Dubbed "real-life Charlie's Angels" by "Good Morning America," three Arizona teens are making news for their unusual vocation: exorcism. According to a piece summarizing a Nightline piece on ABCNews.com by Dan Harris:
Brynne, Tess and Savannah from Phoenix are black belts in karate, expert horseback riders and avid musical theater fans. And they perform exorcisms. "We're just normal girls who do something extraordinary for God," Brynne said. "After seeing an actual exorcism in person, led by us, you will walk away with no doubt, whatsoever.... There is a war going on every day, being waged against us... Satan hates us. We know how the enemy is, we know what he's attacking and we can fight back."
The girls were trained in exorcism by Brynne's father, Bob Larson, who claims to have performed more than 10,000 exorcisms over the past three decades (which would average about one exorcism each day - including the Sabbath). These modern-day exorcists are not alone. Belief in demons and exorcism is very real to many people, including fundamentalist Christians (the Bible, for example, recounts six instances of Jesus casting out demons).
Demons are said to possess humans, manifesting in many forms including depression, bad luck, chronic pains such as arthritis, sleep disorders, jealousy, migraines, even adultery. According to author Derek Prince in his book "They Shall Expel Demons: What You Need to Know About Demons - Your Invisible Enemies," "Demons continually seek to invade a person, but when the person is healthy spiritually, the spiritual ‘immune system' within the person identifies and attacks the demons, and they are not able to move in and take control. Any kind of unhealthiness or emotional weakness, on the other hand, makes a person vulnerable to demonic attack."
The "weakness" that Prince and others refer to is often said to be rooted in a lack of faith; people who believe themselves possessed sometimes blame themselves for allowing themselves to have become spiritually unhealthy through succumbing to vice. It's the ultimate blame-the-victim mentality; the same psychological phenomenon can be seen in faith healing and prayer: If a sick person doesn't get better, patients often blame themselves for not leading a pious enough life, or not having sufficient faith to merit divine healing.
Larson and his group are said be in talks for their own reality TV show. While the idea of a teen trio of exorcists may sound like the premise of a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" spin-off, many people aren't laughing. Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptics Society and author of several books, including "The Believing Brain" and "Why People Believe Weird Things," sees real harm in what Larson and the girls are doing.
"This is a classic case of the dangers of bad ideas," Shermer told Discovery News. "And it's made all the worse through Bob Larson, a deluded man who finds nothing immoral about corrupting these three young ladies by turning their lives into acts straight out of 'The Crucible,' where demons haunt impressionable girls, who in turn become the victims of a witch hunt."
Shermer is not alone in his criticisms. Others note that Larson and his disciples charge money for exorcisms, raising the ethical question of whether they are taking advantage of desperate and mentally ill people who harbor delusions that they are possessed. They shrug off the criticisms, insisting they are performing a real service to those who need their help.
Indeed, exorcisms can do even worse: they can kill. Just last month two people in London, England, were found guilty in the exorcism murder of a 15-year-old boy who they accused of practicing witchcraft and being possessed by demons.
Here in America, exorcisms have also cost innocent lives. For example, in August 2003, an autistic eight-year-old boy in Milwaukee was killed by church members during a prayer service held to exorcise the evil spirits they blamed for his condition. No one doubts that these tragic deaths were committed by sincere, devout believers, giving resonance to Blaise Pascal's quote, "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction."
Despite the claims of Larson and his teen exorcists, author Michael Cuneo, who participated in over 50 exorcisms while researching his book "American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty," found no reason to think that anything supernatural occurs during exorcisms. The people he saw usually truly believed they were possessed, but were often instead mentally and emotionally troubled.
Screenshot from ABCNews.com