In “Part I: The Exorcist as Hero”, Cuneo describes America's surprisingly widespread fascination with exorcism. He points out two major contributing factors: the influence of the mainstream entertainment industry and the impact of contemporary cultural attitudes on society.
He discusses the novel and film of The Exorcist, claiming that its instant media attention sparked an avid interest in the healing power of faith. Since Blatty created the narrative from a supposed exorcism case, audiences across the nation had difficulty in separating reality from fantasy. Cuneo believes there was an overwhelming consensus regarding the image of the two Fathers who performed the exorcism--that of self-sacrificing heroes who commanded respect for the Church. It was not their scientific expertise that helped them wage the battle against evil, but rather their faith and knowledge of mysterious powers that saved Regan.
Consequently, from the mid to late-1970s, almost every media outlet concerned itself with exorcism and its validity. Newspapers, radio casts, talk shows, and even a series of related films were released (Devil Times Five, The Possessed, Good Against Evil, etc.). Furthermore, possibly because the entertainment industry is known to shape public opinion and capture the national psyche, there was a sudden increase in possession cases reported to Catholic rectories.
Throughout the rest of the section, he argues that modern US culture supports the use of exorcism. It is apparently readily available, cheap and fast; it does not require a lot of time and investment like many other treatments. Exorcism practices are also morally exculpatory, in that they place the blame of one’s problems outside of the self—it is essentially a guilt-free process. These are all precisely American values. In addition, it can even be seen as an alternative therapy. Since the current biomedical system is often unfeeling, heavily bureaucratic, and too technical, such therapies are seen as comforting and supportive. In line with Cuneo’s ideas, instead of seeing the problem as cholesterol or genes, many Americans actually think of it as a demon. Exorcism offers the possibility of a fresh start—a rebirth of sorts.
However, he acknowledges the fact that not everyone is equally influenced by the media nor our current cultural ideals. He maintains that exorcism is a “ritualized placebo”—those who want it to work, will believe it to work, and will actually feel changes as a result.
In continuation, though Cuneo watched hundreds of exorcisms, he never witnessed any strange happenings. He attributed many conditions to sound medical, social, or psychological causes. Since people report its efficacy though, he concludes that the practice has the potential to be advantageous, but not in the ways as advertised by the media. One can only judge its effectiveness on a personal level. Overall, American exorcism tests the limits of traditional religious values, pop culture, and current beliefs in psycho-spiritual healing practices, thus shaping the face of modern religion.
Thavis, John. "Catholic Exorcist: Demonic influence is strong in today's world." Catholic Online International News 29 Aug 2006. Catholic News Services. 10 May 2008. .
This article was written during a religious Communion and Liberation conference in Rimini, Italy in August of 2006. The journalist describes the controversial beliefs of Rome Diocese exorcist, Father Amorth. He has spoken openly about demonic possession, and feels strongly about the existence of the devil and its influences, which come in several forms. According to his knowledge, every culture in mankind has been aware of these powers. He goes on to say that not only individuals can become possessed, but also entire groups of people, and ultimately, populations. He mentions how he is certain that Hitler and the Nazi regime were under the devil’s influence, as well as Stalin and other major world leaders.
Father Amorth thinks that the reason why demonic influence has such a strong global presence is due to the steadying decline in Christian believers, and the shift to superstition and occult practices which rely on magic, spirits, and other supernatural phenomena. Though he acknowledges that devil possession is extremely rare, he posits that the only way to heal those who have been ‘enticed’ is through the ritual of exorcism. This involves a chant supported by the church, which will overcome the evil forces.
This respected religious figure brings forth a major theme throughout The Exorcist. Does the devil exist?, and if so, can it be overcome through religious means? In fact, during the first half of the movie, Regan’s mother only trusts science and technology in discovering her daughter’s condition. The team of physicians thinks her behavior originates from mental illness, but cannot seem to find any abnormalities that could explain her sudden personality changes. She is in complete shock when they suggest exorcism, and only allows herself to believe in Regan’s possession merely because she thinks nothing is actually wrong with her. Hence, it must have been some outside force inflicting this harm, and so the devil must indeed be real.
In addition, the ending was highly ambiguous to most viewers. It could have promoted them to question the existence of God, with the torment of an innocent girl and the eventual death of two Fathers. Or, on the other hand, the closing events could have caused people to re-affirm their faith in the Church, with the victory of religious rite over evil, since the exorcism returns Regan to her normal and healthy state. In essence, the interpretation is highly personal, where some may side with Father Amorth and his statements on the value of exorcism, while others may find this deplorable and refuse to believe in the possibility of demonic possession. Still many others fall in between, not quite certain about the position of religion and the causes of evil.