Training Course in Exorcism

Dr. Hamid Dabholkar

Vatican City is considered as the most sacred place for Christian religion. The highest authority of Christian religion, Pope resides at Vatican City. Priests from various parts of world are offered training around religious matters at Vatican City. Recently, Vatican City has stirred a controversy by announcing a training course in exorcism. The main aim of this course is, to train priests in how to address problems of people allegedly possessed by ghosts and other demonic powers. The belief in the supernatural, ghosts and demonic powers is not new to Christianity. Demonstration of ability to perform miracles is one of the important criteria for declaration of sainthood in Christianity. Mother Teresa was bestowed the saint hood on basis of the same claims of performing miracles. Rationalist all over world had opposed this move of church. The church, without paying any heed to their opposition continued with the same criteria as requirement for the saint hood.

The current move by the Vatican City of the announcing the course on exorcism looks like an attempt to take back Christianity to pre renaissance era and hence needs a serious scrutiny. The reason offered by Vatican City sources to start course on exorcism is that the demand from the community for such courses. It is reported that, only in Italy, more than 50000 individuals seek help at Church for the issues like position by ghosts or trouble due to demonic powers. If we take into the account the entire Europe then the figures may reach a million. With recent advances in brain sciences and psychiatry one can easily understand the reason why so many people are seeking help with such problems. What is difficult to comprehend is, why the Church has opted to provide them with such a primitive form of help. With recent advances in brain sciences and psychiatry we can very well understand that there can be individuals affected by illnesses in which one can hear unreal voices and see unreal images. This can happen in mental health conditions like schizophrenia. Affected individuals can hear voices and see images without any stimulus due to disturbances in brain chemistry. Families and individuals who are unaware of such illness can refer these experiences as extrasensory perceptions and can seeking help of exorcism due to ignorance and misbeliefs around such experiences. Individuals facing increase in stress levels due to financial, occupational or relationship issues are also vulnerable for belief in extraterrestrial causes for their suffering. Externalizing reasons for our suffering represents innate tendency human mind. A good faith should encourage people to explore the real reason of his suffering and empower individuals to address them. The solution offered by Church for above condition can very well be considered as misleading to the individuals. If the church really wants to help these individuals then the priests should be trained into basics of human brain and human mind. The scientific basis of why certain individuals have such experiences and how to encourage them to seek help of mental health experts.

There is a long history to church of backing up such unscientific things. Almost three thousand years ago, when Galileo, based on his observations busted the myth of, The earth being at the center of universe and proved that the Earth rotates around the sun and not vice versa, instead of congratulating him the church sentenced him to death. Letter on Galileo managed to convert his death penalty into a life sentence by extending an apology to the church. Three hundred years later the church has to apologize to Galileo for the mistake they have made. This was very welcome gesture on behalf of Church and the dignity of religion actually increased due to expression of such humility by Church. Science is always humble and ready to learn from its mistakes. If, Vatican City does not want repeat the mistake it had committed three hundred years ago ,it should withdraw course on exorcism. Many scientists and authors like Richard Dawkin, Sam Harris have raised their voice against unscientific things in Christianity. Books like A letter to Christian Nation or End of Faith by Sam Harris are a must read for those who want to explore this subject. Pope Francis has a progressive mind set .He has expressed openness to discuss issues like homosexuality. Here comes, one more opportunity for the Church and the Pope to give a clear message about their support to scientific temperament.

In India also we have number of self proclaimed Goodman and religious leaders claiming that they can help people possessed by ghost or demonic powers through their supernatural capabilities. Maharashtra was the first Indian state to enact Anti Black Magic act in 2013 after two decade long struggle of Maharashtra Andhashraddha Nirmulan Samiti(MANS) and ultimate sacrifice by its leader Dr Narendra Dabholkar. This is the first of its kind act in which exploitation of a citizen on name of religion by claiming to have supernatural powers is considered as punishable offence. More than four hundred such self proclaimed Goodman who have exploited common citizen on name of religion are imprisoned under this act. Karnataka has also recently enacted this law. There are many other states e,g Punjab Hariyana, Bihar, Assam have also started some initiatives in this direction. Enactment of any black magic act can be considered as one of the very few examples where India is actually a step ahead of European countries as far as culture of scientific enquiry is concerned! MANS has an open challenge off Two million Rupees to any individual who can demonstrate existence of ghosts and demonic powers under scientific environment. If the church is not willing to withdraw its course then it should accept this challenge to prove the existence of demonic powers. MANS is planning reach out all likeminded rationalist organizations across the globe join hands in the campaign against this unscientific course.