Sunday Pages: Exorcisms

A reading from the Gospel According to Matthew

Dear Reader,

This week, I watched The Exorcist with my 15-year-old son, a big horror movie fan, who had been wanting to see it for some time (note: this was over the vehement objections of my wife). I was raised Catholic, and went to Georgetown, where the movie is filmed, so the film is right in my wheelhouse. I’m pleased to report that it holds up, and remains the best horror film ever made.

In the climactic scene where the two priests perform the exorcism, I was surprised to find that the explanation for how Satan uses lies to trick us is akin to the disinformation methods developed by the KGB:

The film also called to my mind a passage in the Gospels, where Jesus says (in my recollection from years ago in church), “Whoever is not with us is against us.” I have thought of that line often in the Days of Trump, as, in my view, we are locked in a Manichean struggle for the soul of our country, which has been taken over—possessed, if you will—by Trump and his underworld overlords. There is no third way here, no Switzerland; you are either with Trump or against him; and you can’t sit this one out: ignorance is collaboration.

I looked up that line of Scripture (which I’d misremembered), and was surprised to find that the context in which it appears involves an exorcism—obviously a theme for this week. Here is the passage, from Matthew 22:

Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Is not this the son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.”

And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them:

Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.

Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house.

He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad….

Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit.

O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

While a believer might regard this passage as a nifty piece of Christian recruitment literature, I read it as a tale of an underdog hero, a champion of the good and the just, casting out all that is evil and corrupt—rather like the agents of truth, justice, and the American way joining forces to exorcise Trump and his cacodaemons from our government, our economy, our media, and our society. (Geoffrey Berman is only the most recent example of these good guys.)

Trumpists truly are a “generation of vipers,” lying snakes—“corrupt fruit” like Jared Kushner and the Trump spawn; and the false words they spout out now will be used against them on the day of judgment—which will not occur at some indeterminate Second Coming, but rather as soon as 2021, when Biden becomes president, and an honest and lawful government begins the difficult but necessary process of casting out the demons that have possessed our country.

That’s something in which this lapsed Catholic has complete and total faith.

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Image: Mosaic of the exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac from the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy.