Not Your Father’s Demon

AmericanPossRegan MacNeil is a name that can still send shudders up and down stout spines. Despite advances in CGI and special effects, The Exorcist is consistently rated among the scariest movies of all time. Demon possession, clearly, is a very troubling thing. American Possessions, by Sean McCloud, is not a place to go to find Catholic priests expelling the forces of darkness. Subtitled Fighting Demons in the Contemporary United States, the book, one might suspect, is saying more than it seems to be letting on. This is a book about Third Wave evangelicalism and its demon-fighting manuals. Although the term “Third Wave” may be unfamiliar, the next time you go to a Tea Party you’ll know you’re among them. These born again uber-capitalists believe in a literal demonic world. In fact, demons are so common that Jesus would’ve had a hard time keeping up with their exponential economic growth. These demons are more frightening than those that possessed Regan. The are more akin to a different Reagan.

Especially popular among Pentecostals (the fastest growing form of Christianity) this modern day belief in demons sees them in places Jesus didn’t think to look. Family curses (at places ruled out in the Bible, but still, apparently, possible), addiction, depression, sexual urges—these are all demonic. And once these modern demons are cast out, unlike that of Regan, they can come back. And if they don’t possess you they will oppress you. And they can live in your material goods, your house, and even the land it is built upon. They are everywhere, and they have to be fought against constantly. They also, apparently, vote Republican.

This view of the world, strange as it is to many people with a basic education in science, motivates a large sector of the United States population. Expelling these demons requires a specific view of Christianity—a view that absolutely excludes Catholics. And it is a view that promotes free market economics, blaming the victims of poverty for allowing themselves to be oppressed by demons. Many aspects to this belief system will strike the reader as completely unbelievable, all the more for being so seriously believed. At the same time, we are told, we should pay no attention to religion, at least as educated people. The problem with this is that these true believers vote. And the kingdom they would have come on earth is, in a way they would certainly deny, possessed.

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