The recent disclosure of a series of exorcisms performed on the children of the Ammons family in Indiana have a lot of people not only scratching their heads, but considering the reality of true evil. I’m well aware that many people are also rolling their eyes in disbelief. I mean, the stories of what happened to that poor family are pretty hard to wrap your head around. It makes The Exorcist look like an ABC family movie. But what if it’s true?
The possessed children in this case were ages 7, 9 and 12. Witnesses that included police, doctors, nurses and representatives of the Department of Child Protective Services all saw things that defied their versions of reality. The kids reportedly levitated, walked backwards up a wall and onto the ceiling, spoke in strange, terrifying voices and even had their facial features change. Ministers were called to the scene, as well as a host of medical professionals. They all found the mother and children to be of sound minds. There was no history of abuse. They were a normal family, until the demons took hold of the helpless children.
There are over 800 pages of documentation outlining the horror the Ammons family faced. Professionals with upstanding reputations have put it all on the line in confirming the impossible things they saw. Pictures of the house and family reveal disturbing images of shadow people, leering faces and unexplainable objects.
So what is this? A hoax? Hysteria? Mass delusion? A desperate cry for attention? Any one of these options brings comfort to the masses. We can let the story fade within the ebb and flow of the news cycle and go about our lives, unencumbered by big questions with even bigger consequences.
Exorcisms are real. That’s an undeniable fact. Just this month, Pope Francis announced that the Vatican is training a host of new exorcists to combat a rise in Satanic worship in Italy and Spain. I remember a couple of years ago when there was a similar call for trained exorcists in America. My family knew a monsignor who had been specially qualified to perform the rites of exorcism, and had been called to duty several times. He was reluctant to speak of them, simply reassuring us that evil was real, as real as the computer you’re reading this blog on, as real as love and happiness, life and death.
The big question is, does evil live in the heart and soul of man, or is it a dark presence outside of man, a demonic force waiting patiently for our weaker moments so it can take root? Worse still, is it both? In our every increasing secular society, people prefer to think the former. Evil is a character trait, an emotion, a momentary lapse in moral judgement. Devout Christians and a host of other religions will tell you it’s the latter, that demons do exist.
Whatever wellspring that spawns evil, the very concept chills us to the bone. Movies about demonic possession have been frightening people for decades. From The Exorcist to The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcism, we are both attracted to and repelled by the notion. Like moths to an inviting flame, we can’t stay away, yet we’re terrified to stare too deeply into the fire.
I see movies and books about exorcism and possession as a kind of exorcism in itself. The more we fictionalize it, the less real it becomes, which, in turn, robs the concept of its power over us. The Ammons case, with all of its supporting evidence, has the ability to demolish the walls we build to keep out the evil things out while reassuring us that our bad decisions have no long-lasting consequences.
Or we can tell ourselves that they’re crazy, or liars, or fame seekers. Or better yet, just let the story fade away.
For people interested in learning more about exorcisms and the church’s stand on the practice, there’s a very good book I can recommend called American Exorcism by Michael W. Cuneo.