Last week, a concerned caller asked Pat Robertson[i] if she should rebuke the demons in her thrift store purchases.[ii] Pat responded with a tragic tale of a Filipino girl who bought a ring that a witch had cast a spell over and “all hell broke loose.” Fortunately, the girl recognized the locus of the evil in her life and presumably got rid of the ring. Frankly, it sounds like a bad retelling of The Lord of the Rings. I mean, Pat didn’t even mention the spiritual perils of smoking Old Toby or the clearly immoral practice of fondling a palantir or the significant temptation of lust when beholding Sean Bean in all his Númenórean glory:
One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them;
If demons occupy your shawl, ask Jesus Christ to bind them.
Pat’s sage advice to the caller was to not take chances:
“Can demonic spirits attach themselves to inanimate objects? The answer is yes. But I don’t think every sweater you get from Goodwill has demons in it. In a sense your mother is just being super cautious, so hey — it isn’t gonna hurt you any to rebuke any spirits that might attach themselves to those clothes.”
I think it bears noting that Pat didn’t just pull this stuff out of his ass. My guess is that Pat was just referencing Pigs in the Parlor: A Practical Guide to Deliverance,[iii] that now-classic American suburbanite take on the definitive medieval witch-hunter’s guide, Malleus Maleficarum. Here’s an endorsement from a satisfied Amazon reader:
Ever wonder where some of those evil thoughts in your head come from? They’re not always from external attacks. Many are from the inside. The information in this book will help anyone who has ever thought, “Well, this is just the way I am, I’ve tried to change but I just can’t.” Be not dismayed. By the power and authority of Jesus Christ, you can be delivered. Are you a procrastinator? Lazy? Worry Wart? Don’t put it off any more…order the book and start down the road to spiritual recovery. Praise be to God who desires you to be free indeed.
Be not dismayed? If the social consequences of this kind of misdirected energy weren’t so grave, I wouldn’t be.
I’m not denying that evil exists in the world. But going after a personified evil occupying the boiled wool Pendleton jacket I just scored for ten bucks[iv] at Goodwill does not one damn thing to combat real evil in the world. Greed. Hypocrisy. Idolatrous individualism. Racism. Sexism. Imperialism. Need I go on?
Granted, part of the mythology[v] surrounding the life of Christ has to do with exorcism. The synoptic Gospels mention ten or so exorcisms between them, not including generic statements like, “He went about casting out demons,” which, for all we know, just reiterate the ten or so we already knew about. The Gospel of John doesn’t mention any exorcisms, to my knowledge, although it does go into some detail about turning water into wine, one of Jesus’ more stylish miracles, if I do say so. The Jesus depicted in the Gospels, therefore, did not spend the majority of his time casting out evil spirits. Those he did cast out, he cast out of people, not their outfits, for crap’s sake.
Jesus spent a hell of a lot more of his time teaching and healing people, which meant, in many cases, interacting with lepers and beggars and women and foreigners and ceremonially unclean people – society’s rejects, in other words. The very people who Goodwill, ARC, Savers, the Salvation Army, and Habitat comfort and clothe.
So, once again, I have to call out Pat Robertson on the implicit wealthy, white privilege that coats his comment about demon-possessed second-hand clothes. It’s not simply bad theology and extra-biblical bullshit. It’s patently classist and it preys upon those who already have a lot to fear in this life: unemployment, abuse, gun violence, teen pregnancy, addiction, hunger, homelessness, predatory televangelists. What, now we want people to fear their underwear, too?
This messaging is unworthy of the Christian witness to the world. The demons in our sweaters are not the problem. The demons in our hearts are.
[i] I’ve decided that I actually love Pat Robertson, because whenever I’m really stumped for a blog topic, the Spirit of the Lord causes Pat to open his mouth and give me something to publically ridicule.
[ii] You can’t make this stuff up.
[iii] Or any of several gazillion other books on the subject of “spiritual warfare.” Because, you know, with demons in your drawers, it’s good to go into battle armed with knowledge.
[iv] Any idiot can pay retail prices.
[v] By “mythology,” I don’t mean tall tales of gods and heroes. I’m talking about stories that transcend time and place, which, 2000 years after his death, the stories of Christ clearly do.
© Marian the Seminarian, 2013