Father Gary Thomas, exorcist for the Diocese of San Jose (CA) — whose 2005 training in the rite of exorcism in Rome led to Matt Baglio’s 2010 book, “The Rite: The Making of a Modern Exorcist” and the 2011 movie, “The Rite,” starring Anthony Hopkins — likes to quote Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI: “As faith diminishes, superstition increases.”
So when we’re looking for cultural factors that have fostered increasing interest in, and practice of, Satanism and other occult activities, we have to begin with the decline in Christian belief in the West.
Fr. Jeffrey Grob, exorcist for the Archdiocese of Chicago, described this to me in a recent telephone interview as a “disenchantment with organized religion.” Americans are impatient people and “even Catholics,” he explained, “may go to healers or botanicas” or dabble in Santeria, “seeking alternatives to God for an instant fix.”
Msgr. Patrick Brankin, exorcist for the Diocese of Tulsa, agrees that the decline in Christian faith and concomitant rise in secularism is fostering demonic activity: “‘in the last few years, we’re seeing more demonic activity,’ he said, a trend he attributes to an increasingly secular society that has turned to Ouija boards, witchcraft, astrology, fortune telling and other occult practices that ‘open the door to the demonic.’”
All three exorcists believe that there has been a marked rise in the number of people who are dabbling in the occult — whether Satanism, paganism, idolatry or something else — compared to 25-30 years ago.
In “The Occult Roars Back: Its Modern Resurgence,” Richard Kyle, Professor of History and Religious Studies at Tabor College in Kansas, quotes several academic experts who have written about the causes of the sharp increase in interest in the occult. Jeffrey Russell, for example, noted that, historically, “interest in the occult has grown significantly in periods of rapid social breakdown, when establishments cease to provide readily acceptable answers and people turn elsewhere for assurance.”
But, Kyle adds, there is also a uniquely American foundation for the rise of interest in the occult, one proposed by Catherine Albanese, who —
Albanese also notes that “the urban and corporate organization of society” broke down all sense of community life. In its place, “astrology gave people a sense of identity” and “assisted them in establishing secure relationships with others. [Remember the bar pick-up line popularized in the media: “What’s your sign?”] Self-help literature helped people take steps toward improved prosperity, health, and happiness in their daily situations. ‘Psychics offered physical healing and spiritual advice’ on how to deal with everyday problems.”
Ted Baehr, PhD, founder and publisher of “Movieguide” and author of nearly a dozen books, spoke at the World Congress of Families II on “Protecting Children from Harm from the Media.” He quotes Yale scholar Harold Bloom, who analyzed “the emergence of post-Christian America in his book ‘The American Religion,’ and [who] says that the god we worship is ourselves. He says the real religion of America is Gnosticism, an elitist heresy that combines mystical Greek and oriental philosophies and claims that a person needed special knowledge to get to the highest heaven.”
Baehr’s talk includes cogent definitions of the beliefs that are currently vying with Christianity for followers in the United States and much of the rest of the world: secular humanism, pantheism, materialism, nihilism, romanticism, existentialism, nominalism, idealism, New Age and occultism.