I was excited about this book as it is very close to the concerns of this blog, a recovery of practices for progressive Christians. In this case the practices of prayer. For many progressive Christians, given their struggles with doubt and disenchantment, prayer is a difficult practice. Never Pray Again is a fresh reappraisal of various forms of prayer from a progressive perspective, from intercession to thanksgiving to healing to, yes, exorcism.
As regular readers might expect, the chapter on exorcism intrigued me. So as a part of their blog tour for Never Pray Again I invited Aric, Doug and Nick to share a bit about how they approached that chapter and some of the initial skepticism they faced from the publisher and early readers of the book.
Never Pray Again is a book that is also a thought-experiment. What if we took various forms of prayer, liturgical and private, and removed the word “prayer”? What if we translated these most passive and verbal spiritual practices into concrete behaviors intended to directly impact our neighbors? For example, what if we confessed directly to the person we sinned against instead of praying our confession to God? Or what if we interceded in the lives of those who need help instead of praying to God for intercession?
We knew the moment we conceived of a book about various types of prayer that one kind we wanted to tackle was prayers of exorcism. Exorcism is definitely a form of prayer that goes back to the very beginning, and we wanted to see what we could make of it. We also knew it would surprise most people. Our publisher really didn’t know what to make of it at first, and most of our early readers were shocked we included it. We were definitely enticed by the challenge of addressing a subject progressives usually either avoid or ignore. We did not want to avoid it because Jesus did a lot of exorcisms.
The problem is that most people’s imagination when it comes to the subject of demonology has been more heavily influenced by Dante and Milton and movies like the Exorcist than by Biblical stories or postmodern ideas of collective spirituality. Furthermore, we live in a disenchanted age. How is the language of the New Testament, especially the Gospels, around demons meaningful for people who live in a universe shaped by Darwin and Hubble and Freud?
By writing this chapter we wanted to contribute toward a movement we see happening among progressive thinkers where demon-possession is no longer discounted as a relic of a superstitious time or dismissed with vague hand-waving around mental illness. Following writers like Wink, Stringfellow, and Beck ;) we see demon-possession referring to the various destructive -isms of our world: nationalism, capitalism, militarism, sexism, racism etc… It is our throwaway culture of addiction and consumption that needs to be exorcised.
We see this exorcism or expelling of destructive influence to be connected to what Jesus means when he talks about what will be thrown into Gehenna. He isn’t referring to some metaphysical post-mortem “hell”. He is referring to the smoldering garbage heap outside Jerusalem. Thus, exorcism isn’t casting supernatural creatures back into a mythological underworld. Exorcism is consigning to the trash-heap things we think of as inevitable, or central to our culture, sometimes even valuable, like patriotism. When we understand this as the nature of demonic power, when we see that power in the system that starves children, rapes men and women, and abandons the old and the weak, it is time for some judgment, time for some discernment, time to tell the truth. There are demons in our lives that need to be cast into the fire.