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Hell isn't just other people

Satan The New York Times reports that a group of Catholic bishops met over the weekend in Baltimore to prepare more priests and bishops to respond to demands from the faithful for the rite of exorcism. Increasingly, the article suggested,  the church of Benedict XVI is answering "Yes" to the question memorably posed by Dana Carvey's Church Lady: "Could it be Satan?"

A renewed interest in a personal embodiment of evil will make more liberal Catholics nervous. On the one hand, scholarship suggests that Satan as we know him was a late import from Persian religion, which makes it easier to regard him as a metaphor for evil unleashed by human beings. On the other hand, one of the best  attested facts about Jesus is that he cast out demons. (He also once dissed St. Peter by telling him: "Get thee behind me, Satan.")

Lots of Americans have no trouble with the idea of Satan. According to Gallup, a 2001 poll showed that 68% of Americans believe in the devil. Gallup added: "Majorities of Americans of every political inclination, region, educational level and age group said they believe in the devil."

The Church Lady may have been more in tune with popular opinion than the demythologizers. Which raises another question: Which of various wars, natural catastrophes and political upheavals can be blamed on Satan? And how is he to be exorcised from that sort of demonic activity? The church may have its work cut out for it.


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 --Michael McGough


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