Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Demons aren't Dull

First, some really bad and sad news.

Evil in the School

Yesterday afternoon Samuel Hengel, a high school sophomore, shot a movie projector. Then he insisted on everybody in the classroom staying there. Later he shot himself.

Now, despite being taken to a hospital, he's dead.

No pressure: but everyone concerned could use prayers. Including prayer for the soul of Samuel Hengel. Suicide's a very serious matter, but we can hope. (January 28, 2009)

Assumptions: Conventional and Otherwise

Today, we're told that it's the fault of guns - and if only there were tougher "gun laws," this wouldn't have happened. (WTAQ) Maybe so.

It's fairly easy to make assumptions about an incident like this - particularly if most or all of the folks you know make the same sort of assumptions.

I can think of quite a few more-or-less goofy explanations for why the young man killed himself. Some of the more colorful include:
  • Bullies made him do it
    • Do I think bullying in schools is a problem?
      • Yes
    • Do I think that's a contributing factor here?
      • I've no idea
        • Maybe yes
        • Maybe no
  • The Devil made him do it
    • I'll get back to demons and free will in a bit
  • Global warming overheated his brain
    • This explanation is probably too weird for even a committed activist to use
      • But you never know
  • Movies about Greek myths cause carnage
    • I'll get back to that
  • Public schools drove him to despair
    • Pressure to succeed
    • Rigid schedules
    • Gym class
    • I doubt it
  • Technology's to blame
    • This here newfangled stuff -
      • Internet addiction
      • Violence on television
        • Like the Road Runner cartoons
      • Violent video games
    • I doubt it
      • Cain got the job done long before television (Genesis 4:8)
I think those explanations are silly. Or, rather, are a trifle over-simplified.

He Shot the Projector?!

This hostage/suicide incident has a - strange - angle to it.

I've seen a few 'educational movies' and videos that could have been done better - but I've never felt an urge to lash out at the projector. Maybe some 'expert' could come up with a very psychological explanation of a Freudian nature - substituting "mythology" for "sex."

Come to think of it, Oedipus was an ancient Greek drama.

Anyway, here's a strange detail from an otherwise tragic series of events:
"...Officers who were outside the Marinette High School classroom said they heard three gunshots shortly after 8 p.m. Monday and busted through the door, Police Chief Jeff Skorik said. The 15-year-old male gunman then shot himself....

"...student Zach Campbell said he and his classmates had been watching a film about Greek myths at the end of the school day when the hostage-taker pulled out a gun and shot the projector...."
(Associated Press, via FOXNews (November 30, 2010))
He shot the projector?!

We may never know why: since now he's dead.

Demons, Free Will, and Getting a Grip

I don't know how many people say 'the Devil made me do it' these days: but fobbing responsibility off on something other than oneself doesn't seem to be all that uncommon. Think about all the weird excuses made by defense attorneys in American courts in the late 20th century. And that's another topic.

'The Devil made me do it,' and its more fashionable equivalents, seem to make the tacit assumption that people don't have free will. I've written about our ability to make choices before:Okay, so I don't think 'the Devil made me do it,' or its psychobabble equivalent, is a good excuse.

That doesn't mean that I assume that there are never extenuating circumstances. Or that people can't be overwhelmed. I'm a practicing Catholic, so simple, one-size-fits-all answers aren't always an option. (January 28, 2009)

Also, my rejection - in general - of 'the Devil made me do it' as a legitimate excuse also doesn't mean that I think devils or demons don't exist. Again, I'm a practicing Catholic:
"DEVIL/DEMON: A fallen angel, who sinned against God by refusing to accept his reign. Satan or the devil, the Evil One, and the other demons were at first good angels, created naturally good, who became evil by their own doing (391, 1707; cf. 2851)."
D, Glossary, Catechism of the Catholic Church
Demons? Angels? How can any reasonable person believe that? It isn't "scientific."

Or, rather, acknowledging the existence of fallen angels is not consistent with the preferred reality of Victorian-era English secularists. I've written about this sort of thing before, too:I don't expect to change the mind of a committed 'religion is stupid' secularist: or of a 'science is the work of the Devil' Bible-thumper. And I've long since stopped trying to affect the beliefs of fanatics.

Moving along.

