Call an Exorcist for Anthony Weiner?
In her new book Demonic, Ann Coulter posits that liberalism is a demonic mob. Unthinking, prone to slogans and violence, this mob threatens to topple America the way the French Revolution did the monarchy.
I think Coulter makes some good points, but I I also think she draws her lens back too far. To be sure, liberals more than conservatives do believe in bumper sticker slogans, and they are prone to hysterical outbursts, and they will show up at a protest rally for everything from World War III to kitty litter. But I don't think the demonic, at least today, is found as much in the mob as in Anthony Weiner scandal.
No, I don't think Anthony Weiner is the devil -- although the congressman's sexual pictures do have a creepy quality to them. His downfall and the reaction to it do point to how the demonic can be found, not as much in the often-innocuous chanting of some lefty protestors in front of the White House, but in everyday sexual interactions.
Forty years ago this year, William Peter Blatty's book The Exorcist was published. I recently reread it and made a video about the actual house outside of Washington where the original incident took place (it can be found here).
At the end of the book, there is a powerful conversation between the two Catholic priests who are attempting to drive demons out of a young girl. The older priest, Fr. Merrin, tells the younger one, Fr. Damien Karras, that we don't need to look for the devil in larger geopolitical movements or wars. Rather, he can be found in everyday degradations of other human beings
The demon's target is not the innocent girl he takes over. Rather, the target is us. "I think the point is to make us despair," Fr. Merrin explains, "to reject our own humanity, Damien, to see ourselves as ultimately bestial; as ultimately vile and putrescent; without dignity; unworthy."
Fr. Merrin then explains that the devil is not so much in wars or on great geopolitical dramas, but in the small, quotidian cruelties: "in the senseless, petty snipes; the misunderstandings; the cruel and cutting word that leaps unbidden to the tongue between friends, between lovers." Enough of these, he says, and "we don't need Satan to manage our wars."
In The Exorcist, the demon refers to Regan's mother, a famous actress named Chris, as "Pig," and Regan as "Piglet." This is part of the dehumanization that Fr. Merrin talks about -- the way evil attempts to make us despair and consider ourselves animals unworthy of God's love. This is particularly effective in the story because Fr. Karras is having a crisis of faith -- he both doubts the existence of God and feels his sins have made him unworthy of love. The demon, as Fr. Merrin notes, "knows where to strike."
Forty years after The Exorcist, it is not the wars or Coulter's mobs that mark our era as much as casual sexual dehumanization, hateful snark and petty rage. When the Tea Party movement began a year ago, liberal activists Rachel Maddow and Ana Marie Cox spent seven minutes on the air simply repeating variations on the word "tea bagger," which is a slang term for a degrading sexual act.
The left-wing gay writer Dan Savage insists that Congressman Anthony Weiner has absolutely nothing to apologize for. But the power of the final argument of The Exorcist is that it shows that it is not as much in the wars or the natural calamities or the Capitol Hill deals that the demonic is revealed; rather, it is in the smug put-down, the dehumanizing sexual smirk, the cruel -- and cowardly -- personal attack. These can cut deeper than an actual physical assault.
Congressman Weiner had become a champion of all three. He treated women not as divine creatures with souls, but as things. Contra Coulter, this kind of thing doesn't require a mob and it crosses political boundaries. At one point in The Exorcist, the demon harangues Regan's mother Chris for not caring about her daughter. This is the voice of the merciless conservative who fails to reach out with love to a person who may be tired and vulnerable and is trying the best she can.
In many ways, but one particularly crucial, Blatty's book is deeper and more hopeful than the movie based on it. At the end of the book, there is a hint that, at the moment of his death, Fr. Karras has a glimpse of heaven. His eyes reflect a short flash of love itself, and his doubts are at last resolved. He seems to have reached a personal salvation, not a global one.