I’ve noticed that the bad practice of “he said, she said” journalism so common at the NY Times disappears when the subject is religion. There, instead, the standard role of the journalist becomes one of the credulous, unquestioning observer. It’s evident in this new article on the revival of Catholic exorcisms, being discussed at a conference.
The purpose is not necessarily to revive the practice, the organizers say, but to help Catholic clergy members learn how to distinguish who really needs an exorcism from who really needs a psychiatrist, or perhaps some pastoral care.
That’s not a quote from one of the participants in the conference, it’s straight from the reporter, Laurie Goodstein. Does she really think there are patients who really need an exorcism rather than psychiatric care? Is demonic posession a real problem? Maybe Homeland Security should be involved, if we actually have an ongoing invasion by demonic creatures from Hell.
No critical thinking is presented in the article, and I was rather disappointed: the usual journalistic substitute for critical thinking is to scurry off and find some random person who disagrees, in order to toss one or two contrary quotes on the page. That’s what they’d do if the subject is evolution or climate change, for instance, and that’s the way so many cranks can get their words in major newspapers. We don’t even get that much here, though: just quotes from various people who think it’s perfectly ordinary for the Catholic Church to be promoting the idea of the Devil instead of dealing with the idea of, you know, real human people and real illness.
I would like to have seen at least one sentence suggesting that it’s nuts to be training witch doctors, but nope…this is the closest we get:
“What they’re trying to do in restoring exorcisms,” said Dr. Appleby, a longtime observer of the bishops, “is to strengthen and enhance what seems to be lost in the church, which is the sense that the church is not like any other institution. It is supernatural, and the key players in that are the hierarchy and the priests who can be given the faculties of exorcism.
“It’s a strategy for saying: ‘We are not the Federal Reserve, and we are not the World Council of Churches. We deal with angels and demons.’ “
OK, so the Catholic Church deals only with the unreal and nonexistent. Now if only we had media that dared to point out that angels and demons don’t exist.
“The ordinary work of the Devil is temptation,” he said, “and the ordinary response is a good spiritual life, observing the sacraments and praying. The Devil doesn’t normally possess someone who is leading a good spiritual life.”
In any other subject, if someone made a specific claim like that, I’d expect a good journalist to ask, “how do you know that?” and try to track down a credible source for such a claim about an individual. When the subject is the Devil, though, anything goes. You can say any ol’ crazy thing about Satan, and the reporter will dutifully write it down and publish it without ever stopping for a moment to wonder, “Hey, is my source just making shit up?”
Oh, well. It’s important news, I guess. “Catholics are crazier than we imagined!” should have been the front page headline.