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Warning: Don’t read this if you have a weak stomach!

June 14, 2011

I’m reading a book in which Benjamin Radford, in a chapter called “Legion’s Legacy: Possession and exorcism,” makes the case that beliefs matter because beliefs influence behavior, sometimes with tragic consequences. If you truly believe that Satan is real or that demonic possession is a possibility, it’s not so great a leap to become the possessed. Here’s an excerpt, particularly heartbreaking because of the many child victims.

The tragic irony of possession is that in many cases evil is committed not by demons or devils, but by those who believe in their reality. The only people who become possessed by demons or devils are those with a preexisting belief in the reality of demons and devils. Voodoo curses hold no power over Mormons and UFO skeptics have never been abducted or anally probed by inquisitive extraterrestrials.

Tragically, there are many real life examples of what happens when people believe in demons and devils.

On January 19, 2004, Valerie Carrie and her husband Christopher were found walking down an Atlanta highway in freezing temperatures. Police found their daughter Quimani at a ghastly scene in a nearby motel. Christopher Carey had stabbed their daughter with a knife until it broke as she tried to fight him off. The girl’s mother then held Quimani down while her father broke both of her arms. Once the girl’s limbs were limp, broken, and unable to fend off her parents’ attacks, Valerie strangled Quimani to death. Blood soaked Bible pages were torn out and tossed onto and around the 8-year-old’s bleeding body.

When police officers in Delhi, California, found missing fifty-year old Auralia Lange, her teenage son David was next to her. David was naked, covered in blood and reading a Bible. He had hacked off his mother’s head with a kitchen knife and placed it next to her.

Texas mother Andrea Yates drowned her children in an effort to exorcise the devil from herself in 2001.

And in 2004, Dena Schlosser cut off the arms of her 11-month old daughter while listening to religious hymns.

Christopher Jones, 47, a Kansas man who served for years as director for a forensics laboratory, was sentenced for life in prison in 2000 for murdering his three children, Christopher 7, Joshua 5, and Sarah 2. He explained that while in a religious mystical state, he encountered a demonic spirit of overwhelming evil that possessed him and caused him to slit his children’s throats with a knife.

Allegedly possessed people have also died at the hands of exorcists.

In 2003, an autistic 8-year-old boy in Milwaukee was bound in sheets and held down by church members during a prayer service held to exorcise the evil spirits they blamed for his condition. An autopsy found extensive bruising on the back of the child’s neck and concluded that he died of asphyxiation.

In the past ten years, there have been at least four other exorcism related deaths in the United States, two of them children. There truly is a dark side to the belief in exorcisms, and it has nothing to do with demons or devils.

When the fervor of the exorcisms is over, it is not bodies, but instead vulnerable human ones that bear the consequences of belief.

Can you think of any good deed that a religious person can do that a non-believer cannot also do? I cannot. Now, can you think of any atrocity that only a religious person is capable of? Exorcising or murdering children in the name of driving out demons should come to mind most readily. Suicide bombings. Witch burnings. Electroshock “therapy” for gays. I can go on.

Beliefs matter.


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  1. Jonathan permalink

    While certainly not applicable in all cases, don’t forget that correlation and causality are not the same thing. How many of these individuals were psychologically unstable? Had they no religion, how many would have performed some ghastly action anyway? In many cases, I am certain, their insane minds simply used their religion to justify their acts. How many people who do not believe in God have committed atrocities simply due to insanity? Those that do simply find another non-religious excuse.

    To illustrate the fallacious reasoning of assuming that the religion of these persons caused them to act in such a manner, let’s take a look at Jeffrey Dahmer. He committed numerous acts that we would find absolutely horrid, including rape, abuse of minors, etc. Furthermore, he ended up murdering 17 individuals, had sex with their corpses, dismembered them, and so forth. All of these individuals were men, as Jeffrey Dahmer was gay. If I were to search online, I am certain I could find other cases of abuse, rape, murder, etc. of men by homosexual perpretrators. Naturally, these crimes were committed because the perpetrators were homosexual, correct?

    That is not proper logic or reasoning. No doubt about that. We can easily find examples of similarly attrocious acts that were not sexually or homosexually motivated. Tthey may differ somewhat in nature due to the fact that they did not involve a gay perpetrator, just as an exorcism is a particular way to harm a child. Nevertheless, we do not surmise that homosexuality leads to such vile crimes.

    You may say that exorcism is a frequently used religious act that even when it doesn’t lead to such awful conclusions, is still abusive. Again, homosexuality can lead to abusive relationships, even when not coming to grisly ends. There are those who find great satisfaction in their homosexuality, and there are those that find great satisfaction in having demons removed from them. My point is that you have failed to ascribe proper causality and have come to a faulty conclusion. By the way, I’m not a fan of exorcism, but you see what I’m getting at.

    To address your concluding paragraph, I want you note that you have to qualify your assertion that there are attrcities that only religous people can commit. You do this by giving them a specific brand of the what is ultimately the same crime, i.e. abusing and murdering children to exorcise demons. Let’s see… Murder is murder. Psychological abuse is psychological abuse. Atheists can and do abuse and murder children in the name of a different ideology or selfish motive, such as sexual gratification, refusal to accept atheism, etc. You bring up other religiously motivated actions. However, you neglect to note the number of atheistic regimes that have existed in the past century, their tendency to rule more tyrranically than any extreme religious government, their massive attrocities, and the body count in the name of no god. You neglect to acknowledge the frequency that atheists commit crimes, simply because their reasons come from something other than a god.

    One day, I’d love to read a passionate atheists acknowledgment that a great deal of good has come into this world on account of religion, even if they believe religion is incorrect and has led to evil as well.

    • Today is that day, Jonathan! I believe religion has helped advance the human species and society in many good ways in addition to being a force for power, greed, misogyny, abuse, fear, neurosis, guilt, control, judgment, ostracism, and sanctimonious justification for bad deeds. Note: I am not a traumatized ex-religionist. I was raised by supportive, open parents and I went to church and had many friends there. I have no vendetta or pain in my past stemming from organized religion. I just never believed. I see it as both a force of good in people’s personal lives, but also its huge glaring flaws and hypocritical nature now and throughout history. It is not necessary for morality, kindness, and all the best features of humanity. At all. In fact, when you step outside of it, I believe you gain more compassion and see that humanity and treating each other respectfully JUST BECAUSE IT IS RIGHT is what is important. Not because of a reward of an afterlife, ancient rules, or someone watching our every move. Just because.

      “I am a tiny, insignificant, ignorant lump of carbon.
      I have one life, and it is short
      And unimportant
      But thanks to recent scientific advances
      I get to live twice as long
      As my great great great great uncleses and auntses.
      Twice as long to live this life of mine
      Twice as long to love this wife of mine
      Twice as many years of friends and wine…” -Tim Minchin

  2. pepe permalink

    Just one thing, if people do crazy stuff its becasue they are crazy not becasue of religion. also Catholic exorcisms are caried out on extreme care and only after eliminating all other posibilities. Most nasty dangerous and fatal exorcisms are carried out not by an expert catholic exorcist but by some pastor, witch, warlock, witch doctor etc.(i say most because i dont want to close myself to any psoibilities but i havnt found a catholic exorcism that has been fatal to this date). if you know of any cases i would really like to hear about them to research them. cheers!

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