In my latest reading of People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, M. Scott Peck talked about exorcism. I did not finish Peck’s chapter on this subject, so I will be commenting on what I have read so far.
Peck distinguishes demonic possession from multiple-personality disorder. One difference between the two is that, in multiple personality disorder, “the ‘core personality’ is virtually always unaware of the existence of the secondary personalities—-at least until close to the very end of prolonged, successful treatment” (page 192). When people are possessed by demons, by contrast, they are often aware that there is an alien presence within them. Another difference is that, in multiple-personality disorder, the personalities usually are not evil. In demonic possession, however, the alien presence is evil.
I had to think about Peck’s distinction between multiple-personality disorder and demonic possession for a second, for I wondered if his characterization of multiple-personality disorder was correct (not that I have the knowledge or credentials to challenge him, but I have the right to ask questions). I vaguely recalled that, in the movie Sybil, in which Sally Field played a woman named Sybil who had multiple-personality disorder, at least two of Sybil’s personalities were carrying on a conversation with each other, and that made me wonder if personalities within multiple-personality disorder were indeed unaware of each other. But then I took a closer look at what Peck was saying: Peck didn’t say that none of the personalities was aware of the other, but rather that the “core personality” was unaware of the “secondary personalities”. And, indeed, in Sybil, the two personalities who were talking with each other were secondary personalities. But Sybil herself, if I recall correctly, was unaware of the other personalities, and it was like a black-out for her when another personality was taking over.
But back to Peck’s discussion of exorcism. Why do people get possessed, according to Peck? Peck listed at least three factors: loneliness, selling out on one’s morals, and involvement with the occult. This made me think about an episode of Touched by an Angel called “The Occupant”, in which a man named Lonnie is possessed by Gregory, a demon. How did Lonnie become possessed? Lonnie grew up in a troubled home, so he was lonely. A woman he met got him involved in the occult, and that’s when he met Gregory, who promised never to leave him. Reading Peck worried me somewhat, since I myself have difficulty establishing relationships and can easily find myself becoming lonely. At the same time, lonely people can reach out to God, so perhaps loneliness can have positive spiritual outcomes. And yet, oddly enough, Peck says that some whom he knew who were possessed by demons had an extraordinary potential for holiness. So what can I do? Probably seek God’s protection, stay away from the occult, and nurture whatever healthy relationships with people that I have.
Peck also makes the point that those conducting the exorcism must be loving and compassionate people. They’re not necessarily perfect, for one participant Peck mentions said that he had a cold element of his personality until helping to perform an exorcism cleansed him of that. (Peck was saying here that exorcism not only cleanses the possessed person, but it also has a positive spiritual impact on those performing the exorcism, even though the activity is draining enough to them that they usually don’t want to conduct an exorcism ever again.) Peck also says that God can use people’s imperfections amidst the exorcism. Moreover, Peck denies that one has to be a Christian to conduct an exorcism successfully, for he knows of participants in exorcisms who were atheists, plus he notes that exorcisms occur in non-Christian contexts. What is important is that one be loving and compassionate. Not only does that create a proper atmosphere for an exorcism, but it would also help the person who has just been cleansed of the demon, for he longs for community, so it’s good when he has loving and compassionate people there to support him.
I doubt that I would be qualified to conduct an exorcism, for, although love, compassion, and empathy are within me, I can see myself getting puffed up when attempting an exorcism. What’s odd is that I hear stories from people who claim to have cast out demons, and they sound pompous, self-promoting, and spiritually proud, so I wonder how they succeeded in performing exorcisms, if Peck’s criteria are true. Maybe they’re just shooting off their mouths!