Exorcism feedback

I wrote about African Christianity for the _Guardian_ this week (see wormseye link to the right there somewhere). Had a fantastic letter back from a reader, which I excerpt anonymously below

bq.. About this time last year I witnessed a Christian exorcism, and I found elements of it disturbing. I was then a gynaecologist in Harley Street and a priest who obviously believed that Harley Street was a qualification not an address asked me to talk to his congregation on my fertility work. I spoke on the Friday before a bank holiday in May, in what had once been a theatre on the Old Kent Road, and gave the usual talk that you would expect someone like me to give.

Lots of the evening was pure theatre, with the congregation repeating some of my phrases back to me, but then after my talk I stayed as the priest spoke. He started conventionally enough, talking about the instances of infertility in the Bible, and how not all of them
were cured, but then started giving testimonies from people who were
expecting to be cured by prayer alone. After every piece of testimony, there were loud cries of “Amen” and similar. As things got more excited and excitable one of the congregation stood up and announced that she was infertile because Satan had entered her womb, so he rushed to her, as did lots of other people. He rubbed her clothing, at the area which roughly corresponded to where he presumed the womb was, she started to scream “Satan is coming”, convulse, and collapsed to the floor.

I wasn’t sure what to do, but then when the same thing happened to several other women I decided to simply observe. Each woman, after convulsing, or perhaps writhing, or climaxing, recovered.

In one way the evening was harmless theatre and I can imagine that the same thing must have entertained people who went to see a stage hypnotist. The priest said that there always women who conceived in the weeks after such an exorcism, but then placebo treatments work wonders sometimes. I trained as a hypnotist, and was interested to see that some of the mechanisms used to put people into trance were being used on the congregation. As the priest started talking another young man picked up a second microphone, and simply kept saying “Yes”, but increasing the frequency as the priest built the
crowd up.

p. He goes on to say that this all makes it easier to understand how babies are kidnapped in Nairobi and then appear as the answer to a married woman’s prayer in English congregations.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing is the self-confidence of the pastor, who invites a real doctor round to his show, and then works it seamlessly into the act.

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