harmful? Therein lies a tricky question for religious officials, psychologists, and the skeptically-minded about the value of exorcism. Most rationalists would not condone an exorcism, likely feeling that the potential for harm that could occur is unethical or the endorsement of belief in demons is nonsense.  What once was a given fact – evil spirits can possess people, and had been usurped by modern medicinal practice, has recently been re-embraced by the Catholic Church and endorsed through rejuvenation of the exorcism ritual.

On November 11, 2014, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved an English translation of the Rite of Exorcism that was published by the Vatican in 1999.  The vote was 179 “yes” to 5 “no.” Pope Francis recognized 250 priests across 30 countries who are members of the International Association of Exorcists which many observers saw as a surprising step backwards in time for the church. exorcism_225pxThe church sees exorcism as something of a last resort and repeatedly notes that the cases are carefully evaluated by medical professionals to address medical or psychological problems. Who does these evaluations? Are the psychiatric evaluators Christian? What are their criteria for concluding that, yes, this person can not be helped by Western medicine and must be treated spiritually?

Curiously, as noted in this Catholic news agency piece, exorcism is “not magic.  It is the Church imploring God to come to the aid of the person afflicted.” This can be interpreted in a secular way –  if the troubled person believes that they can be helped with this ritual, then perhaps they really are helped. It is plausible that many cases of deliverance or exorcism have been successful because people have “named” their troubles and outwardly cast them away, like the devil, to be gone and leave them free. Professor Christopher French, Head of the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit of the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London has studied the psychology of possession. He also thinks that, under certain circumstances, people can benefit from exorcism.

“As I believe that “possession” is a purely psychological phenomenon, any psychosomatic symptoms might be cured by any form of treatment that the victim believes in. Also, adoption of the “possessed” role sometimes allows people to let off steam without being held responsible for their actions.”

Dr. French is clear that exorcism will not directly help anyone who has an underlying neurological condition, although, he says, “If the condition was aggravated by stress and the ritual reduced the stress, it might produce temporary relief.” This is not to make light of the several downsides to exorcism. There have been several cases of families who subjected “possessed’ elders, women, the handicapped, and children to abuse. In some cases, this has resulted in death.

Yet, the popular belief in exorcism is growing.

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James Randi’s Response to a Catholic Priest

Via randi.org written by JREF Staff

We get mail: a Catholic Priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago recently sent a veritable love letter to Randi for his decades of good work exposing supernatural fraudsters. It ends with an appeal for JREF staff to convert to Catholicism immediately. jesusHe included two objects with the letter:

  1. An “Image of the Divine Mercy” (which we are told Jesus gave to St. Faustina Kowalska in pre-WWII Poland) and
  2. a medal that he says the Blessed Mother gave to St. Catherine Laboure in LaSallette, France in 1832.

The priest’s big point: “The Lord created the you without your consent, but he will not save you without your consent.”

Especially interesting was the talk of Randi’s age and how right now is surely the best time for him to finally convert: “Mr. Randi, you doubt so much that I know you must want to believe!”

He also provides some helpful instruction: “Go into a nearby Catholic Church, sit before the Tabernacle (which Catholics believe the Risen Lord Jesus IS Truly, Really, Substantially Present in the Eucharist Host) and open your heart, saying “Lord Jesus, if You are real, give me the grace to believe.” Then we are told we can “enter into the Divine Life of the Blessed Trinity!”

Our question is Since when have Catholics become so evangelizing?

We thought you might enjoy reading Randi’s response:

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Shrouded in pseudoscience

Via Skeptophilia

The Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin

I hate to break it to you, LiveScience, but in the interest of accuracy, it’s probably time to take the word “Science” out of the name of your website.

What you’re promoting isn’t really science, any more than The History Channel has anything even remotely to do with history.  You’re passing along to the public the idea that science is this mushy, hand-waving pursuit, where you can do an “experiment” to support an idea you’d already decided was true, generate essentially nothing in the way of data, and then claim that your results support whatever your original contention was.

I say this in light of a recent story called “Shroud of Turin: Could Ancient Earthquake Explain Face of Jesus?”  If the very title makes you suspicious, then good; you’re starting out from the right vantage point.

Let’s begin with the facts.  The Shroud of Turin is a piece of linen cloth that has been preserved for centuries as a holy relic — supposedly the sheet that covered Jesus’ body after the crucifixion.  It shows the image of a naked man, with wounds similar to those described in the bible.

