I feel compelled to say that this book was not among the overwritten tomes I mentioned in yesterday’s post. Indeed, although the title reflects the outlook of the author, you need to get to the subtitle to find out what the book’s about. Although I work at an academic press, I disagree with academic book pricing models. Graham Twelftree’s previous book, Jesus the Exorcist, had to be picked up in a paperback reprint edition before it could be affordable to the likes of mere mortals. After reading it I learned that Twelftree had written a more popular book on the topic—Christ Triumphant: Exorcism Then and Now. Putting much of the material from the previous book in less technical terms, this version goes on to ask questions that can’t be put into a standard dissertation, such as “should exorcisms still be done?”
The academic is necessarily a skeptic. One of the biggest problems our society faces is the open credulity of those who haven’t been taught to think critically. Twelftree is a rare academic who keeps an open mind while approaching the material with a healthy skepticism. Often it’s too easy to suggest that disregarding that which doesn’t fit a theory is the only way forward for an academic. Sweeping off the table that which we don’t like. The word Twelftree uses is “residue”—that which remains after the majority of possession cases have been explained medically. The usual response is to disregard this small fraction of anomalous material and claim “case closed.” In this book Twelftree dares to go further.
The supernatural has become an embarrassment for many, even in believing communities. An interventionist god, or demons, would set off chain reactions that would distort the known laws of physics, so such things simply can’t exist. Things which we can’t explain only exist because we haven’t got all the variables yet. I recall how cold that made me feel when I first encountered the idea in physics class. “Scientific determinism” it is sometimes called. This little book rehearses the New Testament material covered in Twelftree’s dissertation, but goes on to raise the implications from that study and apply them to modern times. It’s a brave thing to do in an academic world where brushes and brooms are very common. Where residue is wiped up and tossed away without a second thought. Those who stop to think through the implications are rare, which makes them so much the more interesting reading. And not being from an academic press, such books are often affordable.
Posted in Bible, Books, Deities, Higher Education, Monsters, Posts, Sects
Tagged Christ Triumphant, demons, Exorcism Then and Now, Graham Twelftree, Jesus the Exorcist: A Contribution to the Study of the Historical Jesus, skepticism
Something’s wrong with Buddy Love. He doesn’t act like a professor. Meanwhile, Sherman Klump, heavyset but brilliant, feels that human companionship is passing him by. Still, he’s a professor and has the support of a major university—at least as long as he brings the grant money in. The Nutty Professor, a re-envisioning of the 1963 Jerry Lewis film, is instructive to watch. One of the immediately obvious things to those of us who’ve been professors, is that movie makers don’t really understand what it’s like. And it’s not just comedies—Indiana Jones doesn’t get it any more than Dean Richmond does. Academics who watch these films shake their heads, if they think about the presentation of their profession. Indeed, for being high profile, it is a job the public does not understand.
That’s not really what this post is about, however. Although it’s been a few years, I suspect The Nutty Professor still has some currency. In case I’m wrong, here’s the gist: it’s a modern, funny version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. An overweight professor invents a formula that leads to instant weight loss. The formula, however, also has side-effects, such as a boost in testosterone levels that leads to instability and violence. In the climactic scene of the movie, Eddie Murphy transforms back and forth from Sherman to Buddy while on stage at the alumni ball. Papa Klump, who has paid to attend, calls out, “Someone had better go and call the exorcist!”
Now, this is screwball comedy. Still, it reflects something that I’ve been struggling with in my current book—the public view of possession. Demons aren’t generally known for changing body mass indices. They’re after the soul, after all. Still, there’s an element of truth, according to church teaching, about what Papa Klump says—demons are bodily afflictions. Traditionally, they can’t impact a person’s soul. In fact, possession is not considered a sin, and those under demonic influence aren’t held responsible for sins they commit while under that influence. The soul is considered, unlike the physical body, something that cannot be “possessed.” I know not to take movies like this seriously, but they do contribute to the pool of public “knowledge” about possession. In this way, at least, it’s important to pay attention. Such films may not really comprehend what the lives of professors are like, but they do reflect, even if in a nutty way, what people believe.
Posted in Higher Education, Just for Fun, Monsters, Movies, Popular Culture, Posts
Tagged demons, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Eddie Murphy, exorcism, Jerry Lewis, The Nutty Professor
Holy Horror, it looks like, has been delayed until January. That doesn’t mean that I have to wait to find some relief in the escape to film. Over the weekend my wife surprised me by being willing to watch The Exorcist with me. As we settled in to see it, a few things occurred to me—watching horror with someone else isn’t nearly as frightening as watching it alone. I know this from experience, and it seems that it has something to do with the willing suspension of disbelief. It’s harder to do when someone is with you. Left to one’s own devices, it’s possible to believe what you’re watching, even if intellectually you know that it is merely a movie. That tells us something about the way brains are wired.
I object to the word “wired,” really. As organic beings, we are not computers. What invented consciousness would watch a scary movie for pleasure? What is the rationale for it? It was a gray and rainy Saturday evening in late October. In human experience that may be all that it takes. Seeing orange and black in the stores sets a mood that computers, I strongly suspect, simply can’t feel. They lack the human experience of childhood trick-or-treating, or throwing on another layer as the days grow chillier, or watching the leaves turn and slowly drift down from weary trees. No, these aren’t wired experiences—they’re very organic ones, and often those that mean something even to adults as the seasons wend their way through the calendar.