Demons, Epilepsy, and the Pope

Since I'm interested in science, I 'obviously' must believe that those ignorant religious people are wrong. Because:
  • Demons don't exist
  • The 'unclean spirit' in Mark is a bunch of malarkey
Or, since I'm one of those religious people, specifically, a practicing Catholic, I 'obviously' must feel that:
  • When Jesus evicted Legion, it wasn't epilepsy at all because it couldn't have been
    • It says so in the Bible
      • So disagreeing with me is disagreeing with God
      • So there!
In both cases, it may be 'obvious' in some circle: but that doesn't make either set of assumptions true.

Happily, I'm Catholic: so I don't have to accept the science-or-religion dichotomy.

I've said this before - I'm just "some guy with a blog." Let's see what a Pope had to say about that Mark 5:8 thing. This is John Paul II - not Benedict XVI. We've had 265 popes since Peter was given the job. 266, including Peter. And that's yet another topic.
"...With the same key one can explain that special category of Christ's miracles, the driving out of demons. According to Mark's Gospel, Jesus ordered, 'Unclean spirit, come out of the man!' when Jesus met the man in the territory of the Gerasenes who had an unclean spirit (Mk 5:8). On that occasion we witness an unusual conversation. When that unclean spirit felt threatened by Christ, he cried out against Jesus, ' "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me!" Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" He replied, "Legion is my name. There are many of us" ' (cf. Mk 5:7-9). We are therefore on the margin of an obscure world involving physical and psychical factors which undoubtedly play their part in causing pathological conditions. The demonic reality is inserted into that world. Variously represented and described in human language, the demonic world is radically hostile to God and therefore to man and to Christ who had come to free him from the power of evil. But in spite of himself, in that clash with the other presence, even the unclean spirit burst out into that admission coming from a perverse but lucid intelligence, 'Son of the Most High God.'

"In Mark's Gospel we also find the description of the event usually described as the cure of the epileptic. The symptoms narrated by the evangelist are characteristic of this disease ('foaming at the mouth, grinding his teeth, and becoming rigid'). However the father of the epileptic presented his son to Jesus, describing the boy as one possessed by an evil spirit. The spirit would throw him into fits of convulsions and cast him down on the ground. The unfortunate youth would then roll about foaming at the mouth. It is indeed possible that in such a state of illness the evil one might insinuate himself and play a part. But even admitting that it was a case of epilepsy from which Jesus cured the youth reputed by his father as possessed by a devil, it is significant that Jesus effected the cure by ordering the 'mute and deaf spirit' to 'Come out of him and never enter him again' (cf. Mk 9:17-18). It is a reaffirmation of his mission and of his power to radically free the human person from spiritual evil...."
("Miraculous Signs Reveal Christ's Power," John Paul II, General Audience (November 25, 1987))
For what it's worth, my opinion is that the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20) probably had epilepsy. I'm no doctor - but the symptoms seem to fit pretty well.

On the other hand, that was a really chatty case of epilepsy. (Mark 5:6-7) I could try explaining the demoniac's actions in Freudian terms - or use some more up-to-date pop psychology.

Or, I could take the account at face value. I think it's a sort of Occam's razor situation. (Occam's razor: see Another War-on-Terror Blog (April 4, 2008)) By the way, wouldn't you know it? William of Occam was a Franciscan friar. We Catholics pop up everywhere. Sort of like mushrooms. Wrong metaphor? Yet again another topic.

I'm strongly inclined to think that epilepsy was involved - and that Legion was just what he said he was - a crowd of demons.

Demonic Possession and Theology in the Movies

I think one reason that I don't feel funny about believing that demons exist is that I didn't learn my theology by watching the movies.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Catholic News Service does movie reviews, by the way. Including these:
  • "The Exorcism of Emily Rose"
    Catholic News Service, Media Review Office, USCCB
    • "Sober, theologically oriented thriller based, in part, on true events...."
  • "Ghost Rider"
    Catholic News Service, Media Review Office, USCCB
  • "Hellboy"
    Catholic News Service, Media Review Office, USCCB
  • "Legion"
    Catholic News Service, Media Review Office, USCCB
    • Not the Mark 5 one
    • "Theologically skewed apocalyptic horror outing...."
Like I said, I didn't pick up my beliefs by watching those things. I've enjoyed a few 'supernatural' flicks - but take them seriously? Still another topic.

Playing With Unclean Spirits?

Demons, though: I do take fallen angels seriously.