The problem is, the linen cloth was carbon-14 dated — a step that the religious powers-that-be resisted for decades — and it was conclusively shown to date to around 1350 C.E.  It is, put simply, a fake.  So you’d think that would be that.

As we’ve seen before, that is never that when religion enters the picture.

b_shroud JesusThe article in LiveScience tells about a study headed by Alberto Carpinteri of the Politecnico di Torino, in Turin, Italy, which discovered that when you crush rocks using a mechanical press, it can cause a brief emission of neutrons.  From that single piece of information, he concludes the following:

  • Earthquakes can therefore be associated with neutron emissions.
  • The neutrons could interact with nitrogen atoms in the linen cloth (or in anything else, presumably), and mess up the carbon-14 dating protocol, causing it to give a wrong answer.
  • The neutrons could also have burned a pattern into the cloth as they passed through it.  Because the cloth was wrapped around a human body, it would have caused an image to appear on it, much like an x-ray.
  • The bible says that there was an earthquake around the time of Jesus’ resurrection, and the “stone rolled back from the tomb.”  [Matthew 28:1-2]
  • So: the Shroud of Turin is actually the burial cloth of Jesus.  Therefore god and the Catholic Church and all of the rest of it.  q.e.d.

Oh, come on, now.  This qualifies as science?  It’s about as bad an example of assuming your conclusion as I’ve ever seen.  And if earthquakes interfered with carbon-14 and nitrogen-14 levels, then radiocarbon dating would never work, since earthquakes happen basically all the time, all over the Earth.  And yet carbon-14 dating has been shown to be extremely accurate, over and over again.

Funny thing, that.

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9 things you didn’t know about Freemasonry

freemasonry_600pxBy David Morgan via CBS News

1. When meeting, Masons do not discuss religion or politics.

“There are certain subjects which are prevented or we simply proscribe from discussing within the lodge,” Piers Vaughan, master of St. John’s Lodge #1 in New York, told Mo Rocca. “And religion is one. Politics is another.”

One of the world’s leading experts on Freemasonry confirms.

“Do they discuss forms of politics and events that have happened? Yes, they do,” said UCLA history professor Margaret Jacob. “Do they say, ‘Well, I’m a Democrat and therefore I think …’ Or, ‘I’m a Republican … ‘ No, I don’t think they do that.”

2. Freemasonry is not a religion.

“Freemasonry has the look of a religion,” said Jacob. “You think of religion as ritual, there’s also this ritual element. But there are no priests, there are no ministers, there are no rabbis, there’s no system of clergy of any sort. Everybody’s their own thinker.”

From Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, a book of esoteric philosophy published by the Supreme Council, Thirty Third Degree, of the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction of the United States. (source)

From Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, first published in 1872 and regularly reprinted thereafter until 1969, is a book of esoteric philosophy published by the Supreme Council, Thirty Third Degree, of the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction of the United States. (source)

3. The Catholic Church condemns Freemasonry.

Jacob said the initial response to Freemasonry in continental Europe, particularly in Catholic Europe, was suspicion from seeing “all these men [from] different neighborhoods, different professions meeting in the cafe, breaking bread together, doing rituals, what could this be? Political conspiracy or religion.”

In 1738 the Catholic Church condemned Freemasonry, and has since issued about 20 decrees — directly or indirectly — against the fraternity. In 1983 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (the future Pope Benedict XVI) re-affirmed this position.

4. Atheists are not welcome.

ap05Freemasonry is not a religion per se, but agnostics or atheists cannot belong, said Brent Morris, a Masonic historian, editor of the Scottish Rite Journal, and a 33rd degree Freemason.

“This is an organization of believers,” he said. “When it was started on a formal basis in 1717, many historians believe that it was trying to bridge the gap between the religious civil wars that had been going on in England at the time. The Catholics would get in power and beat up on the Protestants; the Protestants would get in power and beat up on the Catholics; and everyone was beating up on the Jews.

“So when the Freemasons were formed, [they] said, ‘Here’s a group of men that agree that God is central in their lives, they can even agree that God compels them to do good in the community, then they can shut up after that.” That was a radical concept — that men could get together and agree on that fundamental level, and then get on with their lives.”

So could an atheist join? No, said James Sullivan, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New York: “The reason we, I think in the past, wanted somebody that had a belief in a supreme being is because we take certain obligation to be a good man, to support the fraternity. And if you didn’t have a belief in a supreme being, the obligation would mean nothing.”

5. Most of the Founding Fathers were NOT Freemasons.

Two of America’s earliest presidents, George Washington and James Monroe, were Freemasons, as were Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Paul Revere. But many leading figures in the American Revolution — including John and Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Thomas Paine — were not Masons.

