So it’s happened again – another exorcism, another needless death, and two people jailed for life because of irrational superstition.
It’s hard to believe that in the 21st century, there are still people who prefer to believe not only in the existence of demons and spirit possession, but also that they can drive out these non-existent entities. But the problem with a firmly held belief system like “possession” is that it is totally immune to reason.
In times gone past, before psychology and psychiatry became established sciences, strange and eccentric behaviour in a person could so often be interpreted as spirit possession. It was the only thing that pre-scientific people could think of to explain what nowadays would be diagnosed as a mental disorder.
It seems, however, that dark-age thinking is still around and thriving. The self-appointed experts don’t need objective, scientific methodology to determine what is going on when someone’s behaviour seems, to them at least, erratic. Their analysis comes down to simply this: “I can’t think of a reason to explain this person’s bizarre actions, therefore it is spirit or demon possession.” And then they go ahead and administer their preferred brand of exorcism that can lead, in some cases, to prolonged torture and even death for the supposedly possessed victim.
That’s not just bad thinking; it can barely be described as thinking at all. It is not merely irrationality, either. It is dangerous nonsense that can never have a happy ending. It might not seem so surprising that this sort of thing goes on in remote parts of the world where some people still live a fairly primitive existence. In some parts of Africa even children are being tortured and killed because scapegoats are needed when a crop fails or rainfall is scarce.
It should be different in the UK. But it isn’t, even though it happens less frequently. It is a growing problem. Unfortunately, there are numerous people in the world – and the UK – who actively promote the nonsensical idea that exorcism is a valid way of dealing with what is, in fact, a variety of mental disorders that can (and should) be properly treated or controlled with various psychological and psychiatric interventions.
When unqualified people claim that mentally ill people are suffering “possession,” I think there is a case to be made for the exorcists themselves to to be treated by mental health professionals (hopefully before they kill someone).
The bad thinking going on here is: “This person is acting strangely, therefore he/she is possessed.”
Good thinking would be: “This person is acting strangely; I’d better get medical help.”
This is not the first case of death by exorcism and, sadly, it will not be the last.