The author waiting for proofs is rather like an expectant parent. Well, that analogy’s not quite right either, but you get the point. I know the book is coming. It was accepted and submitted long ago. The publication process, however, is more complex than most people might assume. In fact, in the publishing industry it is often the main role of the editorial assistant to assure that manuscripts make it through all of the necessary hoops to move from finished manuscript to printed book. Johannes Gutenberg likely had a simpler process worked out, although, in the early days of book-buying you could purchase the pages and have them bound by your choice of bindery. Now cover and content are glued or stitched together in what one hopes is a seamless way. Still, that stitching can’t help but to recall Frankenstein’s monster. It is, however, another gray, rainy day in October. It’s just a shame my computer can’t share the experience with me.
Posted in Books, Consciousness, Memoirs, Monsters, Movies, Posts
Tagged brains, Holy Horror, neurology, October, seasons, The Exorcist
Demons are an embarrassment. The typical scholar of the historical Jesus can’t avoid the fact that one of Jesus’ main activities is exorcism. You can go the whole way through seminary not hearing about that aspect even as you become very well acquainted with the two-source hypothesis. That’s why I found Graham H. Twelftree’s Jesus the Exorcist: A Contribution to the Study of the Historical Jesus so refreshing. Here is someone willing to address the topic generally swept off the table. If the gospels are to be believed, then Jesus was an exorcist. And if he was an exorcist, that must imply a thing or two about demons, no matter how embarrassing. There’s a lot to this question, of course, and things are never as simple as they seem.
Many of those who look for the Jesus of history suggest that the Galilean sage simply accepted the framework of his era in which various diseases such as epilepsy were considered demonic. As he healed such people—also somewhat of an embarrassment since it implies the supernatural—he understood their maladies in the same way his contemporaries did. That tidy package, however, doesn’t sit well with narratives that assume a world full of demons. Things have changed since the first century, of course. After the Middle Ages demons fell out of favor. And yet, the gospels remain pretty much unchanged, trying to fit into a new worldview. This is the uncomfortable place in which those who seek the historical Jesus find themselves.
Twelftree approaches and analyses the text at its word. The casting out of demons was an eschatological (end-times) act. It was the beginning of the end for the evil spirits that torment this world. Of course, two thousand years have come and gone and, according to some, demons are still with us. The number of requested exorcisms has been on the rise. The end times have lasted a lot longer than anyone anticipated. It’s beginning to look like politicians can do what God seems reluctant to affect. Bringing about the end of the world is no matter of clearing the house of demons, but rather letting evil take the helm. If that’s a mixed metaphor, let’s just say demons are masters of confusion. Since medical science has given us a great deal of comfort and relief from suffering, we’re glad to let demons go as the explanation of diseases. But that doesn’t make things any easier for those looking at the first century when, as Twelfree demonstrates, Jesus was an exorcist.
Posted in Bible, Books, Monsters, Posts, Religious Violence, Science
Tagged demons, exorcism, Graham H. Twelftree, historical Jesus, Jesus the Exorcist: A Contribution to the Study of the Historical Jesus, medical science, supernatural
Blood and vampires go together like October and, well, vampires. Although I don’t understand manga, I do know it’s extremely popular, and a friend has been lending me the volumes of Hellsing by Kouta Hirano. In the past couple of weeks I’ve read numbers 4 and 5. Hellsing sets up a world where the Catholic church destroys vampires, as does the English, Protestant organization Hellsing Organization. The latter, however, has as its secret weapon the vampire Alucard who, in nearly every number, gets dismembered in some bloody way before pulling himself back together to overcome the enemy. In the latest issues I’ve read the Catholics and Protestants have to cooperate against the threat of neo-Nazis (and this was before Trump was elected), who also employ werewolves. (It’s October, remember.)
Having been pondering the vampires of Maine, I decided to read the next in my own generation’s vampire hero, Barnabas Collins. I’ve been reading the Dark Shadows series by Marilyn Ross to try to find a lost piece of my childhood. There was a scene in one of these poorly written Gothic novels that made a strong impression on me that I finally re-encountered in Barnabas, Quentin and the Nightmare Assassin. Interestingly, in this installment Barnabas, the gentleman vampire, is cured of his curse while traveling back in time with Carolyn Stoddard. The story doesn’t explain how some of the characters from the twentieth century appear a hundred years earlier, but it does bring an early encounter of the vampire against the werewolf—an idea monster fans know from its many iterations such as Hellsing or, famously, Underworld.
You might think vampires and werewolves would get along. In both the Dark Shadows and Hellsing universes the personalities of both come through clearly. Both monsters have deep origins in folklore and people have believed in them since ancient times. Just because they’re not human, however, is no reason to suppose they’ll get along with each other. As soon as Universal discovered that monsters translated well to film the idea began to develop that monster versus monster would be a great spectacle. We had vampires and werewolves clashing on cheap budgets with fog machines. A new orthodoxy was created that the undead just don’t get along. It’s a idea that continued into the relatively bloodless Dark Shadows series, and on into the violent and gleefully bespattered Hellsing. And since it’s October nobody should be surprised.
Posted in Books, Current Events, Literature, Monsters, Popular Culture, Posts, Religious Violence
Tagged Barnabas, Dark Shadows, Hellsing, Kouta Hirano, Marilyn Ross, October, Quentin and the Nightmare Assassin, Underworld, vampires