Wink on Exorcism

The passing of Walter Wink has caused me to pick up and re-read the third book in his Powers Trilogy, Engaging the Powers. In reading his analysis of Revelation 12-13 I was struck by his potent description of exorcism.

For background recall that in Revelation 12-13 we have a vision of two Beasts where the second Beast "deceives the inhabitants of the world" causing them to worship and give allegiance to the first Beast (and the Dragon sits behind them both). In this passage Wink is speaking to how the Powers use deception to gain compliance and allegiance. Exorcism, as Wink describes it, is casting out--naming and externalizing--these demonic illusions. In this view, all social resistance begins with exorcism.
Of first significant is the fact that the insights of these chapters are given as revelations. John sees what for others is invisible (13:1,2,11); what has previously been unseen "appears" to him (12:1,3). Discernment does not entail esoteric knowledge, but rather the gift of seeing reality as it really is. Nothing is more rare, or more revolutionary, than an accurate description of reality. The struggle for a precise "naming" of the Powers that assail us is itself an essential part of social struggle.

The seer does not, however, simply read off the spirituality of the empire or an institution from its observed behavior. The situation is more complex. The demonic spirit of the outer structure has already been internalized by the seer, along with everyone else. That is how the empire wins compliance. The seer's gift is not to be immune to invasion by the empire's spirituality, but to be able to discern that internalized spirituality, name it, and externalize it. This drives the demonic out of concealment. What is hidden is now revealed. The seer is enabled to hear her own voice chanting the slogans of the Powers, is shown that they are a lie, and is empowered to expel them. The seer locates the source of the chanting outside, and is set free from them.

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6 thoughts on “Wink on Exorcism”

  1. Given the identification of an internalized structure, something that has violated a boundary, that must then be expelled, do you see the psychology of disgust involved in this act in any way? Would this be a positive use of sociomoral disgust?

  2. Great connection. Yes, I'd say exorcism in this light would be shaped by the disgust response, an externalizing of a contaminating substance.

    As to if this is bad or good, I'd say that if the "exorcism" is moral then it's good, it's a rejection of the spirituality of the principalities and powers (coming out from Babylon, Rev. 18.4). But if the "exorcism" is social than it gets sour. The discernment issue for me is that the fight isn't against "flesh and blood" but against the spirituality of the powers in high places.

  3. I hope you don't intend to say that "demons" and "exorcism" ONLY refer to naturalistic power structures, rather than, well, actual spirits being driven out supernaturally. I'm certain that when the apostles referred to "demons" and "exorcism", they weren't speaking in Unitarian Universalist metaphor.

    By the same token, a spirit is a spirit ... not a cartoon character with red skin and a pitchfork.

  4.  Andrew-

    Wink has a really good response to this. He says that you can look at it either way, and it isn't really germane, because we ultimately experience it exactly the same way, regardless of whether there is a literal demonic. I've only read one of his books, but I've found his approach to the subject to be quite respectful of the more conservative and charismatic traditions.

  5. Matt is right. Wink personally doesn't have a lot of time for the idea that creation is split into the "natural" and the "supernatural" with us stuck in one realm (until death) and God, the powers, angels and demons operating in the upstairs realm. He also doubts the extent to which some of the Biblical writers hold such a tight distinction - supernatural is after all not a biblical concept. He certainly thinks that those who operate from a supernaturalist worldview can still be doing some very valid work  - affecting material realities, just as those who operate from a more materialist worldview can effect spiritual change.
    I come to Wink from a pretty hard-core Charismatic background, but I love the political realism of his vision. Christians should be the ones who by the Spirit see the world as it really is – and to coin a Tony Jones analogy there are two gutters we could end up losing the ball into; either a naïve ignorance of the political, economic and material aspects of power or an opposite ignorance of the psychological, cultural and yes spiritual aspects of power. For me Wink helps me to hold my Chomsky in one hand and my Brueggemann in the other (perhaps while listening to Bruce Cockburn riffing between them). Exorcism in this context is as much a prophetic act as a pastoral one.

  6. "Nothing is more rare, or more revolutionary, than an accurate description of reality."  Frighteningly true.

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