Sects and Violence in the Ancient World is nine years old today. Not that I’m keeping count. Really, I’m not. WordPress sent me a notice, and they ought to know, being the virtual womb whence my thoughts gestate. The original plan for this blog was to take my abiding interest in the religions of antiquity and give them a more public face. My brother-in-law, Neal Stephenson, thought I should do podcasts, because, at the time I spoke incessantly about ancient deities. I can still hold forth about Asherah at great length, but ancient Near Eastern studies is, believe it or not, an evolving field. You need access to a university library, or at least JSTOR, and a whole sabbatical’s worth of time to keep up with it. Even though telecommuting, I’m a nine-to-five guy now, and my research involves mostly reading books.
So Sects and Violence began to evolve. I realized after teaching biblical studies for over a decade-and-a-half that my real interest was in how the Bible was understood in culture. Having a doctorate from a world-class university in the origins of the Good Book certainly should add credibility. My own journey down that pathway began because of interpretations of Scripture that were strongly cultural in origin. I first began reading with Dick and Jane but quickly moved on to Holy Writ. It has shaped my life since before I was ten. It’s only natural I should be curious.
Like most tweens, I discovered sects. Why did so many people believe so many different things? And many of them call themselves Christians. And the Christians I knew said the others weren’t Christian at all. And so the conversations went, excluding others left, right, and center. As someone who wanted answers, this fascinated me. The Bible was the basis for many belief systems of sects everywhere. From Haiti to Ruby Ridge. From New York City to Easter Island. From Tierra del Fuego to Seoul. And not just one Bible, but many scriptures. And these beliefs led to behavior that could be called “strange” were it not so thoroughly pervasive. Scientists and economists say we’ve outlived the need for religion. By far the vast majority of people in the world disagree. I couldn’t have articulated it that way nine years ago, but since losing my teaching platform, I’ve been giving away for free what over four decades of dedicated study—with bona fides, no less!—has revealed. Happy blogday to Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.
Posted in American Religion, Bible, Current Events, Just for Fun, Memoirs, Posts, Religious Violence, Sects
Tagged blogging, Edinburgh University, Neal Stephenson, religion, Sects, violence
Belief is truly an amazing phenomenon. Even as we see it play out daily in the news, rational people ask themselves how people can accept something that all the evidence decries; just take a look at Fox news. In any case, those who study demons come up against the name of Fr. Gabriele Amorth with some frequency. Amorth was a true believer. Earlier this year I read one of his books and I wondered if he might reveal more in An Exorcist Tells His Story. Forgive me for being curious, but I really am interested in his story—how did this man become the passionate spokesperson for exorcism being reestablished in every Catholic diocese? What were the personal experiences that led him to this? Who was he?
Some people can’t write about themselves. Some, and I suspect clergy often fall into this trap, can’t write without the material becoming a sermon. This book is such an extended homily. Along the way Amorth does discuss a few cases of demonic possession and how it is to be confronted, but mostly he discusses the theology of his view of Catholicism and how that is essential to understanding demons. What is most odd about this is the inconsistency of a true believer in Catholicism admitting that Protestants too can drive out demons right after declaring the Roman Ritual is the only way for Catholics to do so. And only bishops, or those priests appointed by them, are permitted as exorcists. Is this a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend? Protestants, according to the theology he espouses, shouldn’t be able to do this. If they can, why doesn’t it make him question his faith?
Known for his thousands of exorcisms, Amorth continues to have a healthy following. Anyone reading this book for a consistent outlook will be left wondering. How can Catholic exorcism work only if it follows the rules, and Protestant exorcism work when it is done by those who believe falsely? The same applies to his assertions that those who are possessed are not morally at fault, for it is the demon that makes them do evil things. At the same time those who lead “immoral” lives—according to Catholic standards—are more likely to become possessed. A few pages earlier we’d been told about saints who’d been possessed. I don’t mean to suggest anything about Amorth’s faith commitments—it’s celestially clear that he was a true believer. His commitment to help those who were possessed was legendary. Perhaps it’s just that demons are agents of chaos, and in such circumstances even theology can become a victim. I’m still wondering about his story, though.
Posted in Books, Monsters, Posts, Religious Violence, Sects
Tagged An Exorcist Tells His Story, demons, exorcism, Gabriele Amorth, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, theology