Which is one reason that I won't repeat a stunt I pulled while in high school. There was this Ouija board, and I volunteered to be one of the two people at it. The other kids were really impressed - until I explained how I'd twitched the marker into place. It's a matter of patience and fair-to-middling eye-hand coordination.

If they'd thought to put an effective blindfold on me - good grief, I'm wandering off-topic again.

Or, maybe not so much. There's no way I'd 'open my mind' to whoever happened to be around. I have enough trouble with the the "sparks fly upward" aspect of our lot (Job 5:7), without inviting a fallen archangel in for tea.

Not that every bunch of kids who play with a Ouija board are going to get possessed. On the other hand, I think that playing with matches and gasoline would be comparatively safer. I've done that, too, by the way: and I don't recommend it. At all.

Exorcism: That's Real, Too?!

Exorcism in the movies is, I gather, an occasion for over-the-top special effects and overacting. The real thing is generally - not like in the movies.

And yes, exorcisms are real:
"When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing.178 In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called 'a major exorcism,' can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church. Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science. Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.179"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1673)
Those last three sentences are, I think, important. Breaking them out as a bulleted list:
  • "Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church."
  • "Illness, especially psychological illness, is a very different matter; treating this is the concern of medical science."
  • "Therefore, before an exorcism is performed, it is important to ascertain that one is dealing with the presence of the Evil One, and not an illness.179"
I've got major depression, and ADHD-inattentive, diagnosed not all that long ago. (November 11, 2010) So, did I ask the parish priest to start the process of getting an exorcism authorized? No. These are recognizable - and treatable - medical/psychiatric conditions. I'm on medication.

Do I feel guilty, not shopping around for somebody to 'exorcise' 'Demon Depression?'


Like I've written before, we're called to holiness: not stupidity.

It's not that I don't think I could have some sort of run-in with demons at some point - which I sincerely hope doesn't happen.

In the case of ADHD and depression, though: these were quite clearly medical/psychiatric issues.

Getting Into Trouble On Our Own

Finally, and this is just my opinion: I think human beings don't need help to get into trouble. It's like that 'sparks' thing in Job: Where it comes to trouble, we seem to be self-starters.

Somewhat-related posts:In the news:
If the title of this post sounds familiar: you may be a Danger Mouse fan. (Demons Aren't Dull (1983))


Gregory said...

Samuel Hengel was carrying a 9 mm semi-automatic and a .22 caliber semi-automatic. He had additional ammunition in his pocket, and a duffel bag with more bullets.

Samuel Hengel’s emotional pain ended Tuesday morning when he died from his gun wound.

We all should feel responsible. After all, we allow this to happen every day in our nation. We allow that to happen when we do not step up and force policy makers to enact tougher gun control laws.

That this Marinette School shooting was a huge tragedy goes without saying. Problem is that this shooting was not an isolated case in America. Every day there are countless shootings that end in murder, suicide, pain, blood, and funerals.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


I'm not sure I quite buy the 'we should all feel responsible' thing. But then, I didn't think 'victim of society' made all that much sense, when that was the fashion.

As the idea that people wouldn't commit violent acts if they didn't have guns - well, maybe that's so.

Perhaps, following a similar argument, the American Congress should pass tougher car control laws.

A friend of mine committed suicide by sitting in a car - with the engine running, in a closed garage. 'Obviously,' that person and all others who are killed by cars would be alive today, if only Americans all felt guilty about car crimes.

No: I do not think so. And since not all that many Americans are afraid of cars, members of Congress probably won't promise to protect their constituents from 'car crimes.'

It's not a particularly parallel situation - but I'm somewhat dubious about guns being responsible for personal choices.

Brigid said...

Spot the double: "# "Hellboy"
Catholic News Service, Media Review Office, USCCB
# "Legion"
Catholic News Service, Media Review Office, USCCB

* Not the Mark 5 one
* "Theologically skewed apocalyptic horror outing...."

# "Hellboy"
Catholic News Service, Media Review Office, USCCB"

Another double: "I have enough trouble with the the"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


This post was intended to be mostly about free will, fallen angels, and assumptions.

I mentioned the gun control angle, since that involves a very common set of assumptions in today's American culture.

For what it's worth, my guess is that when the changes have been rung by news media and politicos on the 'gun control' thing, the next 'real reason' will be bullies. But, I could be wrong about that. Wouldn't be the first time.

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


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Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.