Of the 56 figures who signed the Declaration of Independence, only nine were confirmed Masons, according to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania; and of the 39 delegates of the Continental Congress who signed the draft of the new nation’s Constitution in 1787, only 13 (one-third) were Freemasons.

6. There are NO secret Masonic symbols on the U.S. dollar bill.

US dollar pyramidThe back of the collar bill features an incomplete pyramid with an eye on top of it. Many people — including some Freemasons – say it’s a Masonic symbol, but that’s not the case. UCLA’s Margaret Jacob says these symbols have been used by many different groups, including Masons, throughout history.

“I’m sure there are a lot of Freemasons who want to believe [they’re Masonic symbols] and who will tell it to you, because it makes the Lodges seem important,” Jacob said. “I mean, if you have a symbol on the dollar bill, that’s a big deal!”

Brent Morris said there are two types of people who want to promote the idea that the symbols are Masonic: “The pro-Masons and the anti-Masons — and that pretty well covers the universe.

“The Eye of God is a common icon for God looking over the affairs of man,” Morris said. “It’s an icon that appears in cultures across the centuries. The uncompleted pyramid [which also appeared on a 50-pound Colonial note] represented that our country was not yet completed, that we were continuing to grow.”

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Also see: Freemasons & Satan (iLLumiNuTTi.com)

What Is the Illuminati?

By Joseph Castro via LiveScience

An all-seeing eye atop a pyramid is supposedly a symbol for the secret society known as the Illuminati.

An all-seeing eye atop a pyramid is supposedly a symbol for the secret society known as the Illuminati.

The Illuminati was an 18th-century secret society made up of numerous influential intellectuals and freethinkers of the time.

The organization, which is also known as the Bavarian Illuminati, opposed the Roman Catholic Church’s control over philosophy and science; promoted the education of women and their treatment as equals; sought to “enlighten” people’s minds and free them from superstitions and prejudices; and tried to reduce the oppression of the state.

The Illuminati was the brainchild of Adam Weishaupt, who was the chair of canon law and later the dean of the faculty of law at the University of Ingolstadt in Bavaria (a state in southeast Germany) in the early 1770s, according to “New England and the Bavarian Illuminati” (Columbia University Press, 1918), a nonfiction book about the secret society.

Weishaupt was vocally critical of the “intolerance and bigotry” of the church, which, at the time, held strong influence over the University of Ingolstadt, as well the politics and government of Bavaria.

His criticisms resulted in clashes with the Jesuits, leading Weishaupt to conclude that a secret organization of liberal-minded individuals was necessary to outwit the “enemies of reason.” He initially sought to join one of the Freemason lodges, but lacked the funds to do so and felt the order was too well-known to the general public.

So, on May 1, 1776, Weishaupt formed the Order of the Illuminati with four other members.

The Illumanti grew quickly, gaining some 2,000 members from countries throughout Europe, including France, Poland, Hungary and Italy. This rapid expansion was largely due to . . .

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Top 10 Secret Societies

By Jamie Frater via Listverse

Through history there have been many secret societies and conspiracy theories about those societies. This is a list of 10 of the most famous and popular secret societies or alleged secret societies.

1. Skull and Bones [Wikipedia]

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Members of the Skull and Bones (George Bush is left of the clock) [1947]

The Order of Skull and Bones, a Yale University society, was originally known as the Brotherhood of Death. It is one of the oldest student secret societies in the United States. It was founded in 1832 and membership is open to an elite few. The society uses masonic inspired rituals to this day. Members meet every Thursday and Sunday of each week in a building they call the “Tomb”.

According to Judy Schiff, Chief Archivist at the Yale University Library, the names of the members were not kept secret until the 1970s, but the rituals always have been. Both of the Bush presidents were members of the society while studying at Yale, and a number of other members have gone on to great fame and fortune.

The society is surrounded by conspiracy theories; the most popular of which is probably the idea that the CIA was built on members from the group. The CIA released a statement in 2007 (coinciding with the popularity of the film The Good Shepherd) in which it denied that the group was an incubator for the CIA. You can read that document here.

2. Freemasons [Wikipedia]

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Freemasons Annual Meeting [1992]

The Grand Masonic Lodge was created in 1717 when four small groups of lodges joined together. Membership levels were initially first and second degree, but in the 1750s this was expanded to create the third degree which caused a split in the group. When a person reaches the third degree, they are called a Master Mason.

