On Christmas

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Birth of Jesus Matthew 2:1

Birth of Jesus Matthew 2:1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think my favorite Christmas special is the Charlie Brown Special, in which Linus reads from the Gospel of Luke–the story of “what Christmas is all about,” and at the end the children sing “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” The theme of the show was against the commercialization of Christmas. That trend has continued to the point that for retailers, “Christmas” begins in September. That is a shame. For Western Catholic Christians, Christmas begins December 25 and continues until January 5, and then there is the Feast of the Epiphany (the coming of the Wise Men) on January 6. The time before Christmas is Advent, a time of preparation for the coming of Christ, with the focus being on the Second Coming more than the first.

For orthodox Christians of whatever stripe, Christmas is about the coming of God into man, in which God Himself, the Logos, the Second Person of the Trinity, was born as a baby in a manger over 2000 years ago. The notion of a being who is fully God, fully man is an offense to many in the intellectual classes–Kierkegaard recognized this in his writings. The belief seems absurd. Yet the Christian faith teaches the coming of the eternal into time, the infinite into the finite, the God-man. Because of that, sin and death are overcome and human beings have not only the hope of salvation from sin, but of salvation from death. Salvation is far more valuable than anything than Santa Claus can bring! I have no problem with children believing in Santa Claus as long as they are taught the true meaning of Christmas–God, born like the rest of us, as a newborn baby who grew up, struggled as we do with temptation, taught a “more excellent way,” was crucified, died, and was buried, and was raised from the dead. Now God the Son remains incarnate, fully God, fully man, for all time. It is an incredible message, that is for sure. I believe it to be true. For those readers who also believe it to be true, consider the wonder of it and thank God for the gift of Himself for us.

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The Exorcist Hotline and the Increase in Possession Cases

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Inside of the Roman Catholic Church in Újkér

Inside of the Roman Catholic Church in Újkér (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/hi-deliver-me-from-evil-church-sets-up-an-exorcist-hotline-to-deal-with-demand-8368988.html is an article on the Roman Catholic Church setting up an exorcist hotline because of high demand. I am old enough to remember the uproar about the movie, The Exorcist, when it was released in 1973. It was only a few years ago when it was re-released that I watched the entire movie, which was quite good, but I enjoyed William Peter Blatty’s book even more. The Exorcism of Emily Rose was also a fine movie that explored the tension between belief and unbelief. More recently, M. Night Shayamalin’s movie, Devil, offered a twist similar to that found in Blatty’s writings—that if demons exist, this means a spiritual world exists, and thus God is more likely to exist than not. The argument as such is weak, but if demons exist and their existence could be verified, it would remove a major obstacle in this materialistic world to belief in God.

The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, and several Protestant (especially Pentecostal) bodies practice exorcism. Sometimes safeguards are ignored, especially with the small Protestant groups who do not have centuries of tradition that set up careful guidelines on when and to whom an exorcism is given. Organic causes of a person’s symptoms must be ruled out as well as mental illness. Such judgments must not be made quickly and without adequate empirical evidence from competent sources such as neurologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists.

Now I believe that while humans are quite capable of the worst evils without demons existing, I do take the unified tradition of both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy (as well as most traditional Anglicanism) and accept their existence. Given the assumption that demons exist, why has the incidence of demon possession that passes the rigorous tests of the Catholic Church increased rapidly in the last twenty years?

Rebellion against authority due to pride is the primal sin, as St. Augustine (354-430) recognized. Beginning with Descartes “I think, therefore I am,” modern man has turned increasingly to the self and away from tradition and external authority. Despite its anti-authoritarian and radically individualistic nature, American society was an anomaly in the Western world due to the influence of the Second Great Awakening. Religion grew in the United States until 1965, and after that there has been a continual decline of religious participation and in weekly church attendance. After the 1962 Port Huron meeting with Tom Hayden and the leaders of the “New Left,” American society began to rapidly change in 1964 (reflecting a change that had occurred by the 1920s in Europe). Sexual freedom, the acceptance of abortion, and later, equal rights for homosexuals, became mantras of the New Left. Mr. Hayden wanted to take over college and university campuses—and he succeeded. Today, much of the academy is staffed by “tenured radicals.” Crime rose rapidly, families began to fall apart, and the divorce rate increased. Abortion was legalized in 1973, another byproduct of the 1960s generation, and by 1969, American society had fundamentally changed from the way it was in 1963. There were enough traditionalist around to pull society from the brink of disintegration in the 1980s, but they only slowed the inevitable moral decline. Now the world is upside down, with good being called evil and evil labeled as good. I often wonder if the radicals of the 1960s generation, the New Left, the New Marxists—were influenced by demonic activity, not in the sense of demonic possession, but in the sense of falling into the demonic view that all tradition is evil, that Christianity is evil, and that murdering the unborn, legalizing physician-assisted suicide, and homosexual marriage are good. The sheer malignant hatred of some of the “gay rights advocates” may indicate demonic influence or even something close to possession in some cases. In a world in which “the center cannot hold” (Yeats), people lose a sense of identity, having been stripped of traditional identity through a radically individualistic, pleasure-oriented society that leaves them stripped bare of belief in the transcendent. They are empty inside, filled with anomie, and something will come in to fill that gap. Sometimes what comes in may be a demon. Thus the higher rate of demonic possession, both in the United States and in Europe, may be due to empty people, shells of personality who only wish to “shop until they drop.” As Jesus said, an empty house is a prime target for demonic attack. Empty, lonely people seeking their next pleasure-burst, having abortions when the birth control does not work, engaging in a perversion of the natural order by same sex marriage, trying to alter nature itself by their prideful acts, may be the perfect opportunity for an evil being to not only tempt, but also to possess. The rising rate of demonic possession is due to a systematic rejection of God in both European and in American society. Unless there is a fundamental change in world view, the number and severity of attacks may rise so high that the situation will become unmanageable—then more than an “exorcist hotline” will be needed to help those who are possessed.