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Issue #1639      May 21, 2014

Church of Rome declares war on superstition. Oh, and demons

If you can’t say anything helpful say nothing at all, as this columnist’s granny used to tell it, mostly in vain. There have been a fair few individuals who could have done with heeding that sage advice in recent days. The biggest culprits as usual were middle-aged men and organised religion.

It’s funny how those two tend to go hand in hand, isn’t it.

First up was a certain Signor Giuseppe Ferrari, who sounds like a Latin playboy but is actually a member of GRIS – Gruppo di Ricerca E Informazione Socio-Religiosa – which describes itself as a Catholic research group.

Quite what it researches seemed rather opaque until this week. This is the church after all and they know a thing or two about keeping people in the dark. Or at least the dark ages. However, at the start of a six-day pow-wow in Rome, Ferrari gave a tantalising glimpse into what most exercises their thoughts.

Yes that’s right – exorcism. There’s not enough of it about apparently.

The decline of religious belief in the West and the growth of secularism has “opened the window” to black magic, Satanism and belief in the occult, GRIS argued with that rigorous self-examination and use of forensic evidence the Vatican is so renowned for.

The meeting aims to train 200 Roman Catholic priests from more than 30 countries in how to cast out evil from people who believe themselves to be in thrall to the devil.

The conference, intriguingly titled “Exorcism and Prayers of Liberation”, has apparently also attracted psychiatrists, sociologists, doctors and criminologists in what the church called a “multi-disciplinary” approach.

Well, you can see why shrinks would want to get in there – it will be rich pickings for them surrounded by that bunch of headers.

The inclusion of criminologists raised a few eyebrows though, the church not being exactly known for its co-operation in such matters. Ferrari pompously opined: “We live in a disenchanted society, a secularised world that thought it was being emancipated, but where religion is being thrown out, the window is being opened to superstition and irrationality.”

Like believing in demons and claiming the devil made you do something wrong perhaps? Every organised religion in history has been based almost exclusively on superstition and irrationality, that’s why they’re all so wealthy. You never see a skint cardinal, do you?

Like a sleazy ’70s disc jockey they prey on the vulnerable, impressionable and needy and then blame their victims or the views of the time when they get caught. And woe betide you if you disagree with them. Remember Copernicus? Or Salman Rushdie?

In a homily this week Pope Francis himself claimed that the devil was behind the persecution of early Christian martyrs, who were murdered for their faith.

This of course is to conveniently ignore the fact that much of the persecution and imposed martyrdom was carried out in the name of one religion or another – and still is.

But I digress. The Torygraph, which carried the exorcism story, provided this helpful guide to possession, presumably for those among their readers who may want to look out for the signs. Although the key sign is obviously that you’re reading the Daily Telegraph.

“Demonic possession manifests itself in people babbling in foreign languages, shaking uncontrollably and vomiting nails, pieces of metal and shards of glass, according to those who believe in the phenomenon,” it states assuredly.

Sounds like an average night out in Sunderland to me.

And while we’re on the subject of irrationality and superstition, it wasn’t so long ago that unwed mothers – not fathers of course – were locked up in asylums or religious institutions as mentally defective or for allegedly having been possessed by evil.

And things haven’t moved on much. This week saw a test case thrown out at the High Court on the issue of abortion rights. The case, brought by a young woman from Northern Ireland who had had to travel to England to get a termination, challenged the British state’s refusal to allow women from Ulster to have free access to abortions on the NHS.

She had been forced to travel for the procedure, carried out at a Marie Stopes clinic in Manchester due to Northern Ireland’s backward and draconian stance on abortion rights, which sees religious fundamentalists of all stripes and parties rigidly oppose terminations except in the most extreme of circumstances.

Again, many of them are middle-aged men who seem to feel entitled to smugly pontificate on an issue which has absolutely nothing to do with them.

This column has a long held rule of thumb when it comes to the issue of reproductive rights.

It’s simple – if you don’t have ovaries you don’t get a vote.

Morning Star

Next article – Culture & Life – Hurrah for capitalism!

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