Masons conduct their regular meetings in a ritualized style. This includes many references to architectural symbols such as the compass and square. They refer to God as “The Great Architect of the Universe”. The three degrees of Masonry are: 1: Entered Apprentice, this makes you a basic member of the group. 2: Fellow Craft, this is an intermediate degree in which you are meant to develop further knowledge of Masonry. 3: Master Mason, this degree is necessary for participating in most masonic activities. Some rites (such as the Scottish rite) list up to 33 degrees of membership.

Masons use signs and handshakes to gain admission to their meetings, as well as to identify themselves to other people who may be Masons. The signs and handshakes often differ from one jurisdiction to another and are often changed or updated. This protects the group from people finding out how to gain admission under false pretenses. Masons also wear stylized clothing based upon the clothing worn by stone masons from the middle ages. The most well known of these is the apron.

In order to become a Mason, you must generally be recommended by a current mason. In some cases you must be recommended three times before you can join. You have to be at least 18 years old and of sound mind. Many religions frown upon membership of the Masons, and the Roman Catholic Church forbids Catholics to join under pain of excommunication.

3. Rosicrucians [Wikipedia]

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Secret Symbols of the Rosicrucians

The Rosicrucian order is generally believed to have been the idea of a group of German protestants in the 1600s when a series of three documents were published: Fama Fraternitatis Rosae Crucis, Confessio Fraternitatis, and The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz anno 1459. The documents were so widely read and influential, that the historian Frances Yeats refers to the 17th century as the Rosicrucian Enlightenment. The first document tells the story of a mysterious alchemist (Christian Rosenkreuz) who travelled to various parts of the world gathering secret knowledge. The second document tells of a secret brotherhood of alchemists who were preparing to change the political and intellectual face of Europe. The third document describes the invitation of Christian Rosenkreuz to attend and assist at the “Chemical” wedding of a King and Queen in a castle of Miracles.

Current members of the Rosicrucian Order claim that its origins are far more ancient than these documents. The authors of the documents seemed to strongly favor Lutheranism and include condemnations of the Catholic Church. Rosicrucianism probably had an influence on Masonry and, in fact, the 18th degree of Scottish Rite Masonry is called the Knight of the Rose Croix (red cross).

There are a large number of Rosicrucian groups today – each claiming to be closely tied to the original. Of the two main divisions, one is a mix of Christianity with Rosicrucian principles, and the other is semi-Masonic. The Masonic type tend to also have degrees of membership.

4. Ordo Templis Orientis [Wikipedia]

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Crowley with OTO Instruments

The OTO (Order of the Temples of the East) is an organization that was originally modeled on Masonry but, under the leadership of the self-styled “Great Beast” Aleister Crowley, it took on the principles of his religious system called Thelema. Thelema is based around a single law: “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, love is the law, love under the will” [1904]. Membership is based upon degrees of initiation and highly stylized rituals are used. The OTO currently claims over 3,000 members worldwide.

Crowley created a “Mass” for the OTO which is called the Gnostic Mass. Of the “Mass”, Crowley wrote:

“I resolved that my Ritual should celebrate the sublimity of the operation of universal forces without introducing disputable metaphysical theories. I would neither make nor imply any statement about nature which would not be endorsed by the most materialistic man of science. On the surface this may sound difficult; but in practice I found it perfectly simple to combine the most rigidly rational conceptions of phenomena with the most exalted and enthusiastic celebration of their sublimity.”

The ritual is very stylized and uses virgin priestesses, children, and priests. Many Ancient Egyptian God’s are invoked, as well as the Devil, and at one point the priestess performs a naked ritual.

5. Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn [Wikipedia]

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Golden Dawn Symbolism

The order of the Golden Dawn was created by Dr. William Robert Woodman, William Wynn Westcott, and Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers. All three were Freemasons and members of Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (an organization with ties to Masonry). It is considered by many to be a forerunner of the Ordo Templi Orientis and a majority of modern Occult groups.

The belief system of the Golden Dawn is largely taken from Christian mysticism, Qabalah, Hermeticism, the religion of Ancient Egypt, Freemasonry, Alchemy, Theosophy, Magic, and Renaissance writings. William Yeats, and Aleister Crowly are two of the more famous members of the group.

The fundamental documents of the order are known as the Cipher Documents. These were translated into English using a cipher attributed to Johannes Trithemius. The documents are a series of 60 folios containing magic rituals. The basic structure of many of these rituals appear to originate with Rosicrucianism. There is a great deal of controversy surrounding the origins of these documents.

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