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Intolerance?

There’s a post over at Montana Headlines complaining about people attacking Bobby Jindal’s apparent belief in exorcisms. It’s a fun exercise in how we balance secularism and religious beliefs.

Whatever the phenomenon was that the youthful Jindal observed, the net effect was that it left him believing in “the reality of spirits, angels and other related phenomena…” Shocking, truly shocking, that any Christian might believe in the reality of the spirit world.

It seems to me that there’s a strange balance going on with some religious public figures. On the one hand, they do believe in lots of supernatural-type phenomena. On the other hand, it’s a little weird to attribute certain things to the supernatural. Maybe a Christian believes that God can talk to people, but does he believe God is telling Pat Robertson what the future holds? I would hope not, generally. Maybe he believes in demonic possession, but does he believe that random bad person x is possessed? Every year some fundamentalist comes out and says some natural disaster is the wrath of God. Christians believe God can influence world events, right? Things are getting a little fuzzy. For better or worse, our society generally accepts and defends those who believe in such things in the abstract. But there’s less protection for those who believe in concrete examples.

MH seems to glide past this feature of our discourse when dismissing those who criticize Jindal. Are we to accept any assertion of a real example of supernatural phenomena? It’s not shocking for a Christian to be a creationist. Should we not criticize creationists? It’s not shocking for a Christian to believe in angels that protect people, so what if someone believes President Bush is under the guidance of the divine? Would it be intolerant to wonder if that person is fit for office?

While the event Jindal relates appears to be from his early days of being a Catholic, and took place within the loose structure of a generic college Christian organization, it is worth noting that exorcisms are, unless things have changed recently, a standard part of every Catholic baptism. Pope John Paul II approved a specific rite for exorcisms in the late 1990′s. A belief that there are demonic forces that can specifically oppress an individual, and that prayer has efficacy in dealing with it is not something that comes from the fringes of Christianity.

The counterpoint to that is that the Catholic Church only recognizes exorcisms performed by an authorized priest and warns against confusing possession with mental illness. Exorcism in the abstract is mainstream Catholicism, but you’re on shaky ground when you’re dealing with a handful of typically credulous believers outside of Church control. Jindal also seems to believe that the rite cured the possessed’s cancer. Not shocking for a Christian, I guess, but shouldn’t he be a bit skeptical about faith healing after all the scams and obvious self-delusion? Jindal’s credulity goes beyond standard Catholic doctrine.

MH is right when he says bringing this up won’t help Democrats, but his defense of Jindal is troubling. Even if you’re inclined to accept Jindal’s faith as a normal human belief system, religion shouldn’t be a free pass for people avoiding critical thinking and skepticism about everyday events.

Categories: 2008 elections, Religion
  1. July 24, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    It’s not shocking for a Christian to believe in angels that protect people

    Actually, it is. According to the Book, God promised (through Jesus) that he would no more send Angels among us. What is shocking is how many Christians, believing as they do in the Book, seem to pick and choose what parts they like.

    All in all, a great argument, Jeff. I do have one mild disagreement, though. I do think that the more McCain panders to the evangelical right, and that is exactly what choosing Jindal would be, the more hollow and desperate his efforts will look. The exorcism story won’t be, as MH claims, an attempt to discredit Jindal. It will be just one more example of how needy and pathetic the Republicans have become. They will have caricatured themselves even more.

    Oh look! The Maverick and the Exorcist are here to save the day!

    Yes, McCain choosing Jindal will help Democrats, not because the exorcism story really says anything about Jindal. It will help because it will speak volumes about McCain.

  2. S4R
    July 26, 2008 at 7:36 pm

    Where the fuck are all the zombies?

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